Read Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities by Bettany Hughes Online


Istanbul explores a city which stands as a gateway between the east and west, one of the indisputably greatest cities in the world. Previously known by the names Byzantium and Constantinople, this is the most celebrated metropolis in the world to sit on two continents, straddling the dividing line of the Bosphorus Strait between Europe and Asia. During its long history, IsIstanbul explores a city which stands as a gateway between the east and west, one of the indisputably greatest cities in the world. Previously known by the names Byzantium and Constantinople, this is the most celebrated metropolis in the world to sit on two continents, straddling the dividing line of the Bosphorus Strait between Europe and Asia. During its long history, Istanbul has served as the capital of the Roman, Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman Empires. Its architecture reflects these many cultures, including the Hagia Sophia (Byzantine), the Blue Mosque (Ottoman), the Valens Aqueduct (Roman), the Topkapi Palace (Ottoman), and more modern Art Nouveau avenues built in the 19th and 20th centuries - many of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites. With the founding of the Republic of Turkey by Ataturk in 1923, Istanbul was overlooked and Ankara became the capital. Over the next 90 years, Istanbul has undergone great structural change, and in the 1970s the population of the city rocketed as people moved to the city to find work, turning Istanbul into the cultural, economic and financial centre of Turkey. Events there recently have again brought Istanbul to the forefront of global attention. Indeed, while writing this book, Bettany was caught with her daughters in the crossfire of Taksim Square. Bettany Hughes has been researching and writing this rich portrait of one of the world's most multi-faceted cities for over a decade. Her compelling biography of a momentous city is visceral, immediate and sensuous narrative history at its finest....

Title : Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780297868484
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 800 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities Reviews

  • Michael
    2019-05-07 11:06

    Wonderful presentation of the continuity and transformations of this special city through the rise and fall of three empires—the Roman, the Byzantine, and the Ottoman. One pagan and the other two variable forms of Christian and Muslim theocracies. What a labor of love this is. As a reader trying to lighten my ignorance of each of these empires, I hit a bonanza with this book. It made real dent in my dream of some shortcut to catching up on 3,000 or so years of history. I gleaned a lot of personal lessons and dispelled a lot of misconceptions through my read of this guided tour of history through the biography of a city. There is in some sense of three cities of different names (Byzantion, Constantinople, Byzantium) located in the same place of the current post-empire city of Istanbul, in some sense overlaid on top of each another. All with a continuity borne of a geography fitted to mediate the commerce, institutions, and religions of two continents it spans and that of nearby North Africa. The question the book raised for me a lot is how maybe there was enough similarity in the city’s multicultural residents and government infrastructure despite the changes in dominant religion to consider the latter as a bit of a veneer. After all, the Byzantine rulers called their city “New Rome” and saw themselves as a continuation of the Rome Empire and the same is true for the line of Ottoman sultans of an empire they termed “Rum.” Strategic location of Istanbul on the Bosporus Strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, which in turn connects to the Mediterranean via the Dardanelle Strait.In the mindset of people of the West, over long stretches of time, tends to conceive of the city as liminal, a boundary and a buffer zone between Europe and aggressive powers of non-Christian Persians, Arabs, Slavs, and tribal hordes that periodically invaded from Central Asia. But it has also long been a gateway to the Mideast and Far East, as the Silk Road begins or ends there and grain from the breadbasket of North Africa long passed through its port. After Constantine built the capital of the Rome Empire “East Wing” at the site of an ancient settlement in the 4th century, his city of Constantinople became a world center of civilization, commercial trade, military might, and second only to Rome as a citadel of Christianity. A navy and the secrets of a napalm-like weapon known as Greek Fire were a key to success in plenty of wars. He completed an overland linkage to Rome and the West known as the Ignatian Way, which passed across the Balkans to a port in modern-day Albania across the Adriatic Sea from the Appian Way in Italy. In the 5th century, Emperor Theodosius (the last emperor of a unified Roman Empire) built massive outer walls to the city, a key to defense against many a siege over the ensuing centuries. In the 6th century a Golden Age of culture arises under the reign of Justinian, a ruler most remembered for his advances in in the legal system and benevolent works of his sainted wife Theodosia despite lowly origins as a circus performer and prostitute. Constantine portrayed in a mosaic at the Hagia Sophia cathedral.Representation of Constantinople’s imperial palace, cathedral, and Hippodrome, which reveals a successful emulation of the splendors of Ancient Athens and Rome.Extent of the Byzantine Empire at its fullest extent in the 6th century (red line around the Mediterranean) and its restrictions by 1020 (in pink), and by 1360 (in red).This Byzantine Empire wound down from centuries of assaults from Persians, Avars, Vikings, Vandals, Huns, and Goths, terrible earthquakes and plagues, and economic competition from Europe. By the 8th century Charlemagne set himself up as a competing emperor of Christianity and eventually the Crusades would rile up forces under the new banner of Islam to take defense into offense. By the Fall of Constantinople in 1452 to the Ottoman Turks, the Byzantine Empire had shrunk to just Constantinople and parts of Anatolia. The use of a huge cannon to break down the walls marks one key to the Ottoman’s success. Despite the overtones of their subsequent wars of expansion in the West being fundamentally religious in nature, Islam vs. Christian, the city continued as the religious center for Eastern Orthodoxy and for long stretches a haven for a thriving Jewish populations. Moreover, they frequently allied with Christian nations of Europe against common enemies. In the case of Queen Elizabeth I, she engaged their help in fighting the Spanish. The Ottomans also developed special skills in diplomacy, nurturing a new class of adepts known as dragomen. They also developed a whole class of people recruited as children from around the empire and trained in mastery and proud devotion to protecting the sultan and his extended family in the imperial harem, the Janissaries. By the 17th century, Ottoman expansion peaked, and the following centuries of decline and decadence tends to be what sticks out in Western memory. By the time the empire joined forces with Germany and the Hungarian-Austrian Empire against the rest of the West in World War 1, the Ottoman state was typically viewed metaphorically as a “sick old man”. Growth of the Ottoman Empire from Anatolia in the 14th century to its largest extent in the 17th century, when it almost equaled the range of the Byzantine Empire at its peak.This is a lot of history to cover in one book. The Ancient Greece period is sketchy because of the lack of reliable historical accounts, but administering fees on ship traffic through the Bosporus to and from the Black Sea was a business worth fighting for among Imperial Greece, the Spartans, and Persians (Troy is practically a suburb of the city). From Constantine on there were 96 Christian reigns (in 21 dynasties), followed by 36 Muslim reigns. The author’s 79 chapters follow these successions by epochs, but she slows down to highlight particular periods and to explore thematic issues in a satisfying and engaging way. Some of my favorite chapters have catchy titles, such as the following:--Wine and Witches--The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth--The Problem with Goths--Faith, Hope, Charity and the Nicene Creed--Battles in Heaven and on Earth: Gaza and Alexandria--Sex and the City: Eunuchs--The Jewish City--The Silkworm’s Journey--A Bone in the Throat of Allah--Monks by Night, Lions by Day--Byzantium and Britannia--Viking Foe-Friends and the Birth of Russia--Negotiating Monks and Homicidal Usurpers--No Country for Old Men--A Diamond between Two Sapphires--Dragomans and Eunuchs--The Sultanate of Women--The Janissaries--The Great Siege of Vienna--White Caucasians--Tulips and Textiles--Tsargrad--Gallipoli: The End of an EmpireThe birth of a Christian empire and its succession by an Islamic one sets the big narrative to that of perpetual conflict between two patriarchal, monotheistic religions which, sadly, have more in common than difference. The author makes a fascinating exploration of the idea that Constantine’s conversion and alignment with what was then a minority sect in a largely pagan populace was motivated by pragmatic concerns to enhance his power with the Christian mantle: Accepted as god-men, Roman emperors were themselves sublime, so why make yourself the follower of a forgiving God and of his impoverished, peace preaching failure of a son? …Rather than a threat, Christianity was looking increasingly like a means to unify and consolidate power. Who needs a democracy or republic if every man is equal in the eyes of God?...Was this Constantine declaring himself a combination of Christ, the Greek Apollo, a Trojan hero, and the Eastern Sol Invictus?…Constantine I might be a Christian emperor, but he wore the clothes of the pagan world.…The ancient gods were always shape-shifting, so did this new church really just make another god-man bigger, shinier, and even more formidable? …Now Constantine could better Herodotus’ vision of civilization—a city with both Greek and Near Eastern genetic coding, strengthened by Roman muscle and sinew, and wrapped in a Christian skin. There is less doubt that his mother and wife were true believers. They both founded numerous churches, convents, and sanctuaries dedicated to Mary and started the mania of religious relic collection and reverence. She asks whether the condition of women in the empire was really an improvement over that of women elsewhere through the long epochs of the Middle Ages: In Constantine there was a perfect storm of a pagan Eastern environment where female deities had real heft, combined with Roman legal attitudes to the rights of women and how this sublime role model in Orthodox Christian theology—of the Virgin Mary being the bearer of the Godhead.She basically concludes her exploration of the topic by pointing out that the emperor’s female relatives were special cases. She suggests that the Church’s embracing of Augustinian doctrine that the temptation of men to sin from Eve on down contributed to keeping women is place as unworthy of responsible roles. Thus:So it would be entirely foolish to imagine the city as some kind of proto-feminist wonderland. But as Christian women living in the city, you were not living in the past. You are the past—living in the present. This book fulfilled a hunger to satisfy germs of interest sparked long ago when I was lucky enough to visit Istanbul as a 15-year old on a school trip. Picture a near blank-slate of a kid from Oklahoma experiencing the first view of the city aboard a tourist transport ship from Athens, the huge and busy harbor and the great mosques like the ancient Hagia Sophia nested among towering minarets in the glow of sunset. Imagine my confusion to learn how this impressive architectural wonder was a Christian cathedral for over a 1,000 years from construction in 537 AD. A visit to the fabulous Mosque of Ahmed (“Blue Mosque”) made me wonder why all the beautiful mosaics bore no images of religious figures. A visit to the Grand Bazaar comforted me that a city so dominated by religious edifices could retain such an old venue full of vibrant, diverse, and secular businesses . A tour of the Topkapi Palace stunned me with its opulence and disgusted me with the crass greed behind the accumulation of tons of jewels and fancy settings for the Imperial Seraglio. Just the very thought of slave women in the sultan’s harem reminds me of my negative image of man walruses riding herd on their diminutive females. With these first and lasting impressions, it was very helpful to get a full context on these cultural aspects of the Byzantine Empire. For example, the Grand Seraglio was effectively a school, safe society, and coveted path for slaves to achieve high status and potentially become an emperor’s mother or gain emancipation. Still, the practice is a blot on the Ottoman Empire no matter how you slice it.Istanbul HarborJeweled dagger in the Topkapi Palace museum. I got a thrill from the 1964 movie “Topkapi”, in which an elaborate heist is built around the theft of this famous object.Stereotyped harem scene in a painting with a black eunuch in the imperial court performing an “Inspection of The New Arrivals” (by Giulio Rosati, early 20th century)..As I have developed since then, I aspire to somehow become a citizen of the world and see the common brotherhood of man beyond race, creed, and nationality. But even in imagination or attitude, I can’t yet escape beyond my Western identity and the sense of the East as “other”. The history of Istanbul, the city that spans two continents, helps me begin to think of a marriage of the East and West and making a bigger “we” for my self to nest within. I begin to feel pride as a human for the periods in these empires when life in this city partook of admirable levels of civilization, including multicultural tolerance, sophistication in its legal system, public investment in schools, libraries, and institutions of learning, and social services such housing and food for the poor and disabled. At the same time, I was led by this reading into some kind of accommodation to the more shameful parts of the three empires centered on this remarkable city. The author, Betthany Hughes, may not be an academic heavyweight in historical scholarship, but she is a great communicator with a significant track record in creating TV documentaries on the ancient and medieval worlds and in authoring a couple of popular history books on Ancient Greece. Her education does include an undergraduate degree in history from Oxford and current engagement in graduate research at Kings College London.This book was provided for review by the publisher through the Netgalley program.

  • Chrissie
    2019-05-12 10:55

    I listened to this during a long car trip and repeatedly I was amazed at the knowledge of the author, the interesting details, the comprehensiveness and depth of the writing. What flashed through my head on several occasions was: I dare you to read this and not be amazed, not be impressed with the author’s knowledge on absolutely everything related to Istanbul. So yes, I judge the book to be amazing. This book is about Istanbul from prehistoric times through to current times, that is to say when it was published in 2016. That is a wide expanse of time. It cannot give total detailed information upon all the topics touched upon, but the author makes every topic touched upon interesting. It is not a tourist guide…..except after reading the book you do want to hop into an airplane and go there! It is a history book. The author is an historian and the book is thoroughly researched. What she has learned is now on her fingertips and it feels like she is telling it to you. What strikes the reader is the easy flow of the book. Each chapter has a title that tells the reader what will be discussed and the date of the events that are covered. When under Islamic rule both the Western calendar and the Islamic calendar dates are given. The end of the preceding chapter concludes with a sentence that leads you directly on to the next chapter. After the chapter’s heading are fascinating quotes from literature and famed people pertaining to that which now follows. The ending of one chapter leads you to ask for more. The next begins with enticing quotes that further piques one’s interest. Only then follows the text which answers what you are now asking for. The material covered is expertly presented in a balanced, unbiased tone. For a city under both Islamic and Christian rule this is essential. She presents different mindsets equally well. Then Mustafa Kemal Attatürk came into power, the metropolis’ name changed to Istanbul and the state was secularized. A third mindset. Different points of view are presented. The unbiased presentation is achieved by offering opposing / alternate views, in sentences’ wording and in small details such as quotes from both Western and Eastern sources and the use of both calendars mentioned above.I appreciated that both historical and modern day names of places are given. Do you know where Illyria was? I didn’t. Do you know that ancient Nineveh is present day Mosul, Iraq? I loved the references made to archeological finds. I loved watching both the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire, learning about low-born Emperor Justinian and former street dancer Empress Theodora and the Janissaries and the double headed eagle of the Byzantine flag and the etymology of words and…….. The prose is succinct. The author can sum up in a few lines what others will say in pages. The author reads her own book. Most authors cannot do this properly, but Bettany Hughes does this magnificently. Perfect speed. Perfect emphasis of chosen words. She knows what she wants said and she says it so you comprehend. You hear her questions. You hear her curiosity and interest and enthusiasm. All of this is contagious. I adore the way she says ”but”! You hear the abrupt challenge and must be told the counter argument. I have one minor complaint. The book ends with a coda that is too long. That is what I think, but it does leave a sentimental, heartfelt, kind of smaltzy ending that many may enjoy. Clearly the author has fallen in love with this city that she first visited at the age of eighteen. Istanbul is the essence of cosmopolitan living, of a lifestyle eternally looking both east and west and of a place where stories are synthesized into what the city is today. If you are curious about Istanbul, well then you have to read this book, and I highly recommend the audiobook format.

  • Emma
    2019-04-30 09:53

    In Istanbul, Bettany Hughes sees not a city where East meets West, but where North, South, East, and West look frankly at each other, not always without complication, but with the hope of understanding. That is certainly her aim with this book, she addresses the 6000 years of history with well researched enthusiasm and genuine joy in telling the multiplicity of stories that make up this thrice named city. Written chronologically but also thematically, the book lends itself to piecemeal reading, or in my case, listening, to ensure you have enough time to reflect on each new chapter. With the kind of time period covered, there is inevitably some selectiveness in what the author includes, but by centring each new section on specific ideas, people/families, events, themes, and innovations, Hughes covers not just the highlights but manages to add real depth and colour within a limited framework. Though I could have read and enjoyed a book three times as long, it is only because I found the whole experience so interesting and because there is always more to know, not due to any feeling that she missed anything significant. While separated by time, and by chapters within the book, Hughes ensured that the city's past and present were presented as a cohesive, but not linear, history. The natural geography of the area forms the basis for how the city was shaped and populated; men and women of all types and all times are quoted, their words bringing a sense of immediacy; new archaeological finds are integrated into historical argument and new areas of investigation suggested; buildings, roads, and monuments are described in their original, altered, and modern state, as they are put to different uses, destroyed, or left to crumble. It genuinely feels like Hughes is guiding you through the city on a personal tour, pointing out each thing like a secret shared. At all times, Hughes remembers that history is about people and the makes a real effort to include sections of society not always addressed, as well as individuals about whom less is known. From eunuchs to the cult of Mary Theotokos, from the seraglio of the Topkapi palace to the role of Helena, Constantine's mother, from tribes to emperors to monks and witches, all manner of life is here and equally valid. One that particularly stood out to me is that of Theodora (500-548) who rose from whore to wife of Justinian I and Byzantine empress. A pretty impressive feat, to say the very least, and one thread of many that i'll be following on from here. Overall an erudite, humorous, and endlessly fascinating read. Highly recommended.

  • Alexandra
    2019-05-25 07:56

    This book was sent to me by the publisher, Hachette, at no cost. This review first appeared in the History Teachers of Victoria journal Agora.If you are especially keen on the history of the Byzantine Empire, or the Eastern Roman Empire, like me you might have bought the classic John Julius Norwich trilogy. Again if you are like me, you may have got to the end of the second book and thought, “No more!” Despite that, the city at the heart of that empire (thrice-named, eat your heart out New York) has always enthralled me – and, Bettany Hughes suggests, has fascinated, enticed, and aggravated people for a good few thousand years.Firstly: don’t be put off by the page count. Those 800 pages include an extensive timeline, detailed (and interesting but not imperative) endnotes, a thorough bibliography and an index. At 600 pages, with often quite short chapters, this is a very approachable book for such a complicated subject.Hughes attempts to do two things in this book, and generally succeeds; she calls it “an organic examination – an archaeology of both place and culture” (6). It is a chronological examination of the development of the city now called Istanbul – the invasions and innovations and growth through successive regime changes (although “not a catch-all of Istanbul’s past” (3)). However, woven through that is a social history of the people who made the city what it is. This includes such luminaries as Theodora and Constantine and Süleyman II, but also the everyday people who made the city function. There are chapters, for instance, on the presence of eunuchs in Constantinople, and the realities of the harem (insofar as they can be known), and the Varangian Guard. Hughes includes discussion of the various peoples who threatened, worked with, and generally impacted on the city (Goths, Vandals, Vikings, Turks). In doing so she naturally expands her focus beyond the city walls, but this is unavoidable when dealing with the likes of a city such as Byzantion. Indeed, it adds greatly to the context of the book: how to understand the numerous Muslim sieges and eventual conquest of the city without an understanding of the growth of Islam? How to understand the birth of Turkey as a country and the move of the capital to Ankara without the context of the First World War and the internal Ottoman politics of the time? And so on. Hughes does a magnificent job of weaving all of these pieces together into a coherent whole.Nominally the book’s narrative stops at 1924; there’s a chapter after that about Istanbul’s future, but it’s a fairly sweeping overview of the following ninety years. However, something that I very much enjoyed and which added to the book’s approachability is that Hughes makes occasional reference to contemporary events from when she is writing (2016). A passing reference to Prime Minister Erdoğan acting in a similar fashion to Justinian, preparing “to take his money and to fly” (219), points up similarities in situations that may provoke and intrigue the reader. Describing the city as “well designed for rioting” and using the Gezi Park/Taksim Square riots to indicate this truth in 2013 (when Hughes was herself in the city), and then proceed to discuss the AD 532 Nika riots, suggests a continuation in the city’s physical existence that is extraordinary over that span in time.One of the most captivating aspects of Hughes’ book is her wonderful use of archaeological evidence. There are frequent references to discoveries made in Istanbul and elsewhere around the world, and how the goods and structures uncovered are continuing to change historians’ and archaeologists’ understandings of different periods. For a historian to remind her reader that the story of a place is not completely known is refreshing. She contextualises these sites, too: to find “one of the few scraps of evidence for one of the most remarkable phenomena of the medieval world” (the Varangian Guard), one passes “young men push[ing] second-hand mattresses… on wooden carts and kids sort[ing] through piles of redundant television aerials” (321). This provides a visceral feel for the city as it is today – a living city, not abandoned; a city continuing to leave behind remains for future archaeologists to sift and puzzle through. Hughes also has a lovely sense of humour that occasionally pokes through: in discussing the archaeological finds at Tintagel (which indicate trade connections between that part of England and the Byzantine world), she describes the finding of the graffito reading “Artugno” as “[u]tterly unhelpful for the historian but irresistible for the tourist guides” (292).Another aspect of Hughes’ attitude towards the city and her people over time is the sympathy she displays. In speaking of the development of iconoclasm, for instance, which she says historians have “[o]ften described… as an irrational, typically ‘Dark Ages’ response” to the consequences of the Theran volcanic eruption in AD 726, Hughes insists “we have to pause for a moment to think of the horror of Thera’s eruption” and proceeds to describe the physical realities of such an eruption (300). This is a lovely moment of historical empathy that enables the reader to glimpse life for an eighth-century Byzantine.As a physical object, it’s well-designed. The cover is perhaps predictable but gorgeous nonetheless. There are three sets of colour plates, covering a range of people and events, and many black and white images throughout. Each section (there are eight, each representing some important change in Istanbul’s history) has a series of maps at the start, showing changes in the city as well as context such as the reach of the Byzantine or Ottoman Empire over time (there is one section where the map, which goes over two pages, is split by the colour picture insert; that was a bit irritating).Hughes’ passion for Istanbul – for the history of the place and for the contemporary city – come through across the volume. She delights in all aspects of its history and she wants the reader to share that with her. As an introduction to the complexity of the city’s history, as a history of a place that has impacted on European and Asian history for 2500 years (and was inhabited for many thousands of years before that), and as an example of how history writing can be made approachable, this is a fabulous book.

  • Tariq Mahmood
    2019-04-26 07:56

    Bethany is in love with Istanbul, she has unabashedly professed her love openly a number of times, which made it all the more difficult to produce an objective biography of this wondrous and enchanting city. From the Roman times to the Christian era, and from the Islamic Caliphate to the Secular Republic, she has managed to engage and captivate my imagination of her beloved Istanbul. I was engaged completely till the end with the many stories of Kings and Sultans, of their battles and Harims, of slavery and revolutions. A fantastic read.

  • Yelda Basar Moers
    2019-04-30 04:06

    Let me preface this book by saying, this could have been a GREAT book...This new biography of Istanbul by historian Bettany Hughes was written with a lot of heart, and got off to a great start (especially with the Byzantine years), but then sadly fell apart. She just took on too much, too fast, too soon. I think Hughes needed to spend more time in the city, just living and breathing it, and second, she needed to work on making the narrative more cohesive and compelling. Note to all historians: Avoid info stuffing and dumping! It makes for a boring and laborious read— especially at over 600 pages! And yes I did read all 600 plus pages!!! I also found some inaccuracies in her narrative (for instance she said it’s unclear who won the Battle of Gallipoli. What??? It is well known historically as one of the greatest military victories for the Turks. She lost a lot of credibility for me after that major blunder.). She also skipped important periods in Ottoman history. Ottoman history is complicated and an experienced historian needs to spend much time studying it to get a complete and accurate historical record.It could have been a GREAT book, but because of all of its blunders and shortcomings, its not! So sad! For those readers looking for a recent GREAT book about the history of Istanbul, I'd consider Thomas F. Madden's biography of the city, Istanbul.

  • Caidyn (BW Book Reviews; he/him/his)
    2019-04-28 07:13

    DNF at 7%As I said, this is going to be a pretty short review. I'm always faster at DNFing books during the school year. While this book is definitely good and jam packed with tons of history, my rating more reflects the fact that you actually have to have some background knowledge to understand this book. I have no background knowledge. Each chapter in this book is more a vignette about a certain point in the city's history. Alas, I don't know the history and therefore the little vignettes made no sense to me since I had to do so much work with keeping names straight and dates and various other things when all this information was thrown at me, only to barely come up again in the next chapter. That makes this book unique, but also really hard for someone who doesn't research ancient times or things in the Eastern world in general.

  • Bevan
    2019-05-05 05:57

    An unnamed Byzantine described Istanbul as the city of the world’s desire. This beautifully written book takes us through the history of a city which has played a key role for over 2,000 years. Sitting strategically between Europe and Asia, North and South, East and West she has grown through the profits of trade, the bounty of the sea and the choice of key world historical individuals. The three cities of the title refers to the names - Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul - by which she has been known. In fact though Bettany Hughes’ tale has many more components than this. She takes it from the earliest settlers found through the archaeological record through the Greeks, Romans to the Ottoman and Turkish era. The book describes the context of the great Empires led from the city whilst keeping the focus firmly on Istanbul. The excellent maps (the best I have seen in a Kindle book) help with the essential topographic understanding of the changing city. Hughes uses a similar technique to Mary Beard in SPQR as she relates archeological surroundings, description of the locations in the present day and historic events. The result is almost feeling like a TV documentary, centering the past on the present with a real sense of place, as a history of a city should.The prose is excellent, and the many eras will probably drive interest in further reading on them. I can recommend Byzantium: A History by John Haldon for a good overview of the last millennia of the Roman Empire.

  • Gumble's Yard
    2019-05-10 11:14

    Oh What a noble and beautiful city is Constantinople …. How many remarkable things may be seen in the principal avenues and even in the lesser streets - Fulcher of ChartresThe above quote starts Chapter 47 of this historical account of my favourite City, one I have had the pleasure to visit both on holiday and more recently, on a number of occasions, on business.Hughes’s account is an excellent one, drawing heavily on archaeological evidence to link the past of this City (and its past dominions)up to 1923 to the present day, in a series of nearly 80 short chapters, drawing on the various incarnations of the City – Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul (but also its wider identities – for example as New Rome) and at the same time drawing a picture of how the City both influenced and was influenced by world events.Highly recommended.

  • Kristy K
    2019-05-18 07:49

    “But of course, the idea of Istanbul is exponentially bigger than her footprint.”4.5 StarsComing in at 800 pages (although the last chunk is notes and the bibliography), this comprehensive history book may seem daunting, but it reads well and details so many fascinating things that it feels half as long. Bettany Hughes delves into the deep, rich history of Istanbul chronologically, mixing culture, religion, and war to create a vivid picture. “In terms of both historical fact and written histories this place reminds us why we are compelled to connect, to communicate, to exchange. But also to change.”I read books like this and realize how ignorant and little I know of the world and its history (and geography). Istanbul (nee Constantinople, nee Byzantium) took center stage many times over history:“The Milion marks out distance, and it marks the moment when Byzantium truly becomes a topographical and cultural reference point shared by East and West.”...“And so the city of Constantinople was founded on dreams, faith and hope, but also on ambition and blood.”...“Istanbul is not where East meets West, but where East and West look hard and longingly at one another, sometimes nettled by what they see yet interested to learn that they share dreams, stories, and blood.”I highlighted many portions of this monograph; it is so rich in information and much of it beautifully written (especially for nonfiction). This is definitely a book I’ll refer back to and re-skim. “Istanbul is a settlement that, in her finest form, produces, promote and protects the vital, hopeful notion that, wherever and whoever we end up, we understand that although humanity has many faces we share one human heart- to know Istanbul is to know what it is to be cosmopolitan- this is a city that reminds us that we are, indeed, citizens of the world.”

  • Cat
    2019-05-24 03:17

    A brilliant look at the history of Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul - a unique city with multiple identities over the millennia.I'm a sucker for this sort of history - if it weren't for the fact that we cover thousands of years and a dizzying array of characters and events you could almost call it a microhistory. Let's call it a biography of the city.And actually, biography isn't far wrong, as the city does become a distinct character, growing and changing and yes, diminishing, over the course of history.Hughes is passionate about the city, and that comes out very clearly in every description of Istanbul, and the excitement that archaeological discoveries are still turning up new insights into this complex city (oldest wooden coffin!) She uses modern events to compare, contrast and highlight similarities and differences in society, in a way that makes even ancient history seem relevant.At the end of the book she makes the sad point that we view other ancient civilisations very differently - ancient Rome, ancient Greece, ancient Egypt are all treated very differently to this city which occupies a unique place in the geopolitical landscape. Certainly I am now desperate to go and visit Istanbul!

  • Melinda
    2019-05-04 05:49

    What a brilliant book. Let me preface this by saying that I love Bettany Hughes and have watched nearly all her tv documentary I entered this book with high expectations - and can I just say that she totally delivered. Researched, written and narrated by Ms Hughes, this was a very informative and interesting book about Istanbul, from prehistoic times to modern day (ie 2016). That is a huge tie period to cover - and yet she did it will apparent ease. I enjoyed how she focused on the city and all its comings and goings - great idea for this book and very different from the usual history of the Byzantine period/the Crusades...etc. I loved how this book was broken up into appropriate chapters and it flowed so beautifully. Great stuff. Well worth a listen.

  • Alyson Stone
    2019-05-16 05:18

    Book: Istanbul Author: Bettany Hughes Rating: 3 Out of 5 Stars I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, for providing me with this galley. I have loved Bettany Hughes’s work for a few years now. It started with her Ancient Worlds series and Helen of Troy book. Whenever I heard she was writing a new book, I was thrilled. I just knew that I was going to have to read it. While Istanbul does have the same magic that her other works do, I found it not to be as thrilling. I don’t know why, but there was just something missing from it. I loved the amount of detail that she put into her writing. She is very knowledgeable about Istanbul and gives us a lot of depth about the city. I really do feel like she didn’t leave anything out and paints a wonderful picture of the city’s past. I just felt like there was so much in this book that I feel like I really don’t need to read another book on Istanbul to find out more about the city. This is a history book and is not really a light read. It does read and feel like a history book. It is very clear that Bettany is a historian and she is sharing with you all that she has learned about this amazing city. She starts us out in prehistoric times and takes up through the modern city. She covers a number of topics and it really doesn’t feel like she has left anything out. I loved how balanced everything was. It seemed like every time in history got the same amount of time as another. There was so much detail on each subject as well-I feel like I’m saying that a lot. She really does take a balanced approach, even if the flow was a little off. I don’t know if the flow is in the finished version or not, but in the ARC version there seems to be problems with the flow. Some of the stories are in rather odd places that just didn’t make any sense. So, if you are looking for a one stop shop for everything on Istanbul, then this is the book for you!

  • Rodrigo Acuna
    2019-05-14 08:57

    "Power is not a means; it is an end."― George Orwell, This is the history of a city that is placed on the crossroads of continents and ideas, a place that absorbs all the gods and despots that carry the standards of these gods to rule over the citizens, slaves, minds and the flow of monetary power that being at the center gives, but in the end this desirability is the undoing, the curse that defeats all mortals and Gods into the sediment and detritus of a city that is more immortal than all of them.A panoramic historical view of a place that is just as important today as it was to Greeks and Persians, a book that moves through time and rivers of blood as potent as the Bosphorus, as horrible as the bombs and terrorism that seeps into its modern streets as the Ottoman empire tries to reawaken.If you love history this book is a delight, but be aware that it concentrates in the city and sometimes you feel like a little more explanation of external influences would have helped to explain some events with more depth, also some aspects of social practices are not described as thoroughly as others; we expend a large amount of time on eunuchs but the enslavement and commerce of slaves till very recently feels like it almost to controversial a subject. Apart from that, this is a fantastic read that exposes humanity as much as a city.Of Gods and men, war and commerce, suffering and delight, of desire and want we build the cities we inhabit that inhabit us.

  • Shaun
    2019-05-08 10:10

    This is actually going to be an odd 5-star review from me, because I haven't really done much but glance through the book, and I can already tell that I'll be coming back to this book for a while. It provides a detailed history of the city that has been known through history as Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul. The reason I'm reviewing it now, one, because ** I got this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review), two, because I'd like to get my review in sooner rather than later, and three, I might switch between reading the chapters for whatever piques my interest, not so much reading the book from start to finish in one sitting. So... If I was to wait till I finished the book to review it, I might have to wait a few years, but I do think the book will be very handy to me, as I'm interested in the city when it was Byzantium, Constantinople, and today as Istanbul. I think it's one of the fascinating cities of the world, maybe THE most fascinating. So again, five stars purely from usefulness.

  • Tiffany
    2019-05-06 04:15

    A well detailed, well researched, examination of the city, the people, and the history of Istanbul. Hughes's interest and knowledge in her subject leaps from the pages making this long tome a joy to read. I never got bogged down or lost interest the entire read.

  • Jay Waghray
    2019-05-15 04:14

    Another history masterfully told by @bettanyhughes

  • Jordan Stivers
    2019-05-16 10:13

    Just wow. If you love any kind of history, this book is for you. Yes, it's dense. Yes, it's long. But Hughes' style of prose is luxurious and so much more enjoyable that similarly long and dense histories I've read before. The research that went into this book is clearly displayed on every page. When you finish it, Istanbul remains with you. My favorite thing about this book is how Istanbul is the protagonist, changing over time, weaving in bits of its past as a new future is thrust upon it. It's geography alone makes for such a fantastic set-up for what happens over time. And, all the civilizations that have grown and fallen within those walls. Hughes takes a sweeping but detailed view of the whole process.Of course, as with any book with such breadth, it took me a while to get through but the length of time was worth the learning I got from it. And I enjoyed Hughes writing so much, I can't wait to pick up one of her other works. Note: I received a free Kindle edition of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank NetGalley, the publisher Perseus Books - Da Capo Press, and the author Bethany Hughes for the opportunity to do so.

  • Shawn Ritchie
    2019-05-14 07:08

    I'll be blunt: this book is a goddamned triumph.I liked this book so much that I read all 800 pages of it even though the e-book had a glaring processing problem that caused it to insert a space after every double-f in the text (and some other cases I couldn't pin down a precise cause for). So, every time like "offered" was in the text, which was a surprisingly large number of times, it showed up as "off ered".This was AMAZINGLY distracting. And normally the sort of thing that would cause me to bail out and wait for Amazon to fix the copy or something, but not in this case. The book, from Page One, was just too good.Admittedly, I'll basically read anything even tangentially related to the Byzantine Empire. But even if you don't particularly care about that narrow topic, say you're just a "history buff" in general, this is the sort of work you absolutely should read.Why? Well, Ms Hughes pulls off the herculean task of integrating classic history of the "which ruler sent what general to fight which enemy for what reasons" type, with the more modern aspects of "and how did that affect the culture, economy, mores, religion, etc., of the common man/woman/eunuch/slave of the polity?" type, AND does it all with a measure of style and competence that few authors are able to pull off successfully.The book moves roughly chronologically through the "Three Cities" of the title; starting with the ancient Greek polis of Byzantion, then moving through the long epoch of the Roman/Byzantine Constantinople, then wrapping up with the world capital of Ottoman/Islamic/Turkish Istanbul. For such a long book, it moves remarkably briskly, helped along by economical chapter lengths and a vibrant writing style that generates that almost novel-esque sense of "just one more chapter" that few works of non-fiction ever achieve.While firmly a history book, each chapter tends to start off with a wonderful and personalizing vignette from the author's own experience of researching for that chapter, situating the historical time about to be discussed in the modern age, which really helps pull the reader in and serves additionally as just great color. It also forces the reader to occasionally consider the randomness of history at time; sometimes your ancient relic becomes the still-venerated Hagia Sophia hundreds of years later. Other times, you're an equally-stunning ancient mosaic buried in the basement of a kebob joint behind a cell phone store. Such is fate. VERY few histories give any nods to these also-rans of importance, and that Hughes does in this book jarred me into thinking for a bit about the caprice of history, the undeniable fact that what we today consider important about the past may not have been what the past considered important about itself, and that so much is left to the random chance of what managed to survive the millennia between a building or work of art's original period of importance and the reignition of interest in that original period by a much-later time. Basically, how many Michelangelo's "David"s are we missing out on today because nobody cared three hundred years ago and repurposed something beautiful into a roof for a barn? It's this effect of the book I enjoyed most; at times I would read something that would force me to put the book down and just let my mind wander down a path it never had before, to consider some arcane detail of 1700's Constantinople that I hadn't thought of. The breadth of knowledge Hughes shows here is also commendable; being able to write authoritatively about how an ancient Greek polis organizes itself politically is typically an entirely separate discipline from say describing in detail the personal politics of a reform-era Ottoman Sultan's harem. She handles both, and all of the other disparate topics that come up in a history of this breadth, with aplomb. Bottom line, this book is just a delight. If you like good history, read it. If you're a fan of anything Byzantine or Ottoman, read it. If you like just plain good writing, read it. It's got that kind of cross-genre appeal few books pull off without being "lite" in their treatment of the topic, an accusation that absolutely cannot be laid at Ms Hughes' feet here; it is that rare bird, the Serious Work of History that is also an absolute joy to read. It gets my highest recommendation.

  • Janet
    2019-05-07 06:49

    I received a DIGITAL Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It is also on my personal library's shelves.From the publisher - Istanbul has always been a place where stories and histories collide.From the Koran to Shakespeare, this city with three names--Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul--resonates as an idea and a place, real and imagined. Standing as the gateway between East and West, it has been the capital city of the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires. For much of its history it was the very center of the world, known simply as "The City," but, as Bettany Hughes reveals, Istanbul is not just a city, but a story.In this epic new biography, Hughes takes us on a dazzling historical journey through the many incarnations of one of the world's greatest cities. As the longest-lived political entity in Europe, over the last 6,000 years, Istanbul has absorbed a mosaic of micro-cities and cultures all gathering around its core. At the latest count, archaeologists have measured forty-two human habitation layers. Phoenicians, Genoese, Venetians, Jews, Vikings, and Azeris all called a patch of this earth their home.Based on meticulous research and new archaeological evidence, this captivating portrait of the momentous life of Istanbul is visceral, immediate, and scholarly--narrative history at its finest.This was an interesting book to review as I had already bought it and read it BEFORE I saw it on Net Galley - I wanted to share my love for it and am delighted to review it.I love the allure of Istanbul - the romance, the history, Hercule Poirot & The Orient Express, the bridging of Asia and Europe and I wish that I could afford to go and stay in the beautiful new Four Seasons there :-) The fact that history and modern life go hand in hand and are side-by-side. This book was a learned, mini-vacation that can be enjoyed by many and any fan of history, travel or FOOD. (I left the recent Kenneth Branagh movie wanting bread, bread, and more bread!)What a wonderfully enjoyable, fascinating book!!!

  • Peter
    2019-05-08 08:12

    Bettany Hughes is to be complemented and praised for the ambitious scope of this book – to write a history of the city we now know as Istanbul from its earliest days to relatively recent times.What a challenging task – she has clearly had to walk a tight rope of what to include, what to leave out, how much detail to provide of people, events, periods etc. I don’t doubt that there will be quibbles about the decisions she has made but this is the story of a city not an empire (Byzantine or Ottoman), or of a particular war, or a religious movement. Her decisions seem to be clearly based on the impact of event upon the city. Her bibliography is an excellent guide to readers looking for more information.I like Ms Hughes writing style. (I have read her Hemlock Cup and Helen texts). She moves quickly and provides extra information or rationales in her footnotes so that the narrative does not get bogged down. Occasionally she places herself into the narrative via the recollection of a visit or a view - this is shows that she is not an armchair historian and that she has both affection and respect for “her” city.It is a very accessible book and readers should not be put off its apparent size. The supporting information really bulks up its size and could be omitted if the reader wants to. I have already bought two books she used in two passages for my reading pile so I was grateful for it.My only quibble is the quality of the maps – the shading used to show regions on the maps was very hard for me to apply and use – I gave up. I am an older reader whose eyesight is not the best even with glasses and I bemoan that fact that publishers do not test these things with a range of off readers – a proof editor seems incapable of picking this type of thing up. I give the book 5 stars for Ms Hughes writing but 4 stars or less when thinking of the lousy maps.

  • Jarvo
    2019-05-11 10:11

    A lot of people clearly love this book, but it took me a long time to read, and I am not quite sharing the general enthusiasm. The book is full of interesting and is particularly strong on the role of women in Istanbul's history and on what recent archaeology tells us about the city. But in trying to cover several thousand years of political, cultural and social history I found parts of the book to be quite superficial. I also must be getting old because I found the occasionally colloquial style somewhat tiring: the author is fond of saying 'Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul was (or is) a world class city'. What exactly does this mean? The closing stages of the book highlight the fact that Istanbul is the place where east meets west, and we like to keep these two separate so it challenges us. If the book on focused on a few such themes I think it would have been more successful.(One feature of the book which is fascinating is the chronology at the end. Like much political history it is steeped in blood, with a succession of emperors and sultans coming to an untimely end. In fact life expectancy at the top was often roughly equivalent to that of a premier league manager, expect that the latter don't have to worry about being killed, blinded, or banished to a monastery when things go pear shaped. Food for thought.)

  • Kristine
    2019-05-11 03:59

    Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities by Bettany Hughes is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early September.Despite my boyfriend really wanting me to minimize my review down to be They Might Be Giants lyrics, I feel obligated to give more useful information about this book. The full scope of Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities is from about 700 BC to just after World War II and Hughes seeks to take an archaeologist's perspective onto this giant span of history (even if its leadership passes through several hands and belief systems, like 'pagan' Greek [Zeus Marina!] and Roman gods, Christianity [Mary Theotokos], Judaism, The Great Schism pitting the Orthodox versus the Catholics, the use of 'marvel literature' [which sounds freaky fascinating], and finally Islam [I was particularly interested in the concept of the Jannisaries and why they chose to align with the UK and France against Russia in 1854, but then go against the Allied Forces in World War I and II to go against Russia again with the Axis Powers at their side]) and does an exceedingly visionary-level good job explaining said history in order to create a full mindpicture for willing, eager readers.

  • Loulou Szal
    2019-05-11 11:16

    I was given an early edition of this book and sat down immediately to read it. Fascinating and completely comprehensive, it covers the time of the first mention of the existence of Byzantion, by the ancient Historian Herodotus in the fifth century BC to present day Istanbul. The story of this amazing city perched on a much traveled and much desired spek of land between Europe in the East and Asia in the West, has engendered a fierce desire for trade and religious control of it since the beginning of civilisation.Especially well documented are the comparisons of pagan worship becoming Christianised through Emperor Constantine, who astutely worked to unify his fractious kingdom by blessing pagan gods and writing them into catholic canon during the council of Nicea in AD325. As Byzantion, or Constantinople or Istanbul, the city has been defended and fought for, over the centuries by such notables as Constantine 1st, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Ivan the Terrible, Catherine The Great of Russia and virtually every empire in between.Hughes has written the book after an exceptionally epic effort, with attention to detail and side points and anecdotes and references and bibliography, so that surely she must be one of the most well informed minds on the subject. Technically written with attention to detail and with language that enriched my vocabulary, I felt at times that I was reading her dissertation for a PHD on the subject. The book should become a university text book for all others who want to know anything about the city, because I don't know if there is anything left to write that isn't included in this book. The book leaves no stone un-turned. It is a massive effort and well worth a read...if the reader can last that long...otherwise, watch the TV series of the same name, that has recently played out on SBS televsion, and is just as fascinating.

  • Melissa Dee
    2019-04-28 05:59

    This massive work by Bethany Hughes visits what must be the vast majority of Byzantine settlements all over the world as Hughes uncovers the wonders that were Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul. Art, architecture, literature, commerce, social history, politics, fashion, religion: the subjects tackled cover the spectrum of life in the city by the Bosporus from hundreds of years BC to the present. Note that the detailed timeline provided in the back is a useful reference as you travel through the history of the city. Be prepared to settle in for a long engagement with this book, but one that is very rewarding if you want to understand more about the role of this city which is so central to the politically turbulent region in which it stands.

  • Susan O
    2019-05-20 05:52

    I finished listening to Istanbul and it was marvelous. Bettany Hughes does a wonderful job reading the book. It's as though she were sitting before an audience telling the story. I did however go ahead and get the physical book. I will revisit the book with the wonderful maps and color plates and of course all the proper spellings of the names, as it seems I need this for context. It will not be a hardship to reread this either. I highly recommend it.------------------------------------------------------So far I am really enjoying both the content and the narration by the author. I'm about 3/4 of the way through, but have decided that I need the text as well. There are many people and place names that I am unfamiliar with and I find I need to see the spelling to help fix them in my mind. The material is wonderful and covered in depth and I want to do what I can to retain as much as possible. This is only my second audio book (since the days of road trips with a cassette tape at least) and a more experienced listener might not have the difficulty I'm having. The first audio book I listened to was a new book about Harry Truman, but I have read quite a lot about him and had no trouble putting the new facts in context. So the book should arrive tomorrow and I'll start back at the beginning reading and listening.

  • Beverly
    2019-04-28 10:57

    I was sent an advanced readers copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for a review. I have read a few of Bettany Hughes' books and this one is the best. Istanbul is of special interest to me as I have travelled to Turkey and love the Turkish people. The book will take the reader through over 5,000 years of history of this amazing city. Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul - the city that joins the West with the East. There are many fascinating characters in the book and she makes them come to life. I intend to use information from this book in my ancient/medieval college history class. My students will love it.

  • Paul Taylor
    2019-04-25 05:09

    Hughes writes in an accessible style with nice touches of wit. This is a monumental project and well executed. She does however betray her bias towards ancient history and her section on post 1923 Turkey is a little sparse. Nevertheless a book that I can strongly recommend if the city and the evolution of Turkey as a nation interests you.

  • Nicola Guscetti
    2019-05-23 04:58

    Absolutely wonderful depiction of the history of Istanbul from the first settlers to the modern city.The description of the various historical periods are complete and detailed, providing a full immersion in the daily life of Istanbul citizens.

  • Cheryl
    2019-05-04 07:53

    Excellent history of Istanbul. Easy to read and well researched. The author encompasses many topics and keeps the reader engaged. Highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to learn about Istanbul history.