Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | March 16, 2010

books at molly’s cafe

the book sale and exchange continues at molly’s cafe.  one friend in particular has brought in some interesting books and so i want to tell you what i am reading.

on horseback across asian minor

one book i really enjoyed was on horseback across asia minor, by frederick barnaby.  he was an officer in the british military in the late 19th century and in fact met his end by being speared during a war in sudan.  this book was sparked by reports in the british press about a turkish massacre of people in bulgaria.  something did not set right with him, so he decided to use his leave to travel across turkey to find out for himself what was going on.  the friend who gave me this book complained that he did not comment much on ancient structures, but i found the account very interesting.  for a military man he wrote very ably and he had learned some turkish so he was able to get along very well.  he had a british servant and took on a couple of turkish servants with varying amounts of success.  his comments were more of a military nature, noting places that could be defended or commenting on the poor state of the military conscription.  he made this trip around 1876, so travel was very basic.  for example, he left from constantinople, took the ferry across to scutari (uskudar) and then it took him 2 days to get to the village of maltepe– these days it take perhaps an hour to do the trip by ferry and bus.  at any rate, he stayed in various places along the way, from peasant hovels (he complained especially about the vermin) to governor’s homes.  as he went he talked to the people, asking their opinions about the current state of affairs with russia, as turkey was poised to go to war.  most men were ready to go, even if they did not have proper weapons or sometimes even shoes.  the russians had officials and agents in most larger towns and were busy stirring things up.    no one liked the russians, but especially not the circassians, who were very fierce in their hatred of the russians for having massacred their people. another thing he asked about was relations among the greeks, armenians, and turks.  there were some feelings of unfairness expressed by the christians, but generally they all got along.  barnard rode across asia minor as far as erzurum, down to van, and up to the black sea.  it is an interesting read that i highly recommend.

circassian chiefs

gertrude bell queen of the desert shaper of nations

last year i read a biography of gerturde bell, called gertrude bell queen of the desert, shaper of nations, by georgina howell.  gertrude bell was an incredible woman.  she came from a rich manufacturing family and was well educated.  she very much had a will of her own, which took her to persia, modern day iraq, and egypt.  she has been accused of being a spy, which she very well may have been in later years.  she travelled by camel across much of the middle east in the early 1900s.  she learned to speak, read and write persian and arabic and was able to travel as a single woman, meeting sheikhs and other tribal leaders.  since she was foreign, she was treated sort of as a man and in fact seemed to prefer the company of men, dismissing women as rather silly.  she had much to do with how the middle east was partitioned, although some of her advice was not taken by the british officials who probably resented that a mere woman could be so knowledgable and assertive.  this book is a very good read, though i was disappointed with how the author ended it.  gerturde bell knew t.s. lawrence, also known as lawrence of arabia.  i think she is a much more colourful character and i hope someone makes a movie of her life.

storm on horseback

i just finished one of john freely’s many books, storm on horseback.  it gallops through the selcuk invasion of turkey and discusses the many arts that the selcuks (seljuks in english) left behind, mostly in their mosques and tombs.  the first part of the book traces their invasions and the territories (beyliks) of the various leaders.  out of this invasion came the osmans, at first an insignificant tribe that went on to become one of the greatest empires in the world.  the second part of the book takes the reader on a tour of various places with comments on the buildings that still exist there.  one interesting point is that although they were muslims, their art often included depictions of lions or eagles.

a history of the byzantine empire and society

last year i started a tome called a history of the byzantine empire and society by warren treadgold.  i had stopped reading it when i got to about the year 1000, but now that i have jumped ahead to the selcuks and the end of the byzantine empire, i have gone back to it with renewed interest.  it is really a weighty volume of more than 1000 pages, but it is interesting to read, even amongst the academic jargon– though treadgold does his best to minimize that and made sure to say in his preface that a lot of things were mays or mights or could haves in his reporting.  he includes some pictures and photos of coins and places, which freely does not, unfortunately.  one helpful thing that freely did, however, was to refer to the places with modern day names, which helps the reader to a better orientation.  this is actually helping me as i go back to treadgold; for example, i know that ancient meletene is today’s malatya.

a turkish friend came in one day last year when i was reading treadgold and commented that the school system here does not teach anything about the byzantine empire.  i don’t recall learning anything about it either.  perhaps for turks it takes away from the turkishness here.  i think for my culture the byzantine empire represented orthodox christianity, which did not fit with the mostly protestant north america.

foreign devils on the roof of the world

i also recommend the peter hopkirk books related to the great game.  this was the very late 19th century and early 20th, a time full of intrigue involving especially the germans.

i have lots more books in the cafe, so please come and browse. i have one shelf of fantasy books that i am relegated to, as i have read just about everything else.  bring some books to exchange or just come and buy them!

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