Istanbul: The Imperial City

This book about Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul, by the American teacher John Freely, is a curious read. It purports to be a chronological history of the city, yet is in fact mostly a string of anecdotes about the doings of its sometime rulers interspersed with the odd undigested gobbet of political history. It has none of the contextual depth or atmospherics required to really understand the place, in the way, for example, that you can almost walk the streets of Victorian London in Desmond and Moore’s incredible biography of Darwin.  So the first 300-odd pages skate unsatisfyingly over the surface of their subject – and then the final 60-odd, footnotes to the main text, consist of detailed architectural descriptions (with sketches) of the remaining monuments of the Byzantine and Ottoman eras which would no doubt be illuminating if you were examining those places with the book in your hand, but are really just annoying when you have to flick back and forth.

Perhaps I’ll pack it next time I go – it might change my mind.

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