• by Bettany Hughes
  • Narrated by Bettany Hughes
  • 24 hrs and 39 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.
Istanbul has always been a place where stories and histories collide and crackle, where the idea is as potent as the historical fact. From the Qu'ran to Shakespeare, this city with three names - Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul - resonates as an idea and a place and overspills its boundaries - real and imagined. Standing as the gateway between the East and West, it has served as the capital of the Roman, Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman Empires. For much of its history, it was 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 microcities and cultures all gathering around the core. At the latest count, archaeologists have measured 42 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.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

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.

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- Wras "Kildonan by the sea"

A brilliant brimfull 8000 year biography!

The three cities within the one are Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul - 8000 years and 320 generations of humanity (as Hughes says) from Byzantium to the departure of the last Ottoman sultan in 1924. And what a tale it is! The history itself is dramatic and multi-layered, but Hughes brings a great deal of herself into the telling as she draws on her extensive travels (not just in Turkey), and impressive research. What makes this history particularly hers are her myriad of references to the rich archaeological finds mainly in Istanbul (a wonderful seam from the recently completed Tunnel under the Bosphorus) which she uses to illuminate and interpret the past - for example the pots of cherries found in the 37 boats unearthed in the Theodosian harbour.

The history itself is a superb source for an historian and Hughes keeps a brisk pace, writing with absolute clarity and infectious enthusiasm and brio. She has known Istanbul for more than thirty years and describes every corner so that you are actually there seeing the remains of a past civilisation. She's particularly good at creating through detail modern everyday Istanbul: gypsies selling fluorescent underwear; stray dogs; Irish pubs and fast food joints - all part of the teeming, vital humanity which she creates as part of the continuum of the story started 8000 years ago and detailed so competently throughout. Today's Syrian refugees traipsing along the Roman road and the 2013 riots are all part of this.

The history is immensely varied and full of detail: the Goths strapping their boys' skulls to make their heads cone-shaped and frightening; the unmanned boat-loads of plague victims pushed out to sea as 900 a day died. She gives us the reality of the Sultan's harem, soft porn for the European artists, but in fact cold, TB-ridden and filled with intrigue. There are massacres and atrocities a-plenty but also high culture, such as artefacts, silk production (silk worms had to be fed diced leaves night and day), perfume and spices all beautifully detailed.

The 24 hours listening took me nearly three weeks and Hughes' very pleasant voice never palled - she has that gift for making you think she's sharing her passion for her subject with you. Good value for one credit too!

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- Rachel Redford "Writer and audiobook reviewer."

Book Details

  • Release Date: 17-02-2017
  • Publisher: Orion