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Terrell's Suggested Reading List for Turkey

Guidebooks

The Lonely Planet Guide to Turkey  Lonely Planet is by far the most popular guidebook for Turkey. It is well organized, comprehensive and frequently updated. It's not very interesting to read but if I were lost in Turkey it would be the guidebook I would most like to have with me. One of the problems with using the most popular guide is that you will see lots of other tourists at the places they recommend. Sometimes, that just can't be helped. The 2009 edition was released in March. Buy it here.

The Rough Guide to Turkey  The Rough Guide's 2007 edition is, in my opinion, the most balanced general guidebook to Turkey. It covers everything you really need to know including what to see, where to stay, places to eat, how to get around, and some general information on history and culture. It has a few pictures, but not many. It's generally better written than some of the other guidebooks, but some people find the organization a little difficult to follow. It's easy to use once you get accustomed to it. Unfortunately, 2007 is pretty out of date for a guidebook and the new edition doesn't come out until June of 2010.  Buy it here.

The Eyewitness Guide to Turkey If you don't need hotel and restaurant information but you do want lots of pictures and maps and a sense of what there is to see and do in Turkey, I recommend this guide from British publisher DK. It has articles on history and food and music as well as information on sights around the country, neatly organized by region. The slick paper and huge number of color photographs make it a little heavy to carry around on your trip, but it is particularly useful in the planning stage when you're trying to decided what you really want to see.  Buy it here. This guide is also slated for a new edition in the spring of 2010. They do a nice guide to Istanbul as well.

The Blue Guide to Turkey  If you are particularly interested in ruins, architecture, history or museums, you should try to get your hands on a copy of the Blue Guide to Turkey even though it is currently out of print. When people ask me why I recommend it, I always tell them to compare the section on Ephesus with other guidebooks. The other guys usually have about a page. The Blue Guide has seventeen. Look for a copy here. (You're looking for the third edition, published in 2001.) Just don't expect the prices, opening times, or other frequently changing information to be correct.

Time Out Istanbul  The Time Out city guides are great little books with lots of ideas for things to do while you're in the city. They are very good for finding the trendiest cafes, the most interesting museums, the cutest boutiques and the best spots for people watching. They are written by English expats who live in the city they're writing about so you get kind of an insider/outsider viewpoint. Good maps at the back, too. The 2007 edition for Istanbul is still the most recent. Hopefully they'll do a new one soon. Buy it here.

Step by Step Ephesus by Mehlika Seval  Meli's own book about Ephesus, this full-color, heavily illustrated hardcover book guides you through all the fascinating ruins of this ancient city. Meli lives just a few miles away from Efes (that's the Turkish name for the site as well as the name of Turkey's most popular beer) so it would be hard to find a better guide. Look for it here.

History & Culture

A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich  A huge swath of Anatolian history took place under the rule of the Byzantine emperors. This pared down version of Norwich's three volume history of Byzantium takes you on a whirlwind ride through a thousand years of coups, assassinations, intrigues, and machinations. And really, you have to love any author named John Julius, don't you? Buy it here.

Lords of the Horizon by Jason Goodwin A history of the Ottoman era by a young author who has now turned to writing murder mysteries set at the Ottoman court. I can't say I admire Goodwin's non-linear style of writing, but this is much less dry than any other history of the time period that I have found. Buy it here.

Turkey Unveiled by Hugh and Nicole Pope  A look at modern Turkey by two expat journalists living and working in Istanbul. They write well, they have researched their subject extensively, and they love Turkey and the Turks. So many books about Turkey are written from such a critical viewpoint, it's nice to read something from a sympathetic position. Buy it here.

Ataturk: A Biography of Mustafa Kemal by Lord Kinross It's a big book and out of print, but if you want to know about Turkey you should read it. When they call him the father of the Turks, they really mean it. I haven't read Andrew Mungo's more recent biography but the Turks I talked to preferred this one. That may mean that Mungo's book is more balanced but I think it's helpful in understanding the Turkish people to see Ataturk as the hero they remember. The book is well written and gives a good account of the last years of the empire and the early years of the republic. Look for a copy here. The English edition is subtitled "Rebirth of a Nation."

A Traveller's History of Turkey by Richard Stoneman  If you want your history in a quick, compact format, try this little book from Interlink publishing. In less than 300 pages it takes you all the way from archeology to current events. This is part of very good series from yet another excellent, small English publisher. Buy it here.

A Muslim Primer: Beginner's Guide to Islam by Ira Zepp   Of all the books  that I have read (or tried to read) on Islam, this one was the easiest to understand. Zepp was a professor of comparative religion so he really gets what a non-Muslim is trying to find out about Islam. He talks about the history of the religion, the difference between Sunni and Shiite, the religion's influence on culture, as well as beliefs and practice. It's clear, concise and very valuable to people traveling in Muslim countries. Buy it here.

Eat Smart in Turkey by Joan Peterson  Eating in Turkey is a fabulous adventure but something that most tourists can use a little help with. What are mezeler? What time of day should you drink tea? What's the difference between doner and kabop? A little book like this can make all the difference in really enjoying one of the world's great cuisines. Buy it here. My other favorite food book World Food: Turkey by Lonely Planet  is now out of print. It's still worth having if you can find a copy since Turkish food hasn't really changed a lot in the last couple of hundred years. Look for it here.

Berlitz Turkish Phrasebook  In Istanbul and along the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts you'll find plenty of people who speak English. Once you move out of the beach areas, it's helpful to have a good phrasebook or dictionary. The Berlitz is my personal favorite of the phrasebooks but there are others just as good. Buy it here.

Teach Yourself Beginner's Turkish After my first trip to Turkey, I decided to learn some of the language. Turkish is fairly easy to pronounce but the grammar is quite different from Romance languages. I used this book and CD set and found it was a really good way to get started. It has grammar and vocabulary lessons, fill-in-the-blank exercises, and dialogues that are recorded on the CDs so you can get used to the way Turkish sounds. Buy it here.

Literature

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk  Most of this Nobel Prize winning author's books are rather dense and inaccessible, even--in the case of Snow--rather depressing. This one is, in my opinion, is the most readable. It is ostensibly a murder mystery set at the Ottoman court among the painters who make the exquisite miniatures for the emperor. The drama, however, is really in the pulls between Eastern traditions and Western influences, a drama that pervades life in Turkey today. Buy it here.

 

Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres  If you can't handle the idea of reading Kinross's Ataturk biography, read this novel instead. Chapters telling the sweet and sad story of the inhabitants of a small village in southwestern Anatolia during the days of the founding of the Turkish Republic alternate with chapters about the life of Mustafa Kemal. Easy history, well written by the author of Corelli's Mandolin. Buy it here.

 

Tales from the Expat Harem by Anastasia Ashman and Jennifer Gokmen A collection of short non-fiction pieces by non-Turkish women, mostly Americans, who are living in Turkey for one reason or another. I found the quality of the pieces in this anthology to be uniformly high with some that were unexpectedly moving. Nice light reading for a trip. Buy it here.

Beyond the Orchard by Azize Ethem Despite her exotic sounding name, Azize is a nice English lady who met and married an Ottoman prince. When they decided to build a home on the Turkish coast, she wound up having to handle things while he continued to work abroad. This simple, lovely and very funny memoir differs from the usual "I moved to a beautiful place and built a house" books because of Azize's true affection for the local villagers and the countryside. Buy it here.

The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak  Truth in advertising, here, I haven't actually read this book. I did read Shafak's first novel in English, The Flea Palace, but this is the one that got all the international publicity. This novel takes up the controversial theme of Armenians in Turkey and got the author tried, like Orhan Pamuk, on charges of "un-Turkishness." She writes in a quasi-mystical style that is not my favorite genre but her novels are interesting portraits of modern Turkey. Buy it here.

The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett Okay, I'm overdoing it here. This six volume novel is set just before the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and stars Scottish adventurer Francis Crawford of Lymond who, in the course of the series, travels throughout Europe including Constantinople. After my first trip to Istanbul I reread the entire six book series just so I could properly enjoy the scene in fourth book where he escapes through the cisterns under the city. These are wonderful historical novels and Lymond is an unforgettable character. Buy the first one here.

Poetry

Human Landscapes from My Country by Nazim Hikmet On the 2004 trip, we stopped into a roadside shop for a bathroom and drink break. They were playing a classical music piece that Meli identified as Fazil Say's oratorio setting of the poetry of Nazim Hikmet. When I got home and checked around, this was the only one of his books that I could find in English. It is a novel in verse written while Hikmet was a political prisoner during World War II and tells the story of the emergence of modern Turkey. It's not for the faint of heart (it's long, heavy and rather difficult) but he is one the most important Turkish writers and acknowledged as one of the greatest international poets of the twentieth century. Buy it here.

The Essential Rumi translated by Coleman Barks The best-known (and best-selling) English translation of the mystical poetry of the founder of Sufism. If you're planning a trip to see his tomb at Konya or if you'd like to know more about those whirling dervishes, this is a good place to start. Buy it here.

 

page updated August 2009