The Ottomans by Marc David Baer

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for The Ottomans by Marc David Baer and published by Basic Books.

About the Prize

The Wolfson History Prize, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, is the UK’s most prestigious historical writing prize and was created to champion the best and most accessible historical writing, and to highlight the importance of history to modern life. Previous winners have included Mary Beard, Antony Beevor, Antonia Frasier, Sudhir Hazareesingh, Amanda Vickery and many more.

A number of the six titles in the running for the £50,000 prize (making it the UK’s most valuable non-fiction writing prize) prove that current social divisions are nothing new, exploring times of discord and crisis throughout history, including accusations of witchcraft in a small New England town, the shock of Britain’s European neighbours during the turbulent Stuart dynasty, and the topical question of fallen statues and what they tell us about historical legacy.

Other titles on the shortlist showcase the impact faith has had on our lives over the centuries, tackling subjects such as the role of religious tolerance within the Ottoman Empire, the surprising realities of Medieval churchgoing, and the ways in which the anatomical concept of God has changed across time.”

To learn more about the Wolfson History Prize please visit or connect on Twitter via @WolfsonHistory / #WolfsonHistoryPrize.

The books shortlisted for the 2022 Wolfson History Prize are:

The Ruin of All Witches: Life and Death in the New World by Malcolm Gaskill (Allen Lane)

Devil-Land: England Under Siege, 1588-1688 by Clare Jackson (Allen Lane)

Going to Church in Medieval England by Nicholas Orme (Yale University Press)

God: An Anatomy by Francesca Stavrakopoulou (Picador)

Fallen Idols: Twelve Statues That Made History by Alex von Tunzelmann (Headline)

And the book I am reviewing today:

The Ottomans: Khans, Caesars and Caliphs by Marc David Baer (Basic Books)

About the Book

The Ottoman Empire has long been depicted as the Islamic-Asian antithesis of the Christian-European West. But the reality was starkly different: the Ottomans’ multiethnic, multilingual, and multireligious domain reached deep into Europe’s heart. In their breadth and versatility, the Ottoman rulers saw themselves as the new Romans.

Recounting the Ottomans’ remarkable rise from a frontier principality to a world empire, Marc David Baer traces their debts to their Turkish, Mongolian, Islamic and Byzantine heritage; how they used both religious toleration and conversion to integrate conquered peoples; and how, in the nineteenth century, they embraced exclusivity, leading to ethnic cleansing, genocide, and the dynasty’s demise after the First World War. Upending Western concepts of the Renaissance, the Age of Exploration, the Reformation, this account challenges our understandings of sexuality, orientalism and genocide.

Radically retelling their remarkable story, The Ottomans is a magisterial portrait of a dynastic power, and the first to truly capture its cross-fertilisation between East and West.


About the Author

Marc David Baer is Professor of International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is the author of five books: Honored by the Glory of Islam: Conversion and Conquest in Ottoman Europe, winner, Albert Hourani Prize, Middle East Studies Association of North America; Sultanic Saviors and Tolerant Turks: Writing Ottoman Jewish History, Denying the Armenian Genocide, winner of the Dr Sona Aronian Book Prize for Excellence in Armenian Studies, National Association for Armenian Studies and Research; The Dönme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular Turks; German, Jewish, Muslim, Gay: The Life and Times of Hugo Marcus; and The Ottomans: Khans, Caesars and Caliphs.


My Review

The Ottoman Empire controlled a large part of Southeast Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries. It crushed the Byzantine Empire and after it won in the Balkans it became a genuine transcontinental empire. It has been perceived in history as being the Islamic foe of Christian Europe, but the reality was utterly different, it was a multiethnic, multilingual, and multireligious society that accepted people from everywhere.

They were keen on converting people to Islam, but this was not a prerequisite to being a member of this society. Jews that were fleeing European persecution found a home here and could even rise high in the elite service of the sultans. In fact, the tolerance and acceptance of a whole variety of peoples became its strength over the greater part of its history.

The book follows both the political leaders of the empire over the six centuries of rule. The way that each new sultan would put to death brothers and cousins to ensure that they had no threat to their leadership was shocking reading. For me, I found, the descriptions of the way that the society worked and the cultural aspects much more interesting reading.


To say there is a lot to take in in this book is an understatement. Baer covers the 600 years of the ebb and flow of the history of this empire in a remarkably readable book. It has a strong narrative and only occasionally descends into detailed academic prose about very specific or particular events. It also shows that Ottoman history is unequivocally European history too.


Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the blog tour


Buy this at your local independent bookshop. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here


My thanks to Bei from Midas PR for the copy of the book to read.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    What a gorgeous cover and a tempting title – I nearly asked for this one myself! It sounds like an important reinterpretation of what we think we know about the Ottomans.

    • Paul

      It is a beautiful cover. I have just passed it onto someone else, otherwise you could have had it. If he passes it back I will send it on.

      • Liz Dexter

        Oh that’s very kind of you, but not to worry! I’m passing on my Going to Church in Medieval England to a friend, too!

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