Readers gain insight into the incredible influence of the Ottoman civilization at the dawn of modern history. But Mikhail goes even further, placing Ottoman civilization in its global context. He shows that it is no accident that Columbus’s 1492 voyage coincides with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, or that Martin Luther could use the Sultan’s long shadow as fuel against the Pope. Global economics and politics are well illuminated, as are the connections and relationships between Eurasia and the Americas. Excellent maps and illustrations throughout detail the cities, societies, and cultural regions in circa 1500 ... A wonderful, exciting, engaging, scholarly yet accessible work for all readers of world history, a book that addresses a critical but often overlooked axis of global history.
... full of fine details of this cross-cultural encounter, but its most arresting aspect is Mikhail’s second claim: that 'the Ottoman Empire made our modern world' ... This is strong stuff although, in a way, the traditional historians might agree ... Mikhail steers clear of such guesswork, and instead makes his case by devoting the bulk of his book to a biographical account of Selim the Grim (reigned 1512-20)...Mikhail sometimes struggles to integrate this story smoothly with his tale of the Spaniards in America; there is maybe too much detail on Selim’s campaigns, and some of the linkages, like the parallels Mikhail draws between Selim’s death and Montezuma’s (both in 1520), feel strained. However, the story is always interesting. Who would not want to know about the history of Yemeni coffee or the olive-oil wrestlers of Edirne? ... The highest praise for a history book is that it makes you think about things in a new way.
... very original and wide-ranging ... Mr. Mikhail draws on sources in several languages to tell this gripping story; he wields a lucid and fast-moving prose, and his analysis is full of surprises. For like a skilled janissary—one of those elite troops that made Ottoman armies so formidable in the field—Mr. Mikhail has more than one string to his bow. He sets Selim’s accomplishments within an exceedingly wide context, for he views the persistent Ottoman threat to the West and the panicked response to it, following the capture of Constantinople in 1453, as the catalyst for numerous seemingly unrelated events not only in Europe but in the Americas ... We are used to a depiction of Columbus as a man fired by the quest for discovery or the riches of an undiscovered world, but Mr. Mikhail makes his case convincingly ... Mr. Mikhail’s alignment of Selim’s admittedly impressive reforms with the Reformation in Europe is provocative and interesting, if perhaps exaggerated. In fact, it exemplifies Mr. Mikhail’s brilliance, as a historian, in discerning previously unsuspected correspondences and parallels. But a reform of the law courts and legal practices, however sweeping, is hardly equivalent to the redefinition of doctrine and ritual practice that the Protestant Reformation produced. Whatever the consequences of Selim’s reforms, he did not revolutionize fundamental aspects of Islamic belief, nor did he have any intention of doing so; the binding creeds of the theologians and jurists remained as they had been defined and promulgated centuries before. Rather, Selim’s reforms seem intended to centralize and solidify the power of the Ottoman state, and in this they were certainly successful. Little wonder that Erdogan and his cronies offer obeisance at the tomb of Selim the Grim.