Hughes, equally well known in Britain for her popular historical documentaries, gives us an even heftier opus written with a classicist’s linguistic precision ... Hughes’s book begins with the prehistoric substrata, delving with curiously gripping detail into layers of settlement archaeologists have only recently unearthed ... And so, right from the start, we are confronted with a vastly larger sense of time than that in which the city is usually conceived. Moreover, Hughes also establishes just how deep the Greek roots of the settlement called Byzantion went, and how heterogenous the Hellenic frontier town of the seventh century B.C. probably was. She has a fine feel for the complexities and shadings of that distant past ... Hughes argues that in this period — just before the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 heralded the arrival of a new enemy, the Turks — the two religions and empires [Christian empire and the caliphate] had found a way of coexisting.
More emblematic of this intense struggle than any other city is the beautiful, atmospheric place now known as Istanbul, the subject of the terrifically rewarding new book by Bettany Hughes, Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities... As its title implies, Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities looks at this storied place through the eras of its three distinct identities... Hughes concentrates her account on major personalities and what she refers to as 'game-changing events'... In sure, gripping prose, the story moves steadily forward through violent clashes between Christian and Turkish forces vying for this city... Readers are taken through the dramatic high points of these clashes and all the city's later phases... It's a spellbinding performance from start to finish ...her presented bibliography is enormous, but always the narrative itself is infused with an obvious love for the city that Hughes first visited when she was 18.
Bettany Hughes’s ebullient book is an ode to three incarnations of the city: Byzantion of the ancient past; the Constantinople that was the capital of the Christian Byzantine empire; and the Constantinople of the Muslim Ottomans that today goes by the name of Istanbul. Hughes guides us round a city that is majestic, magical and mystical, leaving few stones unturned. It is a loving biography of a city that never stands still, never mind never sleeps ... Bettany Hughes has written an important book that brings the past of this glorious city to life. It is filled with charming vignettes...is snappily written... Chapters are kept short and entertaining, broadly in chronological order, but with the author sidestepping to look at such diverse topics... There is plenty here to entertain those who know something about the city, and even more to enthrall those who don’t.