If one casualty of The Great War was the Ottoman Empire, one creation was modern Turkey. How a multi-ethnic splinter of a defunct empire dating back 625 years became the nation formally recognized in 1923 is the fascinating story of Charles King’s Midnight at the Pera Palace (W.W. Norton, $27.95). Using Istanbul between the wars as the lens for focusing on the larger national context, King’s comprehensive social history pivots on the moment when 1925 became 1926 and, for the first time, “all Istanbullus … agreed on a thing called midnight.” Similarly, citizens of Kemal’s new state embraced a common identity as “Turks,” a term that previously had meant little more than “country bumpkin.” Delving into the politics, demographics, entertainment, and industry of interwar Istanbul, King spotlights a wide range of activities, from the restoration of the 13th-century Byzantine mosaics in the Hagia Sophia to the 1930s network for spiriting Jews through Istanbul to Palestine, from the development of a distinctive Turkish tango to the true meaning of “harem” and the misreading that turned the Osman dynasty into “Ottoman.” This book is full of insight about a complex place still struggling to find its balance on the cusp of East and West.
Dan Jones, the brilliant mind behind The Plantagenets, continues his vivid chronicle of the cousins competing to rule Britain. As the families tore themselves apart and the Tudors rose to power, the history becomes more cut-throat and intriguing than any fantasy series. The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors (Viking, $36) evokes the era of Joan of Arc, of power-hungry queens, and roving men-at-arms. This is history as compelling as a modern political thriller, but though the pages turn quickly, Jones imparts a great deal of period information, as well as telling stories that have clear ramifications for the struggles and revolutions of our own world.