Book Recommendation: The Ottoman Endgame, Sean McMeekin


Hello everyone! Today’s post is a book recommendation for The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Sean McMeekin. McMeekin is a professor of history at Bard University, and has written extensively on Russia, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Both a detailed narrative summary of the years surrounding and including the First World War from the Ottoman point of view and a (well-timed) explanation of many of the historical factors which lie behind the current geopolitical reality in the Middle East, The Ottoman Endgame is truly wonderful. Well-researched, well-written, and well-conceived, I would certainly recommend it to anyone who is interested in either the First World War or the final years of the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottoman Endgame is, in a way, tragic; although it is obvious from the first pages that the death knell has sounded for the Empire, it is difficult not to sympathize with their plight (though it is also difficult to pity them overmuch, in light of the vicious ethnic violence which erupted across the Empire in its final years). The period from the fall of Abdul-Hamid and the Balkan Wars all the way to the Greco-Turkish War and the resurrection of Turkey as a modern nation-state is covered in this book, each section more compelling than the last. The high drama of the First World War on the Eastern Front is exposed, from Russia’s near-victory at the Bosporus to Britain’s missed opportunity at Alexandretta. Each front and section of the war is treated to its own chapter, with the section on the Gallipoli campaign particularly detailed due to the extensive records kept during the investigation into its failure. As a reader, it is easy to get a sense of the personalities behind many of the chief players in this drama, particularly the Ottoman Minister of War, Enver Pasha (though it should be noted that McMeekin often presents the motivations of his protagonists as fact, when they are, in fact, his opinion). The prose moves quickly and a sense of suspense is lent to proceedings even if the outcome is already known.

In the end, the promised collapse of the Empire comes almost as an anticlimax; the Empire fades away rather than exploding, and in its ashes Turkey is almost immediately reborn. Mustafa Kemal’s feat of arms in the Greco-Turkish War is treated to many pages, and the Greeks do not come off as the heroes in the conflict (though neither do the Turks). Once again, it is difficult to avoid nostalgia at the thought that over two thousand years of Greek culture in Anatolia is in the process of fading away; at the same time, however, the vibrant culture of modern Turkey will succeed it. McMeekin also does not avoid the harsher aspects of the end of the Empire, treating with detail (and respect) the extensive ethnic cleansing during both the First World War and the Greco-Turkish War, while, at the same time, refusing to directly state his position on either side of the often contentious historical issues at hand. While this was likely necessary if he wanted to gain access to many of the archives he needed, it does leave the chapters involved feeling overly cautious. Regardless, this is an excellent historical work, and one that I could not recommend more highly. I hope you all enjoyed this post, and have a wonderful day!

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