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Istanbul Reading List: Seven Great Books for Travelers

The story of Istanbul is both glorious and tragic. Blessed with a strategic location straddling Europe and Asia, it has long claimed the mantles that cities everywhere crave: imperial capital; center of trade and commerce; continental crossroads. During the course of its two thousand year history, Istanbul has been all of these and more. Yet the vicissitudes of human action have brought the city repeatedly from glory to ruin, and back to prominence again. The books in this specially selected Istanbul reading list barely scratch the surface of its long and storied past, yet we offer them up in the hope that by introducing some of the more consequential works about Istanbul we might whet your appetite for learning more about this amazing city. Happy reading.

“If the Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.”

Napoleon Bonaparte

Istanbul History Books

Istanbul reading list book cover

Istanbul: City of Majesty at the Crossroads of the World

by Thomas F. Madden

A concise rendering Istanbul history packed into a relatively short and easily readable volume. the author calls upon a lifetime of scholarship to produce a clear, well written, and enjoyable book telling the story of one of the world’s great cities. Buy it now

istanbul imperial city book cover

Istanbul: Imperial City

by John Freely

Istanbul’s history is a catalogue of change, not least of name, yet it has managed to retain its own unique identity. John Freely captures the flavor of daily life as well as court ceremonial and intrigue. The book also includes a comprehensive gazetteer of all major monuments and museums. An in-depth study of this legendary city through its many different ages from its earliest foundation to the present day – the perfect traveller’s companion and guide. Buy it now

constantinople birth of an empire book cover

Constantinople: Birth of an Empire

by Harold Lamb

A comprehensive account of the life of Emperor Justinian I (482-565) written by one of the foremost narrative historians of the 20th century. A must read for anyone even mildly interested in Byzantine history or 6th century Christianity. This popular history brings a host of important characters to life and covers all aspects of the life, reign, and accomplishments of Justinian the Great. Buy it now

Istanbul Memoirs

orhan pamuk istanbul book cover

Istanbul: Memories and the City

by Orhan Pamuk

“Far from a conventional appreciation of the city’s natural and architectural splendors, Istanbul tells of an invisible melancholy and the way it acts on an imaginative young man, aggrieving him but pricking his creativity.” –The New York Times

An ode to his hometown by the Nobel Prize winning author and one of Istanbul’s most beloved native sons. Buy it now

ghost empire book cover

Ghost Empire: A Journey to the Legendary Constantinople

by Richard Fidler

In 2014, Richard Fidler journeyed to Istanbul with his teenage son. In this volume, the master storyteller weaves together their shared adventures with the exciting, intriguing, captivating history of the city. Everything is here: Christian history, the rise and fall of Empires, murder, betrayal, ambition and revenge. Buy it now

Istanbul Fiction

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The Architect’s Apprentice

by Elif Shafak

“An impressive achievement, a novel populated by swashbuckling soldiers, mysterious Gypsies and more than a few guileless courtesans.  It’s also a love poem to the cosmopolitan beauty of Istanbul. . .As she traces these characters’ colorful stories, Shafak unfurls what may be her most accomplished novel –and is certainly her most expansive.”–The New York Times Book Review Buy it now

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The Sultan’s Seal

by Jenny White

“Set in nineteenth-century Istanbul, The Sultan’s Seal lingers in the mind like the strong, delightful smell of an incense you will remember the next time you catch it in the air.”-Review Buy it now