There's the Istanbul of the poor, of the rich, of the expat, the explorer and the displaced. There are many ways to appreciate the city, as is evident from this selection of autobiographies, historical accounts, fiction and crime novels, photography and coffee table books, city guides and even a children's book. Ultimately, Istanbul remains in the eye of the beholder. If you're looking for a good read on the city, check out our list of recommendations below.
Set in the 1950s, Istanbul: Memories and the City is an autobiographical novel by Orhan Pamuk in which the author brings to life the cloud of melancholy that hovers over the city since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
Istanbul Boy, the autobiographical series of author Aziz Nesin, is a must-read for anyone who enjoys a story that provokes both tears and laughter within a few sentences. His books in Turkish are widely available throughout Istanbul while English translations may be ordered through Pandora Bookstore.
The Bosphorus: A Historical Guide by historian Jak Deleon covers everything from the legend of the foundation of Istanbul to the city’s seven sieges. This highly readable guide is available in English and Turkish through Intermedia Publishing.
Istanbul: The Imperial City by John Freely is a wonderful introduction to Istanbul that follows the city’s history in an easy chronological path. Another recommended book by Freely is Strolling Through Istanbul and The Bosphorus.
Becoming Istanbul, an interestingly compiled book by a number of different Turkish architects and urban scientists like Uğur Tanyeli, falls somewhere in between an encyclopedia and a compliation of humorous news columns. The book takes you through classic Turkish topics and depicts how they have uniquely related to and shaped the city today. A great introduction for those trying to make heads or tails of Istanbul for the first time.
Mark Twain famously wrote Innocents Abroad after a visit to the city in the 19th century. Twain's observations, though told over a century ago, strike a familiar cord to those of us who have ever felt like a stranger in a strange land. For a free copy visit: http://twain.thefreelibrary.com.
In the riveting crime drama Belshazzar's Daughter: A Novel of Istanbul, British author Barbara Nadel shows her passion for Turkish culture. In her second novel, The Ottoman Cage: A Novel of Istanbul, the author evokes the sights and sounds of the city. Pandora Bookstore carries Barbara Nadel's books in English and Turkish.
Dear Shameless Death by rising female Turkish author Latife Tekin is a strange, magical story of a young girl growing up in modern Turkey. It is a fantastic, hallucinatory novel, with strong feminist insights. Available at Robinson Crusoe and Pandora bookstores and is available in Turkish and English.
Honor, by Elif Şafak, perhaps Turkey’s most famous female author, deals with social and gender roles in a story of a family where a brutal murder has occurred.
Orhan Pamuk’s latest novel The Museum of Innocence is an emotional tale about the escapades of Kemal, a wealthy Istanbulite who falls in love with his cousin Füsun despite being engaged to another woman. While writing the novel, Pamuk actually compiled and opened a physical museum, also called Museum of Innocence, in Çukurcuma as a companion to the book.
A Mind at Peace, one of the most famous Turkish novels, was published in 1949 by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar. Proclaimed by Orhan Pamuk to be the greatest novel ever written about the city, the book details the story of a man whose parents die in the events following World War I, and the national attitude of the country between world conflicts.
Coffee Table Books
L'Art de Vivre a Istanbul (Living in Istanbul) is a superb volume, in which the authors (Kenize Mourad and contributing author Lâle Apa, publisher of The Guide Istanbul and several cookbooks) reveal hidden splendors of Istanbul, inciting us to discover a variety of magnificent palaces on the European and Asian shores of the Bosphorus.
Balconies of Istanbul, prepared by the efforts of Sheree Barka and Oya Şengör, is a selection of some of the most beautiful balconies for which Istanbul is so famous. It is available at Pandora Bookstore in English and Turkish.
Princess of the Waterway by Terry Sonman is a moving, historical portrait of the straits called the Bosphorus. This English-language book is available at Pandora Bookstore.
Ara Güler's Retrospektif-Retrospektive-Retrospective is a comprehensive collection of this internationally renowned photographer's dazzling portraits of Turkey, with old Istanbul being Güler's favorite subjects.
Capital Of Three Empires Istanbul brings to photographic life this teeming city of light and contrasts. Available at Pandora Bookstore.
Selim Seval: “Upuzun bir düﬂ… Istanbul” (A Lengthy Dream… Istanbul ) is a recent newcomer on the literary scene: a book of black and white photographs by photographer Selim Seval.
Style City Istanbul revels in the city's creative dynamism, from its trendy rooftop bars to its lesser-known cultural hotspots and mosques. Available in English at Pandora Bookstore.
Zeynep: The Seagull of Galata Tower, written and illustrated by Julia Townsend, is set in the heart of historic Istanbul. Illustrated by the author, this universal story of friendship gives a glimpse into this unique and interesting city. The book is available in English and Turkish and can be found at Robinson Crusoe Bookstore.