The large number of books available on Istanbul makes it hard to separate the dry from the inspiring. These recommended non-fiction books will show you why Istanbul deserves its place in the pantheon of great cities.
Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities by Bettany Hughes
The product of a decade’s research, this book by British historian Bettany Hughes spans 8,000 years of history in Istanbul, from the earliest ruins discovered in the Yenikapı excavations on to the Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, and the present day. This account manages to be comprehensive, detailed, and readable at the same time.
Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk
More than just a memoir, this book introduces us to Istanbul artists, writers, neighborhoods, and lifestyles through the prism of Pamuk’s early life. No guided tour could possibly be as personal or immersive as this. It is also invaluable for understanding the melancholy atmosphere and romantic obsessions of Pamuk’s novels.
Constantinople: City of the World’s Desire by Philip Mansel
British historian Mansel’s book takes a thematic approach to the city, talking as fluently about culture and religion as it does about battles and sultans. Mansel has a talent for picking out intriguing characters who flit between European and Asian roles, as well as for recounting real incidents that are stranger than fiction.
An Istanbul Anthology: Travel Writing Through the Centuries
Edited by Turkish writer and journalist Kaya Genç, the selections in this book illustrate the many perspectives and personalities that foreign visitors have brought to the city. Accounts by Arthur Conan Doyle, Andre Gide, Gustave Flaubert, and Ernest Hemingway demonstrate the outside eye’s eternal fascination with Istanbul.
Stamboul Sketches: Encounters in Old Istanbul by John Freely
American travel writer and historian Freely is better known for his lengthy tomes, but this book takes a shorter and more eccentric approach. Subjects include Istanbul’s street cats, wandering dervishes and folk singers, the seasonal winds, city markets, cemeteries, and the lunar calendar.
Atatürk: An Intellectual Biography by M. Şükrü Hanioğlu
Although his face looks out from a million portraits in Istanbul, not everyone agrees on what Mustafa Kemal Atatürk actually symbolizes. In this book, Princeton University academic Hanioğlu traces the origins of Atatürk’s thought from the late-Ottoman era to the new Republic of Turkey, showing how political, social, and philosophical trends have shaped debates that are still current today.
Istanbul Architecture by Murat Gül and Trevor Howells
Once you look past the simple binaries of Greek-Turkish or ancient–modern, there is a multiplicity of architectural styles on display in Istanbul. Gül and Howells cover all the major structures of Istanbul area by area, from the historical peninsula to the Asian side, and the northern shores of the Bosphorus. With this book in hand, you will see the marvelous fusion of influences that make up every street.