I’m a little surprised at my copy of Goodwin’s book. While it is twenty years old now, by this point publishers were generally aware of the problems of using paper that was too acidic, and using largely acid-free paper. This book’s pages are distinctly discolored, with that slightly brittle feel. It makes the book feel a older than it is, because most books contemporary with it don’t have that trouble.

Goodwin’s writing however is quite good, if a bit scatterbrained. This is very much readable popular history, and pours forth a lot of interesting facts and tidbits that are thematically linked as much as chronologically so. Within the space of a few pages, he’ll bounce back and forth between centuries to illustrate a point. (I’ll leave you to decide if that’s really an appropriate technique.)

There’s color and commentary, and wars, and sultans, and viziers, colorful quotes from travelers. This is all well done, but neither does it rise above this. Near to six centuries is a lot of time, so there’s lots of tidbits to share, but while the hopping around allows you to see things change, there’s no defined sense of time passing. There’s much in here that, even with knowledge of the subject, you won’t already know (there’s a number of illustrations that help with that), but not a lot of structure to organize it in and hook into other bits.

In all, this is a good place to start learning about the Ottoman Empire. But it would be a horrible place to stop. I also recommend Lord Kinross’ The Ottoman Centuries as a good second stop, which isn’t nearly as energetically written, but much more traditionally structured, and is allowed to take about twice the length on a very broad subject.