Miquixote's Reviews > Atatürk: The Biography of the founder of Modern Turkey

Atatürk by Andrew Mango
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's review
Dec 16, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: history, significant-250-citations, 25-citations-year, 1-point

This is the definitive biography of Ataturk (so far). If you want to know anything substantive about him, this is the place to go.

Typical academic history book, long on details that perhaps not many really want to know about. This is a book to be enjoyed if you are as interested in (obsessed about?) Ataturk as the Turkish tend to be. Infinitesimally detailed. I read this for my time in Turkey, to give me insight. I have to admit I learned alot from it, but it doesn't come without its problems.

The book is perhaps too forgiving, as others have pointed out. Ataturk was an autocrat, he mixed history & pseudo-history, to create a type of nationalist mythology very similar in ideas to some more famous unmentionables, which should make some of us a little uncomfortable…

In Turkey there is this incredible personality cult of Ataturk as if he is faultless. He is the benevolent dictator, the exception to the rule. In this book, it points out some of his quibbles (like drinking too much) but probably doesn't dwell enough on some more concretely horrific things he did. For example, in 1937–1938, approximately 65,000–70,000 Alevi Kurds were killed and thousands were taken into exile. You see the turkification process involved a policy of massive population resettlement. This policy targeted the region of Dersim. Today, Dersim's unique culture is almost extinct. This gets one paragraph on page 500, although the numbers are not mentioned, and Ataturk absolved of the crime. But hey that's life when pragmatics and realism are the solution to everything.

Atatürk IS now Turkey and Turkishness. Criticism of Atatürk is illegal in Turkey up to now. Socially, culturally, and politically Ataturk's influence has seeped in more than any other dictator, 'benevolent' or not, in the last century.

So, yeah this book is minutiae in detail, really strict, and has a steady rhythm. Not partiularly entertaining writing here but history books rarely are. If you want to finish this, a few dozen tea cups of discipline is necessary. But is the detail the kind of detail we want for a balanced analysis of the country and its superhero? I'll leave that to you to decide. On and on about Ataturk’s military genius, and his manipulative genius, his conception of realism and pragmatism.

Suffice it to say, this book is long. If it weren't for the lack of good material on Ataturk, I should probably be a bit harsher in my judgement.

Oh, and if you go to Turkey for that pretty holiday you were looking for (it is a beautiful country by the way), please remember: don't criticize Ataturk!


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