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Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  922 ratings  ·  152 reviews
Istanbul explores a city which stands as a gateway between the east and west, one of the indisputably greatest cities in the world. Previously known by the names Byzantium and Constantinople, this is the most celebrated metropolis in the world to sit on two continents, straddling the dividing line of the Bosphorus Strait between Europe and Asia.

During its long history, Is
Hardcover, 800 pages
Published 2017 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (first published September 8th 2016)
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Wonderful presentation of the continuity and transformations of this special city through the rise and fall of three empires—the Roman, the Byzantine, and the Ottoman. One pagan and the other two variable forms of Christian and Muslim theocracies. What a labor of love this is. As a reader trying to lighten my ignorance of each of these empires, I hit a bonanza with this book. It made real dent in my dream of some shortcut to catching up on 3,000 or so years of history. I gleaned a lot of persona ...more
I listened to this during a long car trip and repeatedly I was amazed at the knowledge of the author, the interesting details, the comprehensiveness and depth of the writing. What flashed through my head on several occasions was: I dare you to read this and not be amazed, not be impressed with the author’s knowledge on absolutely everything related to Istanbul. So yes, I judge the book to be amazing.

This book is about Istanbul from prehistoric times through to current times, that is to say when
Jul 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audible
In Istanbul, Bettany Hughes sees not a city where East meets West, but where North, South, East, and West look frankly at each other, not always without complication, but with the hope of understanding. That is certainly her aim with this book, she addresses the 6000 years of history with well researched enthusiasm and genuine joy in telling the multiplicity of stories that make up this thrice named city.

Written chronologically but also thematically, the book lends itself to piecemeal reading,
Yelda Basar Moers
Let me preface this book by saying, this could have been a GREAT book...

This new biography of Istanbul by historian Bettany Hughes was written with a lot of heart, and got off to a great start (especially with the Byzantine years), but then sadly fell apart. She just took on too much, too fast, too soon. I think Hughes needed to spend more time in the city, just living and breathing it, and second, she needed to work on making the narrative more cohesive and compelling. Note to all historians: A
Jan 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Hachette, at no cost. This review first appeared in the History Teachers of Victoria journal Agora.

If you are especially keen on the history of the Byzantine Empire, or the Eastern Roman Empire, like me you might have bought the classic John Julius Norwich trilogy. Again if you are like me, you may have got to the end of the second book and thought, “No more!” Despite that, the city at the heart of that empire (thrice-named, eat your heart out New York)
Oleksandr Zholud
This is a detailed history narrative about what is now called Istanbul, from the first wooden coffin (8000 old) found on its territories up to protests on Taksim Square in the early 21st century. I read is as a part of monthly reading for September 2020 (okay, finished in October) at Non Fiction Book Club group.

I had some previous knowledge about parts of the history presented from other books and courses, from The World of Byzantium to Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the M
Alex O'Connor
I am very disappointed by this book... such potential to be good, and just was not interesting at all.
Tariq Mahmood
May 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, turkey
Bethany is in love with Istanbul, she has unabashedly professed her love openly a number of times, which made it all the more difficult to produce an objective biography of this wondrous and enchanting city. From the Roman times to the Christian era, and from the Islamic Caliphate to the Secular Republic, she has managed to engage and captivate my imagination of her beloved Istanbul. I was engaged completely till the end with the many stories of Kings and Sultans, of their battles and Harims, of ...more
Jun 21, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a massive book, spanning 800 pages, 5 millennia and a cast of thousands. It tells the tale of Byzantion/Constantinople/Istanbul - a city bridge across two continents

I have always been fascinated by Byzantium, a remnant of the Roman empire that endured long after Rome had fallen to the barbarians. A bastion of Christianity, a city of marvellous churches and palaces, teeming with people from all over the world.

Yet this book left me cold. Not sure wby, it has a wealth of detail, shining a
The Kindle sample is really deceptive. The book turned out to be a bloated, patchwork narrative about anything Istanbul. Too many vignettes just in one chapter, and the transition to each topic is just random. Lots of interesting tidbits, of course, but they were all over the place and made it hard for me to follow. Maybe I was too ambitious in trying to find the real connecting dots and threads connecting the past and the present of this historical city.

My most awaited parts of the book, the O
Bevan Lewis
Sep 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An unnamed Byzantine described Istanbul as the city of the world’s desire. This beautifully written book takes us through the history of a city which has played a key role for over 2,000 years. Sitting strategically between Europe and Asia, North and South, East and West she has grown through the profits of trade, the bounty of the sea and the choice of key world historical individuals.
The three cities of the title refers to the names - Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul - by which she has
Caidyn (he/him/his)
DNF at 7%

As I said, this is going to be a pretty short review. I'm always faster at DNFing books during the school year. While this book is definitely good and jam packed with tons of history, my rating more reflects the fact that you actually have to have some background knowledge to understand this book. I have no background knowledge. Each chapter in this book is more a vignette about a certain point in the city's history. Alas, I don't know the history and therefore the little vignettes made
Sep 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Been reading this behemoth of a book all year and finally finished. I'm not a slow reader by any means, but the reason this book took me so long was because of the sheer density of information in each chapter. The author has a difficult task of summarising around 3 millennia of history in a mere 800 pages (!), so this reads as something of a highlight reel, which, for the curious, leads to endless trips down rabbit holes of further reading and research.

I'd hoped there was more of a focus on the
Gumble's Yard
Oct 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
Oh What a noble and beautiful city is Constantinople …. How many remarkable things may be seen in the principal avenues and even in the lesser streets - Fulcher of Chartres

The above quote starts Chapter 47 of this historical account of my favourite City, one I have had the pleasure to visit both on holiday and more recently, on a number of occasions, on business.

Hughes’s account is an excellent one, drawing heavily on archaeological evidence to link the past of this City (and its past domini
This is likely the most disorganized book I have ever read. The work is principally arranged by topic. Some sections span a handful of years, others cover literally centuries. There is also no rhyme or reason to the grouping of these divisions; the reader never knows what subject Hughes will jump to next. Even within each chapter, the discussion routinely wanders off topic. In sum, if you would like to read 800 pages of random facts about Istanbul, this is the book for you. If not, choose anothe ...more
Kristy K
Jan 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, history, arc, netgalley
“But of course, the idea of Istanbul is exponentially bigger than her footprint.”

4.5 Stars

Coming in at 800 pages (although the last chunk is notes and the bibliography), this comprehensive history book may seem daunting, but it reads well and details so many fascinating things that it feels half as long. Bettany Hughes delves into the deep, rich history of Istanbul chronologically, mixing culture, religion, and war to create a vivid picture.

“In terms of both historical fact and written historie
Yousef M

The story of the city we now call Istanbul spanning three millennia, from Byzantion’s semi-mythical origins as a Greco-Thracian colony along the Bosphorus circa the 7th century BC, steeped in legends of Argonauts and Homeric epics, with shifting allegiances between Athens, Sparta, Persia, Macedonians, and rival Roman emperors, to the city’s rebirth as Roman Byzantium by the 1st century AD and rechristening as Constantinople 300 years later as the New Rome, to its transformation into the c
What a brilliant book. Let me preface this by saying that I love Bettany Hughes and have watched nearly all her tv documentary I entered this book with high expectations - and can I just say that she totally delivered.

Researched, written and narrated by Ms Hughes, this was a very informative and interesting book about Istanbul, from prehistoic times to modern day (ie 2016). That is a huge tie period to cover - and yet she did it will apparent ease. I enjoyed how she focused on the ci
Jan 21, 2020 rated it it was ok
In April 2019 I visited Istanbul for five days so I thought this book would be an interesting read. The City I found to be a modern clean efficient city when I thought it would be more like Cairo. I rode the subway, the train, and the busses and found them all to be quick and inexpensive. Even taxi rides were inexpensive. I visited museums, mosques, the crumbling wall, historical markers and the fabulous aquarium. I rode ferries across the Bosporus for $2 rather than pay $40 for a touris
Michael Cayley
Jun 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This is very much history light. Written in a very journalistic style, with lots of colourful phrases, this book has a basic chronological framework. This is, though, not strictly adhered to: there are frequent mini-digressions which fast-forward the reader to the present or dart back to the earlier past, sometimes several thousand years before the period of the chapter concerned. It seemed to me rather as if Bettany Hughes thought to herself, “I have this bit of information which I have not yet ...more
Aug 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Well I managed to get through this book today! A history of istanbul from the first human habitation through after WWI, there was some fascinating stuff here (Justinian rule in particular) yet some things felt glossed over while others took longer. Don't skip the timeline in the back, there's some really wild stuff on there about the various rulers. All in all though, a pick if this city interests you.
Scott  Hitchcock
Apr 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history

One of the problems with this type of book covering such a large time frame of history is you sometimes get smatterings where you want more details. The author does a great job covering as much as she could but for a city so rich with history she could have done an anthology of 12 books this large.

I do love how she incorporated the Islamic POV on historical events and this left me wanting to read more about different events from the Crimean War, Mongal period, WWI, etc.
A brilliant look at the history of Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul - a unique city with multiple identities over the millennia.

I'm a sucker for this sort of history - if it weren't for the fact that we cover thousands of years and a dizzying array of characters and events you could almost call it a microhistory. Let's call it a biography of the city.

And actually, biography isn't far wrong, as the city does become a distinct character, growing and changing and yes, diminishing, over the co
Jordan Stivers
Just wow.

If you love any kind of history, this book is for you. Yes, it's dense. Yes, it's long. But Hughes' style of prose is luxurious and so much more enjoyable that similarly long and dense histories I've read before. The research that went into this book is clearly displayed on every page. When you finish it, Istanbul remains with you.

My favorite thing about this book is how Istanbul is the protagonist, changing over time, weaving in bits of its past as a new future is thrust upon it. It'
Jun 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Most of the book was excellent and certainly 5-star worthy. However, after the Ottomans took over I felt it became a bit.. Euro-centric? Like, it kept giving accounts of "this British person came to Istanbul and thought X"; not sure if I didn't notice it as much when the city was under Christian + pagan rule but I felt like while there were outsider sources they weren't the main focus.

In any case, still very very much worth a read. I like the idea of concentrating on the history of one city in g
Alyson Stone
Book: Istanbul
Author: Bettany Hughes
Rating: 3 Out of 5 Stars

I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, for providing me with this galley.

I have loved Bettany Hughes’s work for a few years now. It started with her Ancient Worlds series and Helen of Troy book. Whenever I heard she was writing a new book, I was thrilled. I just knew that I was going to have to read it. While Istanbul does have the same magic that her other works do, I found it not to be as thril
Rodrigo Acuna
Mar 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
"Power is not a means; it is an end."
― George Orwell,

This is the history of a city that is placed on the crossroads of continents and ideas, a place that absorbs all the gods and despots that carry the standards of these gods to rule over the citizens, slaves, minds and the flow of monetary power that being at the center gives, but in the end this desirability is the undoing, the curse that defeats all mortals and Gods into the sediment and detritus of a city that is more immortal than all of t
Nov 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good book, giving a full history of Istanbul/Constantinople/Byzantium, from its founding to the modern era. This is an enjoyable biography, presenting the full history of the City in a series of short narratives about famous events, places, and people. Though writing about the main capital of two empires, and a primary city in two others, the author does a good job keeping the story centered on the city. But at the same time the central place of Istanbul across three continents is brought out ...more
Jul 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is actually going to be an odd 5-star review from me, because I haven't really done much but glance through the book, and I can already tell that I'll be coming back to this book for a while. It provides a detailed history of the city that has been known through history as Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul. The reason I'm reviewing it now, one, because ** I got this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review), two, because I'd like to get my review in sooner rather than later ...more
Revanth Ukkalam
The city and all that has been written about it seem unavoidably stunning. Bettany Hughes's book about the three cities - Byzantion, Constantinople, and Istanbul - is to use a cliche - a tour de force. The stories that these cities contain tempt both the reader and the bard to indulge in digressions but even that is performed in perfect measure by Hughes: the origin of the notion of the 'Caucasoid' race, the prowess of Pausanias, the relation between Constantine the Great and his mum. The book f ...more
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Bettany Hughes is an English historian, author and broadcaster. Her speciality is classical history.

Bettany grew up in West London with her brother, the cricketer Simon Hughes. Her parents were in the theatre: she learnt early the importance and delight of sharing thoughts and ideas with a wider public. Bettany won a scholarship to read Ancient and Modern History at Oxford University and then cont

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“In the Roman psyche the East had long been a place of danger, but also a place of plenty. The first Emperor Augustus famously said of Rome that he found a city built in brick but left it in marble – all that money had to come from somewhere. India was repeatedly described in Roman sources as a land of unimaginable wealth. Pliny the Elder complained that the Roman taste for exotic silks, perfumes and pearls consumed the city. ‘India and China [and Arabia] together drain our Empire. That is the price that our luxuries and our womankind cost us.’ It was the construction of the Via Egnatia and attendant road-systems that physically allowed Rome to expand eastwards, while the capture of Egypt intensified this magnetic pull. Rome had got the oriental bug, and Byzantium, entering into a truce with the Romans in 129 BC following the Roman victory in the Macedonian Wars that kick-started Gnaeus Egnatius’ construction of the Via Egnatia, was a critical and vital destination before all longer Asian journeys began.” 2 likes
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