Note: This review is by my husband Jim.
Czar Nicolas I of Russia is sometimes credited with coining the phrase “Sick Man of Europe” to describe the decrepit Ottoman Empire of the mid-nineteenth century. By the early 20th century, there could be little doubt that the disparaging sobriquet applied in spades. The Ottoman Empire was soundly defeated in two Balkan wars in 1912 and 1913 by the comparatively pipsqueak countries of Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro and Serbia. One result of the wars was that the Empire lost all of its European territories to the west of the River Maritsa, which now forms the western boundary of modern Turkey. Then, when World War I broke out, the Ottomans made the disastrous decision to side with the Central Powers against the Triple Entente, ending up on the losing side of that cataclysm.
The Treaty of Versailles, which ended the war in Europe in 1919, did not end the war for the Ottomans. The victorious Allies were ready to carve up much of the Empire for themselves. The Ottoman armies were to disband; England was to keep Egypt and to get Palestine and Mesopotamia; France was to get Syria, Lebanon, and parts of modern Turkey; and Greece was to get a large swath of western Turkey. All might have gone according to that plan, but Mustapha Kemal (Attaturk) was still in charge of a small but effective fighting force in central Anatolia. Attaturk husbanded his forces and fought only when he had an advantage. In a war that lasted until 1923, he was able to expel the Greeks from Anatolia and to establish the boundaries of modern Turkey.
McMeekin deftly handles this complexity with a lucid pen. His descriptions of the various military campaigns are riveting. This is not to say that he shortchanges the political machinations taking place. He gives more than adequate coverage to the “Young Turks,” a triumvirate that ruled the Empire from 1909 until they eventually brought it to its ruin in 1919. He also covers the Armenian massacres as objectively as possible, given the enormity of the events described.
Evaluation: This is a very satisfying book and an excellent addition to the enormous corpus of World War I literature. The book includes good maps and photos. There is a much more extensive review over on our other blog, Legal Legacy.
Published by Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2015