Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Man Who Drank 15 Cups of Coffee Every Day

Ataturk: The Biography of the founder of Modern Turkey
Ataturk: The Biography of the founder of Modern Turkey by Andrew Mango

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Andrew Mango's biography of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is a very informative and serviceable portrait of the founder of the modern Republic of Turkey. Mango clearly admires Atatürk and does not try too much to hide his feelings about the man, though clearly he set out to write a book that would clear away some of the mythology that has grown up around the figure of Atatürk in Turkey over the years. At times, his tendency to frame every episode in Atatürk's life as a legend in need of revision to reflect historical evidence and realism can be irksome. Before reading this book, I knew very little about Atatürk, and so I had little interest in hearing about every apocryphal anecdote and rumor followed by Mango's judgement about their relative believability.

The book was most effective when it explored the Turkish War of Independence and early formative years of the new Turkish Republic. These were the key events and contributions of Atatürk's life. Mango spent most of the book documenting these events, but the early life and later years of Atatürk may have done with even less emphasis. My favorite parts of the book were the colorful details about odd historical characters like Arif the Bearkeeper and Atatürk's increasingly eccentric obsession with forging a Turkish pseudo-history and pseudo-linguistics. The book would have profited from organizing itself more around the compelling true stories of Turkish history rather than dispelling the boring hagiographic mythology of Atatürk's personality cult.

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