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The Ottoman Empire  By  cover art

The Ottoman Empire

By: Kenneth W. Harl,The Great Courses
Narrated by: Kenneth W. Harl
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Publisher's Summary

By understanding the dramatic story of the Ottoman Empire - from its early years as a collection of raiders and conquerors to its undeniable power in the 15th and 16th centuries to its catastrophic collapse in the wreckage of the First World War - one can better grasp the current complexities of the Middle East.

Over the course of these 36 enlightening lectures, investigate over 600 years of history that covers the nature of Ottoman identity, the achievements of the Sultan's court, and stories of confrontation and cooperation with the West.

Befitting a story of such epic scope and grandeur, every lecture is a treasure trove of historical insights into the people, events, themes, and locales responsible for shaping the story of this often-overlooked empire. You'll cover everything from Rumi, the whirling dervishes, and the importance of the sultan's grand viziers to the wars of Sultan Suleiman I, the shadowy politics of the Committee of Union and Progress, and the birth of the Turkish Republic under Kemal Atatürk.

Welcome to a fascinating story of the triumph and tragedy, war and peace, intellectual progress and civil insurrection of a great empire that, for all its glory and grandeur, has left an important legacy that will shape the future of the Balkan nation-states, the Turkish Republic, and the Arab world - and those of us in the West as well.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2017 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2017 The Great Courses

What listeners say about The Ottoman Empire

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Surprisingly biased

I enjoyed every other series Professor Harl has made, but this one was sub-par. I found myself wondering why he was really hitting hard on the positive stuff about the Ottomans and downplaying the negative, when what I'd admired about his other lectures was the relatively unbiased approach. They weren't apologies but they weren't condemnations either, it was simply history. This series really felt like an op ed piece at times, and Harl often exhibits doublethink (ex: denies that the Armenian genocide occurred because it doesn't fit the UN definition of genocide, but then dismisses the German govt's acknowledgement of the genocide since he "doesn't think politics should play a role in deciding what actually happened"). Once he said he has a Turkish wife though, it started to make sense. There's still some good information in the course, if you don't mind that he glosses over some of the more gruesome aspects of Ottoman society, like how the Janissaries were kidnapped and forcibly circumcized, or the fact that he never really explains that whole silk cord thing or any of the cultural background in which such practices emerged.

That being said, I don't think this course is worth purchasing, you could get all this information on wikipedia and you wouldn't be missing out on any thing really. The most interesting part of the narrative is whenever Europeans enter the scene and Harl has plenty of other quality courses on those subjects, like The Era of the Crusades, World of Byzantium, and Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor.

88 people found this helpful

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Some interesting parts but ...

Although there are some good parts on this and is at times an interesting story to listen to, the author takes a "bold" pro-Ottoman side in crucial humanitarian issues like the Armenian and Greek genocide. As himself states early in the book, his wife is Turkish, I am afraid this has prevented him for keeping a more neutral stand in these depressing pages of human history. Overall, a disappointing purchase.

45 people found this helpful

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Lecture 34

I have almost all of Prof Harl’s Audible great courses and I enjoy them. I’ve emailed him regarding topics and I find his sense of nuance to be valuable regarding lots of historical topics. This audiobook was pretty good, except Lecture 34 regarding ethnic cleansing. Harl really dances around the term genocide.

He does several things which I found distasteful. Honestly, they remind me of the arguments used against the Native American genocide.
- He starts off by saying it’s best to be a dispassionate historian and just lay out facts, but that’s not the job of a historian. Historians also interpret events and he doesn’t do this.
- He also says that “atrocities were committed on both sides.” This completely ignores the power dynamic between the two groups. One was a group of people being forced from their homes and which suffered a reduction in population of at least 80% in 1 year. The other was an empire capable of reducing a population by 80% in one year. A “both sides” argument doesn’t really hold water in this case.
- He basically says that Ottoman Empire was at war and World War 1 was bad for everyone. I’m sorry but war isn’t a get out of morals free card. That’s why we have “war crimes” and, as a veteran in particular, that isn’t an excuse.
- Finally, he ends with “nobody was innocent”. I’m pretty sure the Armenians just living in their homes that were were forced out onto “death marches” (Harl’s words) were innocent. Common citizens often become statistics in history but we need to remember that these were just normal people.

I’m sure part of this was calculated because Prof Harl frequently works in Turkey for his research and he wants to maintain a good relationship so he can continue to work there. But I think he did a disservice to history and to a lot of victims in this case.

42 people found this helpful

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Another A++ series from Prof. Harl!!!

I’d give it 7 of 5 stars if possible. It is superbly organized. It’s terrific to see history unfold from the Ottoman viewpoint. I think it corrects for conceptions of the modern Muslim-majority nation state that is too frequently projected into the past. The course is very helpful in thinking about the Balkans and the lead up to WW1.

I appreciate Prof. Harl most when he’s focused on Antiquity through the Middle Ages, where his style is to tell us what the literary sources say – what the archaeological record (so far) tells us – the relevant ancient anecdotes and excerpts (from Herodotus, Plutarch, Livy) that make history interesting – a few jokes of his own – and then maybe a few comments on the current “state of scholarly debate,” or where he has a bias with which other history profs may disagree.

To contrast, some very good lecturers get too bogged down in what various historical “schools of thought” say about a subject (Fagan, others). Others get too cute in trying to weave a continuous narrative and leave out too many details (Fears, Garland). A few bad apples start with a sociological point of view, and try to read that back into time by cherry picking incidents that support it (Dise).

Harl’s lectures are authentic and flow naturally, without any gimmicks. His mastery of the material is obvious. I have listened to all 11 of his courses, most more than once, and he’s simply the best. I would love to see him do a deep dive on the Iranian plateau – Persians though Seleucids, Parthians, Abbasids, etc. That has yet to be covered in detail by a lecturer of Prof. Harl’s caliber.

38 people found this helpful

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Ottomans through rose-colored glasses

If you seek a rosy history of the Ottomans, download this now! His chapter on the Armenian Genocide is dominated by whether it should be labeled as a "genocide" and not the fact that it was an atrocity - by any definition. It sure comes off as an apologist take on the event. And it happens to be one of the few negative parts ever discussed in 18 hours covering 500+ years of Ottoman history. Even during downtimes of the empire, Harl always points out the positives over any negatives. It came off as very biased.

32 people found this helpful

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Mixed feelings

What was most disappointing about The Great Courses’s story?

The obvious bias of the author saying thing like "The orthodox christian nations of the Balkans should be grateful to the Ottoman empire for saving their identity..." and justifying the Armenian genocide with the fact that some Arminian held important positions in the empire and the Armenian church was protected, calling it "unfortunate event". More of this was to be found throughout the book.

15 people found this helpful

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Some History with a Healthy Portion of Bias

Unlike other Great Courses, Harl clearly was pushing a point of view. He often times rationalized events and chose not to provide details if they did not fit his perspective. His bias was not subtle; instead it was alarmingly obvious. Yes there is history here, but it was not worth the time required to listen. Also, his delivery can be irritating. Too many "ahhhs" to fill space while he was thinking of what to say. I felt I was listening to someone partially distracted with other activities. Had I been in a college lecture I would have dropped the class after the first session. Overall, a weak experience.

11 people found this helpful

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A Sympathetic View of the Ottoman Empire

Like many Christian Americans with a partial Balkan heritage, I've always seen the Ottoman Empire as "bad guys" who tragically ended the Roman Empire, turned churches into mosques, and were oppressive conquerors who threatened Europe for centuries. So I came to this course more to round out my knowledge of history rather than to try to understand them any better.
This course offers another side of the story, though. Harl is sympathetic to the Ottomans (even a bit biased sometimes), presenting them as brilliant heroes until they become unfortunate victims of a world changing too fast for them. But if you think about it, this counterweight in perspective is probably what you want in a course about such a misunderstood people. Now that I've listened for 18 hours, I haven't forgiven anyone for 1453, but I definitely have more appreciation and respect for this long-lasting empire that largely allowed a very diverse population to participate in its own rule. Many of their achievements were noble and impressive, and they deserve to be seen as more than a foil to the West.
As usual, Dr. Harl is brilliant, has encyclopedic knowledge, and unbridled enthusiasm. I recommend this course to anyone who is interested in filling in some of the missing pieces in their historical map. I know I will be delving into this subject more in the future.

10 people found this helpful

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Disappointing

I have enjoyed all of Professor Harl's courses but this one seemed to be very different from the other offerings. He always has that infectious enthusiasm that makes listening to the content a pleasure. He typically points out both the successes and flaws of the civilization under study - in a way that lends authenticity to the content, however this one seemed less of a history and more of a defense of the Ottoman Empire. It came across as political correctness. This is the only one of his courses that I have not rated as five stars.

He is a gifted lecturer, but I would not recommend this one.

10 people found this helpful

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This is an magnificent set of lectures!

I have listened to most of Professor Harl's lectures given by the teaching company through Audible, not to mention that I have listened to some set of lecture more than one time. I can say that I am very grateful for these lectures as they are very informative, interesting, engaging, and (to use the adjective Mr. Harl uses to Süleyman the Magnificent) magnificent, which is a word I rarely use to describe something.

I have moved to Turkey about 6 months ago, and with the help of this course on Othoman Empire (even if I don't prefer to call it so) I was able to understand people and thing s happening around me. What I really liked though is Professor's Harl great effort to combine sources from the East and West seeking understanding some of the most controversial aspects of Othoman history.

What I also like is the organization of this set of lectures in a way that has allowed me to understand the most important dates, events, turning points, and more in Othoman history and a little beyond :)
I highly recommend it!

9 people found this helpful

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  • C M Pihl
  • 01-18-18

Extremely biased, Pro Ottoman/Turkey

Without a doubt the most biased "historian" I've ever encountered. I understand that the people researching an empire, most likely have a stake in toning down the worst qualities of said empire. I do however expect, at least a resemblance of, objectivity from your Professors, wich most of them attain. Not so i this Course, unfortunately... "Through no fault of the Ottomans" is probably the most spoken or implied sentence in this travesty.

I was looking forward to learn more about this once great empire, as I've successfully done with so many others, but this simply became an example on how NOT to act... when the Professor at times refer to the Ottomans as "we", and also tries to blame the Armenian genocide ON THE Armenians... that was the last straw of an already empty experience.

Also, the entire lecture seems a bit unordered, and can be hard to follow, due to his over enthusiasm and badly structured planning.

Hope you will be more selective in the future, but all other courses I've listened to, has been an absolute pleasure :)

6 people found this helpful

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  • Thomas
  • 06-06-18

An excellent overview

Running at 18 hours long it may be surprising to learn that I think this audiobook is too short. However when covering hundreds of years of history as this audiobook does it may be that details were omitted in favour of covering the entire period of history.

I came at this audiobook as a complete novice I have no historical qualifications and my interest in this audiobook was for entertainment/curiosity reasons rather than academic and therein may lie the problem.

I felt like this audiobook was mostly dates and names and a brief outline as we travel through the years. None of the people were really brought to life and there was little to no mention of the day to day population and very little focus on the females in the Ottoman empire (Unless you are a 'scheming' mother of a potential Sultan). Basically unless you are a Sultan or a high ranking male official you aren't getting a mention in this book and even if you are then you may not be given much of a fleshing out.

The narration is excellent as the professor is clearly very knowledgeable and passionate about his subject matter.

In summary a very detailed academic study of the Ottoman empire but maybe not suitable for a layman like me who wants an entertaining account of history.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Muhammad Khan
  • 10-03-20

An excellent book

one of the Best book on Ottomans their uprising and their downfall.
History teaches everything

3 people found this helpful

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  • Sammy E
  • 02-09-19

Excellent, Comprehensive and very balanced!!

It's so rare to find a balanced, non-biased and dare I say it - non-racist - historical guide to the Ottoman empire. Most books written about the subject are tainted with bias and a lack of recognition for a relatively recent period in history that in many ways influenced the world.
You can learn so much from this series, and really appreciated the achievements, scale and influence of the Ottomans. It is densely packed - not exactly an easy read - but using the accompanying PDF guide really helps digest the information.

There was a review on here talking about the Armenians, and perceived lack of focus on that subject. The truth is, the Ottoman history spanned centuries, and to reduce it down to a one event misses the point of this audio book (see my opening sentence about bias). You get to learn about the Ottoman history in its entirety - the good and the bad.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 10-26-17

Too many AAHM's and EEHM's

Instead of reading the narrator made as if he was teaching. So many pauses, hesitations and ahh's and eeh's... plus the pronunciations were mainly wrong at a level that even as a Turkish speaking person I found it hard to understand who, where and what he is talking about... other than that it was good.

3 people found this helpful

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  • EK
  • 02-04-21

Overall - good, yet occasionally biased

A number of topics prioritised just one point of view, disregarding alternative interpretations. The use of certain words, also demonstrated the selective bias in favour of the Turks, muslims and islam - e.g. the war crimes perpetrated by the Ottomans are often referred to as ‘conquest’, ‘retaliation’ etc, whereas war crimes say of the Armenians are called genocide or massacres, albeit the two are not even remotely comparable in terms of their magnitude or casualties.

Quite a few historical inaccuracies, e.g. references to the date of the Russo-Japanese war rather than Russo-Turkish war, wrong historical figures and incorrect references to historical localities and provinces.

On the plus side, the lectures provide a good mix of dry facts and historical context to be interesting.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Submal
  • 08-15-20

Excellent

I absolutely loved this. Very detailed and it touches on a variety of different areas.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 04-19-20

It's like attending classes at university!

Prof. Hart is brilliant in his narrative of a very complex set of historical facts stretching over a very long period of time. If you want to understand political problems in the Balkans and the Middle East today, or if you're simply fascinated by the brilliant sultans - and/or the crazy ones - then listen to this course first, then go read a more detailed book. Without this high level narrative if you're not a historian you're likely to be lost in a book because the history (and legacy) of the Ottoman empire is incredibly complex.

2 people found this helpful

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  • C.W
  • 08-24-19

A great journey!

This course was a fantastically informative study of the Ottoman Empire. highly recommended. it is clear the narrator is very passionate about this topic and you get a great overall sense of the impact of ottoman history on the world today. You can tell whole topics, half an hour long, could fill hours of content, but that is withing the scope of this book and it is interesting and informative all the same. Would recommend!

2 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-08-19

How history should be related

This book and course is outstanding as it is written by an objective scholar with broad knowledge and affinity with the history he relates. Truly a lesson on how history is narrated with as much balance as humanly positive. AAA

2 people found this helpful

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  • irtapil
  • 03-01-20

History presentation at its worst

i'm currently about half way through, i don't know if i will manage to finish it. The presenter has quite an annoying voice and tends to drone monotonously, and the content is a tedious list of military events. I tried listening because its hard to find good content about the Ottomans, but i i give up, this guy is insufferable.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 08-17-17

Amazing!

I'm going to listen to every audible by Professor Kenneth W. Harl. So respectful and passionate I could listen to this for hours and have.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Bashy Cina
  • 01-23-21

Brilliant

Loved it, I love history so learning more about the Ottoman Empire it was great.
It goes into detail of how the empire started and was run by different sultans and how much more religious and ethnic tolerant were the Ottoman’s compared to their European counterparts.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 03-14-18

Skip the Armenian genocide

I truly enjoyed it. Shame about the apology of the Arminian genocide. Apart from this is I learnt a lot.

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  • Adam
  • 10-06-17

Very Educational

well constructed and thought out lecture series. Highly recommended. only complaint is that the lecturer stumbled over names. A lot.