Turkey: Recommended Books and Movies

By Rick Steves, Lale Surmen Aran, and Tankut Aran

To learn more about Turkey past and present, check out a few of these books and films.

Books: Nonfiction

  • Atatürk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey (Andrew Mango, 1999). This is the most comprehensive biography of Atatürk since Lord Kinross's 1967 Atatürk: A Biography of Mustafa Kemal.
  • Crescent & Star (Stephen Kinzer, 2001). Kinzer sheds light on Turkey's culture and reports on its fraught political landscape.
  • Eat Smart in Turkey (Joan Peterson, 2004). Peterson describes the fascinating history and culture of Turkish cuisine and includes delicious recipes.
  • The Drop That Became the Sea (Yunus Emre, 1999). A compilation of Sufi poetry introduces readers to the spirit of Islamic mysticism.
  • Istanbul: The Imperial City (John Freely, 1996). Freely's book serves as both a brief history and a travel guide.
  • Istanbul: Memories and the City (Orhan Pamuk, 2005). Pamuk's portrait of Istanbul is also a portrait of his own life within the city.
  • Memoirs of an Exile (Aziz Nesin, 1957) The famous Turkish satirist tells of his forced banishment to Bursa.
  • The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mullah Nasrudin (Idries Shah, 1968). Shah gives the mysterious 13th-century Sufi Mullah Nasrudin a voice by collecting stories told by other mystics.
  • Sailing from Byzantium (Colin Wells, 2006). The story of Byzantium is full of high drama and exciting adventure.
  • A Short History of Byzantium (John Julius Norwich, 1997). Norwich's history is a good way to learn about the rise and fall of Constantinople.
  • Suleiman the Magnificent (André Clot, 1992). This history chronicles the life of the most celebrated of Ottoman sultans.
  • Tales from the Expat Harem (Anastasia M. Ashman and Jennifer Eaton Gökmen, 2006). This anthology compiles 29 personal stories from foreign women living in Turkey.
  • Turkish Reflections (Mary Lee Settle, 1991). Mary Lee Settle recounts two visits to Turkey, 15 years apart.
  • Turkish Odyssey (Serif Yenen, 1998). This handy guide to Turkish society and culture is comprehensive and beautifully illustrated.
  • The Turks Today (Andrew Mango, 2004). This sequel to Atatürk showcases a portrait of Turkey's recent development.
  • Osman's Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire (Caroline Finkel, 2005). Finkel traces the empire from medieval times to modernity.

Books: Fiction

  • The Bastard of Istanbul (Elif Shafak, 2006). A young Armenian girl living in Arizona secretly travels to Istanbul to find out more about her identity and cultural heritage.
  • Birds Without Wings (Louis de Bernières, 2004). Bernières depicts a village tragedy amid the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
  • The Black Book (Orhan Pamuk, 1990). After an Istanbul lawyer's wife disappears, he begins assuming the identity of her ex-husband.
  • Bliss (O. Z. Livaneli, 2002). After intense trauma, a young Turkish girl begins a journey of transformation in Istanbul.
  • Human Landscapes from My Country (Nazim Hikmet, 1966). This novel, written in verse, describes Hikmet's time in a Turkish prison during World War II.
  • Memed, My Hawk (Yashar Kemal, 1955). This is a dramatic tale of a bandit hero seeking justice in the Turkish countryside.
  • My Name Is Red (Orhan Pamuk, 1998). A group of artists in 16th-century Istanbul are commissioned with a dangerous task resulting in a frightening mystery.
  • One for Sorrow (Mary Reed and Eric Mayer, 1999). The first of six mysteries set in a vividly Byzantine Constantinople follows the Lord Chamberlain of Emperor Justinian.
  • Portrait of a Turkish Family (Irfan Orga, 1950). A wealthy Ottoman family disintegrates at the end of the Ottoman Empire.
  • Snow (Orhan Pamuk, 2002). An exiled poet returns to Turkey and faces suspicion after making a controversial report.s.

Books for Kids

  • Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant (Tony Cliff, 2011). The first book in the Delilah Dirk series of graphic novels finds the Indiana Jones-esque heroine causing trouble in Constantinople.
  • Istanbul for Kids (Burçak Gürün Muraben, 2014). Adults and children alike can enjoy the stories and histories presented in this easy-to-read book.
  • The Road from Home: The Story of an Armenian Girl (David Kherdian, 1979). This non-fiction book chronicles the life of Kheridian's mother, who survived the Armenian Genocide as a girl.
  • The Stone of Destiny: Tales from Turkey (Elspeth Tavaci, 2012). A poor stonecutter journeys to Istanbul and must tell stories to stay alive.
  • T Is for Turkey (Nilufer Topaloglu Pyper, 2010). Turkey is showcased in each letter of the alphabet, illustrated by colorful photographs.
  • Turkish Delight: A Kid's Guide to Istanbul, Turkey (Penelope Dyan, 2011). Using poetry and photographs, this guide focuses on what children might find interesting in the city.

Movies

  • The Accidental Spy (2001). Parts of this Jackie Chan film take place in Istanbul, featuring many Turkish artists, actors, models, and stuntmen.
  • Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (2005). This documentary stands out for its fascinating musical portrait of modern Istanbul.
  • Distant (2002). A photographer and his unemployed cousin try to connect in snow-covered Istanbul in this award-winning film.
  • From Russia with Love (1963). Sean Connery sneaks around Istanbul as James Bond, with a great scene filmed inside the Underground Cistern.
  • Gallipoli (1981). Two Australian soldiers (including a very young Mel Gibson) fight in the Gallipoli campaign during World War I.
  • Hamam (Steam: The Turkish Bath) (1997). An Italian inherits a traditional public bath in Istanbul.
  • Istanbul (1957). Errol Flynn stars as a suspected diamond smuggler who returns to Istanbul and finds a woman he thought long dead.
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011). Parts of this Cold War drama take place in the heart of Istanbul.
  • Topkapi (1964). Peter Ustinov won an Oscar for his supporting role in this crime caper, worth seeing for its grand tour of 1960s Istanbul.
  • A Touch of Spice (2003). A Greek boy growing up in Istanbul learns about both food and life from his grandfather.
  • The Water Diviner (2014). An Australian man goes to Turkey after the Battle of Gallipoli in order to find his three missing sons.
  • The World Is Not Enough (1999). In this James Bond film, M is imprisoned in Istanbul's Maiden's Tower.
  • Yol (1982). Five political prisoners in Turkey struggle with readjusting to the outside world when they are given a week's home leave.

Lale Surmen Aran and Tankut Aran are the authors of the Rick Steves Istanbul guidebook.