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. (And see our similar lists for elsewhere in Europe.)

Books: Nonfiction

  • Atatürk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey (Andrew Mango, 1999). Comprehensive biography of Turkey's legendary statesman.
  • Crescent & Star (Stephen Kinzer, 2001). A look at Turkey as a bridge between East and West, both politically and geographically.
  • The Drop That Became the Sea (Yunus Emre, 1999). Compilation of 13th- and 14th-century Sufi poetry, tinged with Islamic mysticism.
  • Eat Smart in Turkey (Joan Peterson, 2004). Culinary guidebook to Turkish cuisine.
  • An Istanbul Anthology: Travel Writing Through the Centuries (Kaya Genç, 2015). Impressions and perspectives on Istanbul by writers as diverse as Arthur Conan Doyle, Gustave Flaubert, and Ernest Hemingway.
  • Istanbul: The Imperial City (John Freely, 1996). Brief history and gazetteer of the city's sights.
  • Istanbul: Memories and the City (Orhan Pamuk, 2005). Intimate portrait of Istanbul by Turkey's leading contemporary writer (and Nobel laureate).
  • Osman's Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire (Caroline Finkel, 2005). Epic history of the empire from its ascendancy in medieval times to its downfall in the 20th century.
  • The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin (Idries Shah, 1968). Collection of Sufi wisdom as told by mystics and masters.
  • Sailing from Byzantium: How a Lost Empire Shaped the World (Colin Wells, 2006). The fascinating story of how Byzantium preserved and contributed to Western civilization.
  • A Short History of Byzantium (John Julius Norwich, 1997). Authoritative chronicle of Byzantium's rise and fall.
  • Suleiman the Magnificent (André Clot, 1992). A history of the most celebrated of Ottoman sultans.
  • Tales from the Expat Harem (Anastasia M. Ashman and Jennifer Eaton Gökmen, 2006). Personal adventures of foreign women living in Turkey.
  • Turkish Odyssey: A Cultural Guide to Turkey (Serif Yenen, 2003). Comprehensive guide to Turkish society and culture.
  • Turkish Reflections: A Biography of a Place (Mary Lee Settle, 1991). Settle recounts two visits to Turkey, 15 years apart.

Books: Fiction

  • The Bastard of Istanbul (Elif Shafak, 2006). A young Armenian girl living in Arizona travels to Istanbul to uncover 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). Verse vignettes tell the story of Turkey's emergence as a modern, secular country.
  • Memed, My Hawk (Yashar Kemal, 1955). A bandit-hero seeks justice in the Turkish countryside.
  • My Name Is Red (Orhan Pamuk, 1998). Part mystery, part love story, set in 16th-century Istanbul.
  • One for Sorrow (Mary Reed and Eric Mayer, 1999). The first in a series of six mysteries set in Byzantine Constantinople.
  • 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.

Books for Kids

  • Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant (Tony Cliff, 2011). The Indiana Jones–esque heroine of this graphic novel causes trouble in Constantinople.
  • Istanbul for Kids (Burçak Gürün Muraben, 2014). Stories and histories presented in an easy-to-read format.
  • The Road from Home: The Story of an Armenian Girl (David Kherdian, 1979). Nonfiction account of 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.
  • 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.


  • Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (2005). 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.
  • 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.
  • Midnight Express (1978). The hair-raising tale of an American imprisoned in Istanbul on drug charges.
  • Topkapi (1964). Peter Ustinov won an Oscar for his 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.
  • Uzak (Distant, 2002). An unemployed young man from the countryside tries to adjust to life in Istanbul.
  • Yol (1982). Five political prisoners in Turkey struggle to readjust to the outside world.

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