Sunday, September 23, 2007

JOHN CHUCKMAN REVIEW: RICHARD MANGO'S ATATURK

REVIEW OF RICHARD MANGO'S ATATURK BY JOHN CHUCKMAN, May 13, 2005


This is a disappointing book. The main points of Atatürk's career - hero of his country's war for independence and founder of the modern secular state of Turkey, a man with some remarkably modern views for his place and time - make him one of more attractive hero-figures of the twentieth century.

But somehow Mango does not succeed in giving us the living, breathing man. Indeed, Mango manages to make some of the genuinely exciting events of Atatürk's career read like rather dull broadsheet accounts.

Mango is certainly a scholar. That comes right through, but there is a somewhat lifeless quality that characterizes much of what should be a smashing yarn of great wars, declining empire, and dashing figures. The great number of Turkish place names and people do not make reading any easier, although Mango does offer a guide to pronunciation at the front.

Interestingly, this appraisal is quite at odds with cover quotes from reviews. One gets expert reviewers' ambiguities like "Takes its place at the top," or "...a higher level of biography than any previous account." Book reviewing in major publications has always been something of game, full of backscratching, favors, and artful ambiguities. The gap here between reviewers' words and Mango's actual work is rather notable.

Still this is a biography of an important figure, one about whom there is limited material in English. It is definitely worth reading.

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