Histories of Unintended Consequences

Institute director Mark Mazower reviews Alan Mikhail's biography of Sultan Selim I, God’s Shadow: Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World, in the Financial Times.

“In the history of unintended consequences, Columbus’s discovery of the Americas ranks pretty high. That his voyage westwards across the Atlantic was intended to take him to Asia is well known; less so is why he went. In God’s Shadow, Alan Mikhail reminds us that behind the expedition lay the pledge Columbus made to the rulers of Spain to recover Jerusalem from Muslim rule. Why not simply sail east across the Mediterranean? Because that way was blocked by the Ottomans. To show us, through this and other examples, that the Ottoman experience was central to the shaping of the modern world, Mikhail focuses on the reign of one of the empire’s most successful and unpleasant sultans, Selim the Grim. Born in 1470, he died 50 years later, having presided over the transformation of his empire and its rise to unrivalled international prominence. What had started out as a Turkic tribal confederacy on the eastern borders of Byzantium became a major power dominating Europe and the Middle East for centuries.”

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