A Journey Through the Ottoman Empire

By Kristi S.

I have a confession: I am addicted to taking online quizzes. The reward of vague self-awareness is greater than the risk, in my opinion. I will drop everything to find out important things like what kind of potato I am (I am the down-to-earth mashed potato, by the way). So, when I saw this quiz promising to tell me the historical era I should live in, I had to take it. I answered the questions and settled in to wait for my results quite certain that, due to my fondness for indoor plumbing, I would get some time in the 20th century. My results came in and I’m destined for…the Ottoman Empire? What?

My knowledge of the Ottoman Empire was embarrassingly small, so I had to hit the books.

Initial Research

When I need to find out about something I have little knowledge of, I always like to start with a juvenile nonfiction title. I love that I can get a basic overview of the topic (with great pictures) and then I can choose to focus on areas that interest me. So I turned to The Ottoman Empire by Adriane Ruggiero. The first thing I learned is that this answer for the quiz is kind of a cheat. The Ottoman Empire lasted over 600 years, with many shifts in culture and structure. There’s no way I could belong in all 600 years. That aside, all the changes in land and power during the Ottoman reign are fascinating. Curiosity piqued, I turned to our databases for an in-depth look at the timeline of the Ottoman Empire. World History in Context helped me make sense of the growth and decline of the empire with maps, key dates, and important names. But one facet of society was rather silent in these resources: women. What was their role in this empire?

I moved on to Empress of the East by Leslie Peirce for the female perspective. This is a richly detailed and accessible biography of Roxelana, a woman who broke tradition and rose from concubine to sultana as the wife of Suleyman the Magnificent. She is arguably the most famous woman of the Ottoman Empire, but I’d never heard of her. I loved getting this glimpse into her mind within the broader context of gender roles in this time. Roxelana’s life and legacy is truly fascinating, and Peirce’s obvious passion for the subject makes this a real page-turner.

Reading these titles made me realize how little I’d learned in school of a large and influential empire. I was itching to find out more.

Delving Deeper

For a historically immersive reading experience, I turn to historical fiction. I started in the 16th century with The Mapmaker’s Daughter by Katherine Nouri Hughes, and I was hooked from page one. This beautiful and heartbreaking novel follows the life of Nurbanu, Queen Mother of the Ottoman Sultans. Nurbanu was captured and enslaved by the Ottomans as a child, but rose to power quickly because of her remarkable intelligence and grit. She is a quietly powerful historical figure, but also incredibly contentious.  At times, you admire her courage and celebrate her triumphs, but then she makes a calculating and uncomfortable decision that changes your perception. It’s truly thought-provoking and I was constantly on edge throughout the story.

Continuing my journey, I jumped to the final days of the Ottoman Empire with Birds Without Wings by Louis De Bernières. This is a romantic, moving, and deeply personal look at the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It centers around one small village, shifting perspectives between residents to tell multiple sides to a single moment in history. Each character is engaging and their stories are masterfully woven together with gorgeous prose that makes this book difficult to put down.


After much reading and introspection, I have decided that this quiz was wrong. It seems that a woman in the Ottoman Empire had to be quite bold, calculating, and confident to be valued at that time. Alas, I am none of these things. In fact, I think the only reason I am destined for the Ottoman Empire is my deep love of caffeine. However, I absolutely loved reading about this time in history and the powerful women whose stories are often untold.

Taking that quiz inspired me to pick up books that I completely loved but might never have chosen. Make sure to check out my list for further exploration.  If you’re not interested in the Ottoman Empire, try taking the quiz yourself and reading about the historical era you get. Take another quiz online and let it inspire your reading choices for the month. Maybe even take that potato quiz and find a cookbook with a recipe to try. With the thousands of quizzes available online, I guarantee you will never run out of reading inspiration. Leave me a comment and let me know where your reading takes you!

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7 responses to “A Journey Through the Ottoman Empire”

  1. Paul Woltz says:

    This is wonderful. Thank you!

  2. Marie says:

    Wow, that quiz is really specific. I got Nineteenth-Century Hungary. Honestly, I’d go anywhere and by book. Some of my favorite bookish places are England, Scotland, Germany, and Iceland.

    • Kristi S. says:

      I think the specificity of it is hilarious but so fun. I’m an extensive book traveler as well, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set in Iceland! Any recommendations?

      • Marie says:

        The Dark Iceland series featuring small town policeman Ari Thor is excellent for fans of atmospheric. character-driven crime fiction. They’re written by Ragnar Jónasson and Snowblind is the first. Yrsa Sigurdardottir and Arnaldur Indridason also write thrillers set in Iceland. For lighter fare, try Butterflies in November by Auður A. Ólafsdóttir.

  3. Thank you! I got 19th century Hungary and a recommendation to read “The Blood Rose Rebellion” by Rosalyn Eves, a YA historical fantasy. I usually like YA titles and this is one I have not read, so I have downloaded it to peruse as I weed the garden!

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