Book Reviews


Andrew MANGO

Although there are many books about Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, contents and point of views make difference. While some of those books cover only Atatürk’s military education, the wars he lead or participated in and his achievements, others focus on the founding of modern Turkey, the political reforms put in place in that vein and Atatürk’s thoroughly effects on the social and economic life.

In addition to those, there are also books written based on objective facts, which rely on the “Great Speech” and archives, while some others are written subjectively as memoirs and biographies that shed light on the private life and emotional side of Atatürk. As a versatile reader, I can say that Andrew Mango’s this work Atatürk, incorporates all these elements in one book, in a very systematical way.

Below you will find my notes about Andrew Mango, his book Atatürk, Turkish version of this work, and further reading suggestions on Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

About the Author

Andrew Mango was born in 1926, in Istanbul, and passed in 2014, in London by leaving many valuable works, books and notes behind. Istanbul – London was also his route of career choice. In addition to his Turkish knowledge, he studied Persian and Arabic at the School of Oriental Studies in London.

Mango completed his PhD Thesis on “Studies on the Legend of Iskandar in the Classical Literature of Islamic Persia, with special reference to the Work of Firdawsi, Nizami and Jami” in 1955. But instead of pursuing an academic path he decided to carry out diplomatic analysis and commentary. Mango worked long years in the BBC, starting at Overseas Service, and after various achievements he became Head of South European Service. After retiring in 1986 he started a new phase as a lecturer and writer.

About the Book

“Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is one of the most important statesmen of the twentieth century” and if you like reading biographies, Andrew Mango’s this book presents a comprehensive guide of the founder of modern Turkey, Atatürk with a gripping narrative.

The book starts with describing the belle époque of European civilization, during when Atatürk was born and then continues with depicting the political environment in Salonica where he was born. Basic facts are elaborated with the conditions of the era, power struggle in Europe, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic structure of the Ottoman Empire and with many other layers. French Revolution is definitely a milestone in the history and effects of it have been neatly summarized in the book.

“Liberty, equality and fraternity were not logically incompatible with the existence of multinational empires, even if in practice they subverted the hierarchies on which these empires rested. But nationalism, which spread together with the ideals of the French Revolution, destroyed them. It added a new animus to old communal, religious, sectarian and tribal differences, endowing them with a rational explanation.”

Following the above mentioned introduction, book develops in five parts.

First part explains the Early Years of Atatürk in four chapters. His family, childhood, friends and his first grade education; his military school years, moulding of a character; political changes and new establishments are what you will find here.

Second part covers The Long War period from 1911 to 1923. The struggle, which started with Italy’s declaration of war on the Ottoman Empire to capture the province of Tripoli and Cyrenaica and the defense of the last possession in North Africa, continued until the Treaty of Lausanne, which was signed in 1923.

In third part you will witness the forging of The Will of the Nation. The signing of the Armistice of Mudros on 30 October and the folding of events after it is a must-read. Havza Circular, Amasya Circular, Erzurum Congress and Sivas Congress are also must-read documents to understand how the Republic of Türkiye founded.

The title of the fourth part is Republic and Reforms and in this section Mango takes you to a trip from the end of the monarchy to the peace time. Of course the task was full of obstacles and hardship. The end of the caliphate, imposing law and order, reforms and repression are among other chapters you will encounter at this part.

When it comes to final part, it is called Unrivalled Ruler. This time author sheds light on Atatürk’s private life, his habits, relations and temperament. His expertise in foreign languages as well as the correct and effective use of the native language; tremendous understanding and experience in the history, geography and art of strategy; a knowledge of talent and refined tastes on zeybek as well as waltz in a person is even rare today.

In a nutshell, Mango’s biography of Atatürk is one of the books that not only concentrates on Atatürk’s childhood, education, military background and political career, but also it elaborates the facts about the Ottoman Empire, surrounding ideas and geopolitical environment at those days, founding of a republic from almost nothing and agains all the odds, which celebrates 100th anniversary this year, and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s legacy after his death.

The book consist of 688 pages and divided to five parts, twenty nine chapters. Maps at the beginning; short biographies of the people that are mentioned throughout the book; timeline and notes for additional reading, as well as documents, pictures and resources that take place in the book are extremely beneficial.

Apart from all these positive elements, to put it kindly, I found some comments and statements unacceptable and inappropriate. Qualifying Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as a dictator can be understood if you do not have an adequate knowledge of the history or you are unaware of his achievements, what he accomplished with that consolidated authority, and what he left behind as legacy. In addition to that, having no personal wealth, making no profit from such a claimed power and spending every cent transparently, accountably for the nation, society and economy does not require high intelligence to connect the dots. Last but not least, conditions of the given era, definition of democracy and examples of the history do not match with what Atatürk has done. Therefore, considering Mango’s knowledge and goodwill, I do believe that he used this word solely as a dictionary definition of having complete legislative, executive and judicial powers for a certain period of time, and it must have been emphasised for uneducated readers or malevolent people.

Turkish Version and Further Readings

I have read both the original and Turkish translation of this book and you can find my broad notes of comparison here at the link. I must also state that the English version was more fluent than Turkish one, which had additional 62 pages. Having historical documents and archive records are good things, but instead of adding those to translation, giving at the end of the book might have been a better choice.

When it comes to other related books A Speech Delivered by Gazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is the foremost book to read in this aim. The Speech lasted from the 15th to the 20th October, 1927 and delivered by Gazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, President of the Turkish Republic, at Ankara, before the deputies and representatives of the Republican Party of which he was the founder and head. This unique speech is a comprehensive account of remarkable events from the time when Atatürk called upon to take the leadership of his nation into his own hands and guide it to the freedom and power. Below, I added the cover photo of the Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları edition of K.F. Koehler, publisher edition, Leipzig, 1929.

My second suggestion is also from Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, which is founded in 1956 and supported by Türkiye İş Bankası. Atatürk’s Legacy: Views by World-Famous Intellectuals is a very good read with exceptional memoirs and high quality photos.

Third book is almost similar to the first one, and it is called Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – The Great Speech. Being published in January 2019, from the Dante Publishing, this is a more recent translation compared to the above suggestion. A careful reader might realise the differences, passages and changes in the presentation of events. This is sometimes good and sometimes bad due to loss of data. But what makes me hesitate here is eight translators’ being employed for the translation of one book. I’d rather stick to one style and one person work with its pros and cons.

You can access the selected chronology of events, which I prepared and included some of the developments, under the title of Republic Period and Reforms (in Turkish) via the link.

You can also read my book reviews about Atatürk, which are written in Turkish, by clicking the below links.

Prof. Dr. İlber ORTAYLI
Prof. Dr. Emre KONGAR
Yılmaz ÖZDİL

Ergun UNUTMAZ, 13.07.2023

ATATÜRK – Andrew MANGO, John Murray (Publishers), London, February 2004.

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