My Name Is Red, Orhan Pamuk
A mystery wrapped in a love story that is set in 16th century Ottoman Empire, this is a fascinating melding of history, religion, philosophy and setting.
Snow, Orhan Pamuk
A Turkish poet who spent twelve years as a political exile in Germany witnesses firsthand the clash between radical Islam and Western ideals.
The Museum of Innocence, Orhan Pamuk
Pamuk’s fictional story about a collection of items representing a tumultuous love affair has come to life. The author funded and built the institution in a townhouse in the Beyoğlu area in 2012. It’s highly recommended to read the book before a visit.
The Bastard of Istanbul, Elif Shafak
A novel that focuses on Turkish national identity through the story of two families, one in Istanbul and the other in America.
Birds Without Wings, Louis de Bernières
A fictional account of the founding of the Turkish republic as seen through a small village and its eccentric citizens.
One for Sorrow, Mary Reed and Eric Mayer
A murder mystery set in sixth-century Constantinople.
Istanbul: Memories and the City, Orhan Pamuk
The Nobel Prize–winning author’s love song to his hometown.
A Fez of the Heart: Travels around Turkey in Search of a Hat, Jeremy Seal
An amusing account of one man’s journey to fez factories ends up being a voyage through Turkish culture and history.
Istanbul: The Imperial City, John Freely, 1996
A well-researched, if slightly dry, history of the city from Byzantium times to the Turkish republic, with extensive notes on monuments and sights—sort of like a much in-depth Blue Guide.
Atatürk: The Rebirth of a Nation, John Balfour Kinross
The definitive biography of the father of modern Turkey.
Crescent & Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds, Stephen Kinzer
A former Istanbul bureau chief for the New York Times examines modern Turkey in vivid anecdotes combined with thoughtful analysis.
Lord of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire, Jason Goodwin
An extremely readable history of the Ottoman Empire.
Turkey Unveiled: A History of Modern Turkey, Nicole and Hugh Pope
In the ten years since this was written, Turkey and its place as a bridge between east and west has become even more significant. This is a very thoughtful examination by a husband-and-wife team of reporters.
Strolling Through Istanbul, Hillary Sumner-Boyd and John Freely
A great walking guide to Istanbul that can be hard to track down but is considered by many to be one of the best companions with which to explore the city. The late Sumner-Boyd was a professor of humanities in Istanbul and adored her adopted home.
Istanbul and the Civilization of the Ottoman Empire, Bernard Lewis, 1989
A great portrait of the city’s pivotal period when Constantinople was overcome by the Ottomans and a brief and readable primer on the city’s history.
Harem, The World Behind the Veil, Alev Lytle Croutier, 1991
A wonderful examination of the history and culture of the Harem, including those at Istanbul’s Topkapi palace. The author draws on her own background and extensive interviews. Lovely illustrations.
Midnight Express, 1978
Alan Parker’s gritty film about an American student who spent years in a Turkish prison for smuggling drugs.
From Russia with Love, 1963
Most of this James Bond film was filmed in locations like the Basilica Cistern and Hagia Sophia.
Gegen Die Wand (Head-On), 2004
Set in Germany and Turkey, this tough film put Fatih Akin on the map as an acclaimed new voice in Germany-Turkish cinema. A lighter Akin film is Soul Kitchen (2009).