God’s Shadow: Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World by Alan Mikhail

In the decades around 1500, writes Alan Mikhail at the start of this captivating book, the Ottomans “controlled more territory and ruled over more people than any other world power.” A monopoly on maritime and overland trade routes to the East, combined with formidable naval and military muscle, not only supported a sophisticated bureaucratic apparatus and jaw-dropping wealth; it also acted as a barrier to and a catalyst for others. Merchants and sailors in other parts of the world were forced to become “global explorers,” obliged to try to cross treacherous oceans and traverse continents, “all to avoid the Ottomans,” writes Mikhail.

God’s Shadow sets out to re-insert the Ottoman Empire into the wider canvas of global history and to link it to developments ranging as widely as the rising availability and popularity of coffee in early modern Europe to the views of Martin Luther at the start of the Reformation. The Spanish who arrived in the New World saw shadows of their Muslim rivals in Europe and the Mediterranean wherever they looked, argues Mikhail, noting that buildings in the Aztec world looked like mosques, the population was ruled by a “sultan,” and that some groups of enslaved indigenous peoples were later called genízaros, a corruption of the Ottoman word for “janissary.”