Ethan L. Menchinger
's The First of the Modern Ottomans: The Intellectual History of Ahmed Vasif
(Cambridge University Press, 2017) traces the life and career of Ahmed Vasif (ca. 1735-1806), a prominent diplomat, historian, and intellectual of the early modern Ottoman Empire. This vivid biography places Vasif in the context of an Empire at a historical crossroads. Having witnessed his Empire’s defeat against Russia firsthand, Vasif struggled with how the Ottoman Empire could regain the prestige and power he felt it had lost. By carefully tracing Vasif’s fascinating career, Menchinger reveals a robust debate among Ottoman elites over morality, war, and Ottoman statecraft that drew on a rich imperial past and the exigencies of a new age. This crucial debate helped to frame the intellectual and political life in the Ottoman Empire’s final century. Menchinger’s book would be of interest to intellectual historians of the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East, as well as students and scholars interested more broadly in issues of decline, reform, and modernity.