Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul | Wilson Center
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Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul

In beguiling prose and rich character portraits, former Wilson Center Fellow Charles King, author of the newly released book "Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul," brings to life a remarkable era when the city of Istanbul stumbled into the modern world and reshaped the meaning of cosmopolitanism.

 At midnight, December 31, 1925, citizens of the newly proclaimed Turkish Republic celebrated the New Year. For the first time ever, they had agreed to use    a nationally unified calendar and clock. Yet in Istanbul—an ancient crossroads and Turkey's largest city—people were looking toward an uncertain future.

 Never purely Turkish, Istanbul was home to generations of Greeks, Armenians, and Jews, as well as Muslims. It welcomed White Russian nobles ousted by  the Russian Revolution, Bolshevik assassins on the trail of the exiled Leon Trotsky, German professors, British diplomats, and American entrepreneurs—a multicultural panoply of performers and poets, do-gooders and ne’er-do-wells.

 During the Second World War, thousands of Jews fleeing occupied Europe found passage through Istanbul, some with the help of the future Pope John XXIII.

 At the Pera Palace, Istanbul's most luxurious hotel, so many spies mingled in the lobby that the manager posted a sign asking them to relinquish their seats to paying guests.


Charles King is Professor of International Affairs and Government at Georgetown University, where he previously served as chairman of the faculty of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, the country's premier school of global affairs.

King's research has focused on nationalism, ethnic politics, transitions from authoritarianism, urban history, and the relationship between history and the social sciences. He is the author or editor of seven books, including Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams (W. W. Norton, 2011), which received the National Jewish Book Award, and The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus (Oxford University Press, 2008), which was named "History Book of the Year" by the Moscow Times. His new book on the emergence of modern Istanbul will be published by W. W. Norton in 2014. His work has been translated into more than ten languages.

King's research has been supported by the Social Science Research Council, the International Research and Exchanges Board, and the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies. In 2012-13 he was a Fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He has also held visiting appointments at the University of Michigan and Bosphorus University in Istanbul, where he was a Fulbright Scholar. He is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations.


  • Charles King

    Professor of International Affairs and Government, Georgetown University, and former Title VIII-Supported Short-Term Research Scholar, Kennan Institute
  • Thomas de Waal

    Senior Associate, Russia and Eurasia Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Christian F. Ostermann

    Director, History and Public Policy Program; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
    Woodrow Wilson Center