Kuşçubaşızade Eşref (d. 1964) is probably one of the most complicated and elusive figures in the transformation period spanning the end of the Ottoman Empire and the beginning of the Republic of Turkey. Today, he has a controversial reputation within the country. Some view him as a heroic figure for his pan-Islamist and pan-Turkic operations to save the Ottoman state. Others view him as a traitor to his country because he did not follow the orders of Mustafa Kemal and the new parliament in Ankara. These two extremes are due in part to the paucity of information about and misinterpretations of his missions and the Special Organization (Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa) of which he was a part. In his new book, The Circassian: A Life of Esref Bey, Late Ottoman Insurgent and Special Agent, Benjamin Fortna considers the controversy about Eşref’s life misleading; he therefore tries to objectively describe and contextualize Bey’s story. Fortna contributes not only to Eşref’s biography, but also to current knowledge concerning the groundbreaking events and institutions of the first decades of the twentieth century. To bring forward his compelling new interpretation, Fortna was fortunate enough to have access to a trunk full of Eşref’s documents –containing papers, memoirs, seals, paintings, and telegrams that had remained undisturbed since Eşref’s death– granted to the author by Eşref’s descendants (p. 1).1 The resulting account thus contains illuminating details concerning the fragmented history of late nineteenth and the early twentieth century Turkey, such as the essence of the relation between Eşref and the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal.
The book is divided into nine chapters. The first describes the organization of the book, the approach of the author, and the concepts he finds significant concerning Eşref’s life. The next concentrates on Eşref’s early years, including his education, his inte