When İpek Çalişlar discovered that Latife Hanım had demanded that her husband, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, change the law to enable her to stand for parliament, the respected journalist knew she had found the subject of her next project. The result is Madam Atatürk, a biography of Latife Hanım and the role she played in modernizing Turkey.

Krishan Kumar, who teaches sociology at the University of Virginia, is a child of empire. His parents lived in Lahore (then India) prior to the end of British rule and the subsequent partition that created the modern state of Pakistan. Kumar was himself born in Trinidad and Tobago, then part of the British Empire, and was educated in England at St John’s College, Cambridge, and the London School of Economics.

Much of early-modern history, up until the early 20th century, was characterized by empire—not just or even particularly the colonial projects of Britain and Spain, but contiguous empires of Russia, Austria-Hungary, China and the Ottomans. These latter were multi-ethnic and—using modern sensibilities—in some ways multinational edifices. They all came to an end around the time of the First World War: China and Russia morphed into republics and largely kept their territories; the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires were replaced by a welter of new countries.

What if Michelangelo had not, as history concurs he had, declined the Sultan’s invitation to come to Constantinople in 1506 to design a bridge over the Golden Horn? This is the conceit behind Mathias Énard’s new novel, or rather novella, Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants (a perhaps anachronistic borrowing from the preface of a collection of Rudyard Kipling stories). What if Michelangelo had instead accepted?

A few years ago, Robert Dankoff and Sooyong Kim edited a much-needed and generous selection of Evliya Çelebi’s Seyhatname or Book of Travels. Evliya (1611-1682) spent the better part of forty years traveling around the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia Minor; he’s perhaps the best-known of all Ottoman explorers and travelers, which is not to say a great deal, because non-European travel-writers are still sadly under-represented in English translation.