Freely, John 1926-

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FREELY, John 1926-

PERSONAL: Born 1926, in New York, NY. Education: Iona College, B.S., 1951, New York University, M.S., 1953, Ph.D. (physics), 1960.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o The Overlook Press, 1 Overlook Dr., Woodstock, NY 12498. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: Physicist, astronomer, historian, and travel writer. Bogaziçi University (Bosphorus University), Istanbul, Turkey, professor of physics and astronomy. Military service: U.S. Navy, served during World War II.


(With Hilary Sumner-Boyd) Strolling through Istanbul: A Guide to the City, Redhouse Press (Istanbul, Turkey), 1972, revised edition published as Strolling through Istanbul: A Classic Guide to the City, Kegan Paul International, 2001.

(With Hilary Sumner-Boyd) Istanbul: A Brief Guide to the City (abbreviated version of Strolling through Istanbul: A Guide to the City), Redhouse Press (Istanbul, Turkey), 1973.

(With Maureen Freely) The Complete Guide to Greece, G. Philip (London, England), 1974.

Naxos: Adriadne's Isle, Lycabettus Press (Athens, Greece), 1976.

The Companion Guide to Turkey, Collins (London, England), 1979, reprinted ("Companion Guide" series), Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1984.

Istanbul ("Blue Guide" series), Benn (London, England), 1983, fifth edition, A. & C. Black (London, England), 2000.

Boston and Cambridge ("Blue Guide" series), Ernest Benn (London, England), 1984, second revised edition, Norton (New York, NY), 1994.

The Cyclades, Cape (London, England), 1986.

The Western Shores of Turkey, J. Murray (London, England), 1988.

Crete, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1988, New Amsterdam (New York, NY), 1989.

Classical Turkey ("Architectural Guides for Travelers" series), Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1990.

Strolling through Athens: A Guide to the City, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1991.

(With Augusto Romano Burelli) Sinan: Architect ofSuleyman the Magnificent and the Golden Age, photographs by Ara Guler, Thames and Hudson (London, England), 1992.

Strolling through Venice, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1994.

The Redhouse Guide to the Aegean Coast of Turkey, photographs by Anthony E. Baker, Redhouse Press (Istanbul, Turkey), 1996.

The Redhouse Guide to the Black Sea Coast of Turkey, photographs by Anthony E. Baker, Redhouse Press (Istanbul, Turkey), 1996.

Istanbul: The Imperial City, Viking (London, England), 1996, reprinted, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1998.

The Western Mediterranean Coast of Turkey, photographs by Anthony E. Baker, Sev-Yay Press (Istanbul, Turkey), 1997.

Turkey around the Marmara, photographs by Anthony E. Baker, SEV (Istanbul, Turkey), 1998.

The Western Interior of Turkey, photographs by Anthony E. Baker, SEV (Istanbul, Turkey), 1998.

Inside the Seraglio: Private Lives of the Sultans inIstanbul, Viking (London, England), 1999.

A History of Robert College: The American College for Girls, and Bogaziçi University (Bosphorus University), YKY (Istanbul, Turkey), 2000.

The Companion Guide to Istanbul and around theMarmara, Companion Guides (Woodbridge, England), 2000.

Galata: A Guide to Istanbul's Old Genoese Quarter, Archaeology and Art Publications (Istanbul, Turkey), 2000.

The Lost Messiah: In Search of Sabbatai Sevi, Viking (London, England), 2001, published as The Lost Messiah: In Search of the Mystical Rabbi Sabbatai Sevi, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2003.

SIDELIGHTS: John Freely was born in New York and has lived in Boston, London, Istanbul, Athens, and Venice. For the last three decades, Freely has written "strolling" guides, including his first, Strolling through Istanbul: A Guide to the City, written with Hilary Sumner-Boyd, and which has been revised and reprinted several times. This guide suggests itineraries that can be completed in as little as a few hours, and the antiquities are described in the context of the modern city. Middle East reviewer Fred Rhodes described the guide as offering "that intimate juxtaposition of old and new which makes Istanbul such a fascinating city."

Deborah H. Digges commented on Strolling though Athens in International Travel News, saying that here, Freely does not indicate how long each of the fourteen walks will take. Digges wrote that "much of the information might interest history buffs, architects, and archaeologists."

Freely's extensive knowledge of the history and architecture of the region led him to write Sinan: Architect of Suleyman the Magnificent and the Golden Age with Augusto Romano Burelli. Sinan, whose full name was Sinanuddin Yusuf, son of Abdulla, was born of Christian parents in the late thirteenth century, and he served the Ottoman government from approximately 1512 until his death in 1588. He began as a simple carpenter and became chief of architecture in 1538. As such, he was responsible for all construction, engineering, and development within the empire, and his first project was a complex for the wife of the sultan. He designed nearly 400 buildings, most of them in Istanbul, as well as ships, bridges, and aqueducts. Ara Guler provided the photographs for the book.

Archibald Walls reviewed the volume in Architectural Review, noting that it seems to be trying to satisfy two groups, a general audience, with the large photographs, and students of architecture, with the detailed explanations of Sinan's buildings. "In the process," said Walls, "line drawings, references, and a bibliography have been omitted. Worse, there are no examples of Sinan's religious schools, hospitals, tombs, soup kitchens, guest houses, pavilions and palaces, baths, or civil engineering projects."

Freely wrote Istanbul: The Imperial City, a social history of the city known as Byzantium, then Constantinople, and now Istanbul, from its earliest beginnings in the seventh century B.C., taking note of its monuments, holy places, and shrines to the past. Writing in the Middle East Journal, Robert A. Berry noted that Freely relies on secondary sources, and said that the book "most closely resembles a political chronology in the style of the medieval chroniclers who noted facts and little else." Berry felt that in providing a biography of the city and social account of its people, Freely "does not succeed," but that as a guide to the city's monuments, it "succeeds admirably."

With Inside the Seraglio: Private Lives of the Sultans in Istanbul, Freely continues writing about the Ottoman dynasty that lasted from the fourteenth century to the early twentieth century and the history of which can be read in its architecture. Topkapi Sarayi, the sprawling complex that housed the sultans, evolved over time to include hunting grounds and kitchens that could feed 20,000 people. Within its walls the sultans' wives, concubines, and children also lived. The record for number of children was held by Sultan Murat III, who in the sixteenth century fathered fifty-six. Until 1603 each new sultan had his brothers killed, a practice that ended after Ahmet I, who was thirteen when he took the throne, spared his retarded brother, who succeeded Ahmet upon his death. After that time, the sultans sent their brothers to live with the women, rather than kill them, in the event it became necessary to call up a close relative. Jason Goodwin wrote in the London Observer that Freely "is particularly good at disentangling the threads here, giving full attention to harem women whose power and influence rose over their sedentary masters."

Many of the sultans died young because of their self-destructive lifestyles, while others were deposed or beheaded. Their harems were sent to the old palace after Mahmut II built a new one on the Bosphorus in 1826, setting up a new era of palace building. Toward the end of the empire, attempts were made to reunite the women with their families, but most had nowhere to go. Goodwin said that "Freely's eye for history and architecture made him the perfect guide to life within the seraglio."

The Lost Messiah: In Search of the Mystical Rabbi Sabbatai Sevi, is Freely's study of the self-proclaimed Messiah who was born in Ottoman Izmir on August 1, 1626, a Jewish festival day, and the day which, according to rabbinic tradition, the Messiah is to be born. Sabbatai was one of the brightest children the rabbis had ever encountered, but he broke the rules of Jewish ritual, declared himself the Messiah, and was banished. He traveled to Greece, Istanbul, Rhodes, Egypt, and Jerusalem before meeting the prophet Nathan of Gaza in Cairo in 1663. Nathan proclaimed that Sabbatai was the Messiah, and Jewish followers from around the world paid homage to him. Sabbatai was adored and afforded considerable power until Vani Effendi, the Ottoman Grand Vizier, demanded that he prove himself by diverting arrows from his body. Sabbatai deferred, saying he actually preferred being a Turk, and took a minor position in the sultan's palace.

Karen Armstrong reviewed The Lost Messiah in New Statesman, saying that Freely "does not delve at sufficient depth into the religious dynamic of Sabbatianism, nor fully explore its significance." Armstrong did write that "Freely's narrative is clear, lively, and sympathetic." Richard Popkin said in the London Review of Books that "Freely's lively book is . . . enriched by the author's knowledge of the Ottoman background."



Architectural Review, November, 1992, Archibald Walls, review of Sinan: Architect of Suleyman the Magnificent and the Golden Age, p. 15.

Contemporary Review, August, 1997, review of Istanbul: The Imperial City, p. 109.

Economist, September 15, 2001, review of The LostMessiah: In Search of Sabbatai Sevi.

Greece and Rome, April, 1992, P. Walcot, review of Strolling through Athens: A Guide to the City, pp. 114-123.

International Travel News, February, 1992, Deborah H. Digges, review of Strolling through Athens, p. 64.

London Review of Books, May 23, 2002, Richard Popkin, review of The Lost Messiah, pp. 28-29.

Middle East, December, 2001, Fred Rhodes, review of Strolling through Istanbul: A Classic Guide to the City, p. 40.

Middle East Journal, winter, 1999, Robert A. Berry, review of Istanbul, pp. 131-133.

New Statesman, September 24, 2001, Karen Armstrong, review of The Lost Messiah, p. 54.

New York Times International, December 14, 1997, Stephen Kinzer, "An Outsider in Turkey Who, in Fact, Knows It Inside Out," p. 14.

Observer (London, England), August 29, 1999, Jason Goodwin, review of Inside the Seraglio: Private Lives of the Sultans in Istanbul, p. 12.

Spectator, November 3, 2001, Turi Munthe, review of The Lost Messiah, p. 56.*