Istanbul - A Tale of Three Cities is award-winning historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes's majestic biography of the first truly global city, where East meets West and North meets South.
She has the exceptional skill of leavening meticulous research with vivid anecdote and atmosphere as she guides us through its three phases: Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul.
So, while the historical events are recorded, she also segues into such detail as the silk trade. A stinking business and the city smelled of sea snails boiling in urine and the faeces of silkworms. It took 12,000 snails to colour the hem of a single purple robe. "Medieval Constantinople must have been rank," she observes.
There was a zoo at the Kynegion, an amphitheatre that was at times used for public executions, but where battles with animals provided entertainment.
"When we think of Roman Byzantium, she notes, "we should conjure the cityscape punctured by the yowl of big cats and the screech of distressed elephants - animals imported to satisfy a gruesome Roman pleasure in live-action death."
The pages are stuffed with memorable characters, such as the Athenian general, the wide boy Alcibiades of the fifth century BC, who she describes as "feckless, over-sexed, immoderate, dazzling, raffish, louche". There's the proto-feminist Empress Theodora, exotic dancer and daughter of a bear tamer, who caught the eye of the Emperor Justinian and who reformed women's property rights, built safe houses for prostitutes and upped the punishment for rape - as well as helping to design the staggering Hagia Sophia.
It's a teeming, enthralling book, written with verve and a reminder that the Queen of Cities has endured much worse in her history.