For all but the most frivolous traveler, Turkey's magnet is its treasure of antiquities. Nowhere, outside of Italy, is there such an abundance of glorious Roman -- or more exactly, Greco-Roman -- ruins on which to feast the eye than in Asia Minor.
For feasting the mind as well as the eye -- in short, for appreciating and understanding what you are looking at -- a good guide book or two makes all the difference; the tourist pamphlets, issued by the Turkish government in considerable numbers, are useful for suggesting where to go and what to see once you get there, but are pretty unsatisfactory for telling you more than the obvious.
Happily, an almost total drought in good guide books for the last 10 years has been broken by the publication of a handful of excellent volumes that present all the facts one wants to know in a way that also makes them charming traveling companions. They are good reading in themselves before, during, after and even without viewing the sites. Not surprisingly -- for they have always been better at travel writing than anyone else -- British authors have produced all those I would recommend.
The most recent is "Lycian Turkey" by Prof. George E. Bean (Norton, $19.95, 195 pp.), published after his death a year ago. It is the fourth of his series of books on Turkey and like the earlier three ("Aegean Turkey," "Turkey's Southern Shores" and "Turkey Beyond the Meander," all published by Praeger), it is the deftest amalgam anyone could wish for of history, lucid description, classical commentary, drawings and photographs, all literately written to make serious archeology joyful and easy to read.
With his last book, Bean rounded out a 25-year project to provide the traveler a vade mecum for everything worth seeing from Pergamon in Aeolia on the northwest coast to Alanya in Pamphylia on the south and the worth-while areas of their hinterlands. It focuses principally on the great city of Xanthus (the best of which is not to be seen on the site but in the British Museum, just as the best of Pergamon is in East Berlin).
My touchstone for determining at a glance whether a sightseer gives a damn about what he is looking at is whether he has a Bean book under his arm.
A single volume on the treasures of western Turkey, less detailed but every bit as well written and with an exceptionally lucid historical introduction, is "Turkey, a Traveller's Guide and History," by Prof. Gwyn Williams. A Welshman -- and he doesn't let you forget it -- Williams writes with humor and verve. A more recent book of his, "Eastern Turkey, a Guide and History," is absolutely indispensable to anyone venturing into that more difficult, less well-known but equally fascinating part of Asia Minor. The only other book I would recommend for that eastern area is the late Lord Kin-ross' "Within the Taurus." It is more an account of a long tour than an out-and-out guide, but full of history and anecdote, and wonderful reading.
So is an earlier book of Kinross, "Europa Minor," on western Turkey. Also, for those who enjoy her style and manner of presentation -- ordinarily more women than men -- are Dame Freya Stark's "Alexander's Path," "Ionia" and "The Lycian Shore." They serve as better traveling companions than on-the-spot instructors, but are erudite and distinctive.
A dozen or more other books have recently been published on experiences and travels in Turkey. They are anecdotal in the best National Geographic magazine tradition -- "Whereupon, Ahmet Ali, my Jeep driver, responded in his inimitable way....." -- but I spare the reader their titles and thus spare the authors as well.