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1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West Paperback – August 15, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

On May 29, 1453, Ottoman forces, under the leadership of Mehmet II, concluded their long and bloody siege of Constantinople by storming the city and overtaking it. According to Crowley, who works in publishing in England;the Ottoman conquest of the city brought to an end centuries of conflict between the Byzantine Empire and Islam. In overwhelming detail and colorless prose, Crowley chronicles the story of an ancient city and its attraction to members of two major religions. Before Mehmet's conquest, Constantinople had faced various unsuccessful sieges, and Crowley faithfully records them. The most destructive events came between 1341 and 1371, when earthquakes and the Black Death devastated the city, turning it into a forlorn series of villages. Although the Byzantine capital recovered enough of its former glory to entice Mehmet to its walls, even he felt tremendous disappointment, finding the city didn't live up to its reputation. Crowley drones through the day-by-day events of Mehmet's siege and the results of the conquest. Perhaps the author's most instructive point, made by others as well, is that Mehmet turned the city into one where religious toleration and multiculturalism flourished. (Aug. 10)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"Swiftly paced, useful guide to understanding the long enmity between Islam and Christianity." -- Kirkus Reviews

"The characters . . . are drawn in great detail from historical source material to bring them to life on the page." -- Los Angeles Times

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books; Reprint edition (August 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401308503
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401308506
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (166 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,044 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Roger Crowley is a UK-based writer and historian and a graduate of Cambridge University. As the child of a naval family, his fascination with the Mediterranean world started early, on the island of Malta. He has lived in Istanbul, walked across much of western Turkey, and traveled widely throughout the region. His particular interests are the Byzantine, Venetian, and Ottoman empires, seafaring, and eyewitness history. He is the author of three books on the empires of the Mediterranean and its surroundings: 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople (2005), Empires of the Sea (2008) and City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Waves (2012).His website address is, where he blogs about history. Click on 'Visit Amazon's Roger Crowley page' above to see a short video on City of Fortune.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

142 of 154 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Haugh VINE VOICE on October 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Byzantium. Constantinople. Istanbul. Intellectually, it is easy enough to remember that these three cities are in fact the same, sitting on the Bosphorus, straddling the border between Europe and the East. However, it is difficult to get a visceral feel for the fact that the current city of mosques and minarets was for over a millennia one of the centers of the Christian world. Fortunately, there is a book like 1453 to take us back and let us experience how such a transformation takes place.

In his book, Mr. Crowley takes us back to the year of the title, when Sultan Mehmet II, a man barely out of his teens but who has survived the intrigues that barred his way to the throne, lays siege to Constantinople. Despite the fact that the city has resisted sieges many times before thanks to its natural water defenses and ancient western wall, Mehmet is willing to take the risk. Constantine XI, the aging emperor who guards the city, is weak and his city and empire is only a shadow of its former glory. So, Mehmet gathers his armies and vassals and heads to the walls.

Overall, Mr. Crowley's descriptions of the siege are absorbing. He points out the very important advantages that Mehmet had over previous would-be conquerors: he brings cannon and a navy. The walls of Constantinople were impregnable to a classic mediaeval attack but the arrival of gunpowder to the West and the development of cannon made the walls vulnerable. Plus, no attacker had ever brought a navy to bear on the city before and its very existence cut off the possibility of resupplying the city, making a successful siege a possibility.

But Mehmet's victory was by no means assured and, in fact, he could have easily failed.
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141 of 161 people found the following review helpful By Ian Shumaker on August 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
When I was a young Infantry officer, I recall a tactical instructor telling us that,"The best defence is only as good as the willingness of an enemy to make the necessary sacrifices to overcome it." I can think of few better examples of this principle than the Ottoman siege of Constantinople. I have read many books about this event and in my opinion "1453" by Roger Crowley is far-and-away the best. The book is chock-full of interesting facts about the siege and where the facts are unclear, Crowley (like Herodotus) gives us the opposing stories and lets us decide. In addition "1453" is a very readable, fast-paced history. It's one of the few history books I've read where I can honestly say I wished it was much longer. It's like an excellent novel but it's all true and a heartbreaking story to boot. I just wish I'd been able to read it before my visit to Istanbul earlier this year. I'd have kept it at my side.
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44 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Quinn on April 23, 2007
Format: Paperback
The historian brings people to life by telling the story of their historical times - illuminating them and their deeds, judiciously treating that which he is not certain of. The novelist brings history to life by telling the stories of the people who lived it - real and imagined, creatively (and judiciously, one hopes) filling in history's voids.

Further, as Napoleon said, "history is the agreed version of events by the victors." Before photographs and sound/picture recording, much of what is taken as historical fact can be disputed. With all that in mind, Roger Crowley has done a commendable job. What gives me the right to say so? Well, I have encountered the very same task!

I am a novelist and my first book, "The Lion of St. Mark (St. Martin's Press, 2005), was written before I read Roger Crowley's 1453. I only wish I had had it by my side when I was toiling over disputing sources as I wrote my fictional (but historically accurate, I trust) account of the great siege of Constantinople and what happened afterwards.

I appreciate his decision to go with his gut when versions of what happened irreconcilably collide and avoid the use "perhaps", "possibly", and "might have", which can drag historical story-telling to a crawl.

Crowley's style is highly readable and skillfully blends history with many illustrative anecdotes to bring the siege to life. Who could not feel the courage and fears of the Christians and the Ottomans as they fought and bled in the fosse and on the walls in their supreme struggle?

Like the old Mad Magazine's Spy vs. Spy, their contest presaged the modern-day technological battle in the Battle of the North Atlantic that saw the Allies and Germans constantly one-up each other as each strove to gain supremacy.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Yankee Dave on November 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Although military history is one of my favorite subjects, books on military history often fall into one of two traps: either they lay out their subject in mind-numbingly dry detail, or they present an entertaining narrative at the expense of the facts. If you agree, then I can happily report that "1453" is a delightful surprise, for rarely do history books of any sort combine scholarship, good writing and a compelling story as well as this one. Roger Crowley weaves together a number of story lines - the Ottoman fixation with Constantinople, the various obstacles to cooperation between Byzantium and the West, and developments in military technology, to name a few - into a seamless narrative that moves forward as propulsively and inexorably as the Turkish advance on the great city itself. The writing is so good that even though I knew how the "story" would end, I found myself in suspense, as Crowley managed to convey a sense of immediacy and uncertainty about the final outcome until almost the very end. Despite the wealth of information provided (which is documented with endnotes), I also never found myself overwhelmed by data or bogged down in minutiae. Crowley unfolds the big picture clearly, yet without sacrificing detail about the various armies and personalities involved. Contrary to what a previous reviewer said, I also did not pick up any sense of pro-Islam or anti-Western bias. Crowley makes no attempt to gloss over Mehmet II's ruthlessness or the savage nature of the fighting on both sides. Constantine XI also comes across as one of the most sympathetic, if tragic, figures in the book. If you're at all interested in the fall of Constantinople, military history, or Islamic-Christian relations, you owe it to yourself to read this book. It's an epic story filled with memorable figures, and is unlikely to be better told than it is here.
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