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Defenders of the Faith: Charles V, Suleyman the Magnificent, and the Battle for Europe, 1520-1536 Hardcover – May 14, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this vibrant piece of intellectual history, Reston completes the saga of the relationship between East and West he began with Warriors of God. Combining a historian's attention to detail and a novelist's narrative flair, Reston focuses on the period when the Ottoman Empire came within a hair's breadth of conquering Europe. The Sultan Suleyman swore to accomplish what his father and grandfather had not—conquer the Holy Roman Empire. Standing in his way was an equally ambitious leader, the young Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. As Reston observes, each faced rebellion and fractiousness within his own empire. Although Charles defeated Suleyman at Güns, now in Hungary, the Turks had spread terror through Europe by moving farther into Christian lands than ever before. By examining this short but crucial span of years, Reston not only brings to life two Olympian figures who believed they were carrying out the will of God; he also offers a lucid window onto Renaissance Europe and the foundations of contemporary debates between the West and Islam. (May 18)
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From Booklist

From the Third Crusade (Warriors of God, 2001) and the Christian reconquest of Spain (Dogs of War, 2005), Reston turns to Ottoman sultan Suleyman the Magnificent’s attempted Islamic conquest of Austria and Hungary, which culminated in battles at Vienna in 1529 and 1532. He imposes narrative clarity on a kaleidoscopic array of historical events by concentrating on Suleyman and the principal potentates of Latin Christendom involved in the onset of the Reformation: Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Pope Clement VII, Francis I, and Henry VIII. Reston enlivens his chosen principals’ movements on the political and religious chessboard and evaluates how they worked out (e.g., badly for the pope, whose authority Martin Luther fractured and whose see Charles sacked). Given the disunity of the Christian monarchs, readers wondering why Suleyman did not prevail may depend on Reston’s interesting display of fact, description, and narrative to elucidate a pivotal point in history. --Gilbert Taylor

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; First Edition edition (May 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594202257
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594202254
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #405,357 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By sweng on March 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I guess I could be described as a history buff and as such I had high expectations when I started this book. The idea is wonderful, to describe the turbulent first decades of the 16th century both from the oriental and the western perspective. As a Hungarian I was especially looking forward to the discussion of the role Hungary played in this period - a very important one as the bulwark against the Turks at first and later as the battlefield where for 150 years the two empires met.

It looks like the western part of the story is fairly well treated in the book and I have no real knowledge of the Turkish history, so that could be ok as well. As far as Hungary is concerned the author is frequently making irritating and disappointing mistakes, that could easily have been avoided by using nothing fancier than Wiki.

E.g. at the time of Suleymans siege of Belgrade there was no Romanian principality of Transylvania, so it could not have been a Turkish vassal. Granted, several years later, after the dismemberment of Hungary the eastern part was reconstructed as Transylvania (though calling it Romanian is highly questionable) but I would expect a historian to keep track of the time and to not project back to the past something that did not happen yet in the period he is talking about.

The problem that made me write this review is the authors discussion before the first siege of Vienna, where he explains that with this move Suleyman moves beyond the influence of Byzantium (i.e. of the Orthodox church) into the territory where the faith is Catholic and is under the influence of Rome. That is the point where I stopped reading.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Robert Busko VINE VOICE on July 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Defenders of the Faith: Charles V, Suleyman the Magnificent, and the Battle for Europe, 1520 - 1536 by James Reston is a wonderful and very informative examination of the times of Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and Suleyman the Manificent leader of the Ottoman Turks during the years 1520 to 1536.
Suleyman inherited an empire that included much of the eastern Mediterranean. Like his father and grandfather before him, his attention was drawn to the subjugation of Hungary and Austria and their annexation into the Ottoman Empire. Had he been successful in his attack on Vienna it most certain that European history would be significantly different than what actually occurred. Charles V likewise inherited an empire comprising much of northern Europe.
It is interesting that at the exact time Suleyman gained the throne of the Ottoman Empire, an equally talented Charles V was named the head of the Holy Roman Empire. Two diverse but capable leaders pitted against one another in a head on collision that defined the world that came later. James Reston is superb at examining the struggle that resulted from the two cultures. I have to agree with other reviewers that criticize Reston for his "novelization" of the story he tells. It is distracting and happens throughout the book.
That being said, Reston is a master researcher. That is evident by the details he manages to include as he examines the period and the background to the events. That he spends a great deal of time explaining the ins and outs of the reformation is to be understood. The reformation distracted not just Charles V but also all of the European kings and so tainted the relationships of the major heads of state that they ignored the growing threat to the east.
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53 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Debbie TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"Defenders of the Faith" is a history covering 1520-1536 AD which mainly focused on the politics and wars in Europe (Charles V, Francis I, Henry VIII, the popes, Martin Luther, etc.). Only a fourth of the book focused on Suleyman's battles in Europe, European diplomacy efforts toward him, descriptions of feasts he held, and his internal politics...and very little was said about the Sunni/Shi'i conflict.

The book used quotes from people living at the time and gave nice details about how things looked which helped bring the events alive in my imagination. However, for all it's detail (describing the scene, the weather, numbers of people, maneuvers, etc.), the book gave only a surface assessment of the motives behind the actions. The author judges the actions from hindsight, knowing the results of the decisions, rather than giving a "this is how the situation might have appeared to them" view. He also assumes the worst motives behind the actions. This critical and cynical view of events results in a lot of negative language being used to describe the people and their actions.

There was a mild bias in this book. Whenever the author described cruel actions by the Turks against Christians, neutral language was used. If Christians did the same actions against Turks/Muslims, negative language was used. Also, the Hospitaller knights were called "fanatics," popes rarely had anything positive said about them, and the author used mocking language when describing how Martin Luther feared he might be killed when he had every reason to think he would be. Also, descriptions of people changed throughout the book. For example, a pope was described as sly/scheming when he was being sly/scheming and then described as gullible when his actions appear gullible.
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