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Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World Paperback – May 12, 2009
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“A masterly narrative that captures the religious fervor, brutality and mayhem of this intensive contest.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Gripping . . . This is a rare combination of a history book that reads with the detail, insight and pace of a novel.”—Tampa Tribune
“Crowley has an astonishing gift for narration; his account is as exciting as any thriller.”—Wall Street Journal
“Crowley’s page-turner history . . . deserves to be this [season’s] most recommended nonfiction book. . . . Rich in character, action, surprise, what transpired in those few desperate weeks is one of history’s best and most thrilling stories.”—Dallas Morning News
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Top Customer Reviews
Crowley's first book was not only brilliant, it was also a commercial success; this volume should do as well or even better, for it is narrative history at its best. Crowley, who reads Turkish, was able to consult Ottoman diaries and modern works in Turkish. His accounts of the many land and sea battles are vivid, dramatic and multilayered, as they tell the story from different points of view.
The story begins in 1521 when the Knights of St John (a Christian military order) were routed from the island of Rhodes by the Ottomans and forced to retreat to Malta. The Ottomans were making gains everywhere around the Mediterranean with the help of their allies the Barbary pirates. It was a time of Islamic ascendency as the European powers were in disarray from internal squabbling.
The bulk of the book deals with the siege of Malta (1565). This was arguably one of the most heroic and odds-defying battles in history. About 600 Knights of St John were up against 30,000 Ottoman Turks.Read more ›
I must admit to prejudice here. I still have my copy of Ernle Bradford's magnificent history The Great Siege--paperback, from 1966, cost 5 shillings, and getting quite threadbare from rereading every few years. When one great book like this can spawn a 40-year interest in the subject, you know that you have an outstanding work indeed. Bradford's book is almost entirely limited to the siege of Malta, whereas Crowley's book covers this in under 100 pages. You get much more detail with Bradford, and a dramatic sense of the struggle, much more so than with Crowley. The focus is narrower--so for breadth, turn to Crowley, for depth to Bradford. Both books will give you a look at the personalities involved, and both convey the aspects of warfare at the time. So this is a good addition to your history shelf.
The story of the struggle between the Islamic Ottoman Empire and Catholic Hapsburg Spain for control of the Mediterranean (with important consequences for the lands bordering the Mediterranean) as told by Crowley makes for compelling reading, filled with dazzling characters and astounding events. The Pope fleeing Rome in advance of an army of invading Turks was a real historical possibility, averted by a chain of circumstances perhaps much less likely than normally seems evident from this distance of time. Malta, a geographic key to the central Mediterranean withstood a massive Muslim attack and siege only by the narrowest of margins. And Lepanto, the last great battle of oared ships, could very easily have been lost by the Hapsburgs, and Islamic domination of Italy and the south of France and of Spain might well have followed, greatly altering the future course of events in Europe.
Crowly has done a superlative job of narrating this slice of history and making it wonderfully vivid.
Crowley wastes no time with preliminaries but gets quickly to work in the first chapter with Suleiman's attack on Rhodes. There's no beating around the bush here. Crowley does a terrific job looking at the art of war and how the two sides differed in their respective approaches to battle. On the one hand, the Knights of Saint John, who, like the Templar's, was an international organization with members pulled from the major European countries and provinces of the time. On the other was the Turkish army of Suleiman, large, mobile, well equipped and quick to mount an offensive; apparently lacking nothing needed for conquest. That the Christians were out-numbered is made clear. To the defenders of Malta the loss of any knight was a loss that was difficult if not impossible to replace. Suleiman had numbers on his side and spent freely suffering huge casualties for the time of both his soldiers and slaves. It was all out warfare. Rhodes was strategically important, in part, due to the loss of Constantinople in 1453. However, the loss of Rhodes could not compare to the loss of Malta fifty years later. Without Malta, Italy would become the "front lines" in the battle between Christendom and the door to Europe would be open.
Crowley also does a masterful job by incorporating primary sources where possible. Descriptions by eyewitnesses are scattered throughout the text and add an important element to the book.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Crowley brings to life the critical 16th C war that represented the rampant flow and then initial ebb of Muslim maritime power in the Mediterranean, fought between the Ottoman... Read morePublished 2 days ago by Richard A. Leveille
Opened a book to discover a history unknown to me.No, the world did not begin with WW1.The Mediterranean has never been so fought over where the weak coilition of Europe certainly... Read morePublished 10 days ago by Amazon Customer
This book was very well-written and contains a fair amount of detail, but still remains to be interesting and exciting to read. Read morePublished 25 days ago by Kevin
The author spent so much trying to explain 1 event/ battle, and then rushed everything else. There are some unnecessary description of events that i prefer were invested in... Read morePublished 1 month ago by drzamzam
A simply wonderful book! I was totally unaware of the siege of Malta and found Mr. Crowley's thorough description both enlightening and fascinating. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Huskydog
A description of the century-long naval struggle for control of the Mediterranean between the Ottoman Turks and the West, focusing on 4 major areas, the sieges of Rhodes, Cyprus,... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Alan E. Negrin
There are four events that define 16th Century Europe: The colonization of America, Reformation, Counter-reformation and the struggle between Christians and Muslims that ends with... Read morePublished 2 months ago by JFB53