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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 Hardcover – July 1, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-1400066247 ISBN-10: 1400066247 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (July 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400066247
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400066247
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (209 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #456,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Is the West engaged in a “clash of civilizations” with the Islamic peoples of the Middle East? According to Crowley, that clash occurred in the sixteenth century, when Islam, under the leadership of the Ottoman Turks, seemed poised to dominate most of Europe. The “impregnable city” of Constantinople had been taken in 1453, and by the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Turks were ensconced in the Balkans. The key to the struggle between the Turks and the Christian West was control of the eastern rim of the Mediterranean Sea. The Turks had a formidable fleet, while the divided, quarreling Christian states seemed particularly vulnerable. Yet, through a combination of valor, military skill, and blind luck, the Christian West prevailed. Crowley’s exciting saga shows this struggle as grim, heroic, and inspiring. At the siege of Malta, a few hundred knights, remnants of a crusading order, held off 30,000 invading Turks. At Lepanto, Christians and Turks engaged in a naval bloodbath that decisively stemmed the Islamic tide. A beautifully written chronicle of a great and seminal struggle. --Jay Freeman


“[Crowley] offers exquisitely delicate insights and undulating descriptive passages. Yet in his descriptions of the battles, his prose is so taut and tense, it is impossible not to be caught up in the harrowing action.”—Christian Science Monitor

“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

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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 www.rogercrowley.co.uk, 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

4.8 out of 5 stars
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I read this book in 5 days over vacation and could not put it down.
Michael D. Teves
Mr. Crowley tells a great story and has done well at selecting important and interesting historical events from which to fashion his narrative.
Jason Adkins
I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in history and warfare.
Kristi Richardson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

136 of 138 people found the following review helpful By Izaak VanGaalen on July 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In the 16th century, the Mediterranean was considered the center of world, and this book is about the great battles and sieges that took place when the armies of Islam and Christendom tried to dominate that world. In 2005, Roger Crowley published a book called 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West in which he recounted the events of the siege of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks. In the present volume the saga continues, he chronicles the expansion of the Ottoman empire under the leadership of Suleiman the Magnificent and his son Selim.

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.
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123 of 133 people found the following review helpful By David W. Straight on July 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Empires of the Sea rates a solid 4 stars. In a bit under 300 pages (plus footnotes and index) it covers a 50-year history of the struggle for control of the Mediterranean from 1521 to 1571. That's actually quite a lot of ground in 300 pages, considering what went on. So if you want a good general overview, the book is good. There are a few maps up front, a section with photographs--mostly of old paintings, plus a lot of woodcuts depicting mostly battle scenes and people. The woodcuts are fine, but at times you acutely feel the lack of some good modern-style maps of the action. Goodness knows, there are plenty of current maps showing the fleets at Lepanto and also the sieges on Malta.

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.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Trinque VINE VOICE on August 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
My cultural blinders have long confined my view of 16th century history mainly to northern Europe and the Atlantic. Roger Crowley's "Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World" is a powerful corrective for that too-narrow point of view.

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.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Robert Busko VINE VOICE on August 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World by Roger Crowley provides the reader with a clear picture into the world of the 16th century Mediterranean and more importantly into warfare for the time.

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.
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