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136 of 138 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Mediterranean World of the 16th Century
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...
Published on July 27, 2008 by Izaak VanGaalen

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars I recommend indeed.
A very much informative book, but after a very detailed introduction and middle, it suddenly ends in a rush, but a very much accurate history book, I recommend indeed.
Published 5 months ago by Carlos Wanderley


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136 of 138 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Mediterranean World of the 16th Century, July 27, 2008
By 
Izaak VanGaalen (San Francisco, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World (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. The battle was expected to last about 4 hours, instead it lasted 4 months, with the Turks ultimately retreating. Crowley's account of bravery and brutality is unparalled. He tells of how wounded soldiers were placed in chairs with their sword in hand fighting to the death.

The Ottoman siege of Malta failed but their invasions of Cyprus (1570) and Famagusta (1571) were successful. They also attempted to invade Lepanto in 1571. Crowley here gives us another great set-piece. While the siege of Malta took place at a fortress, this battle took place on the sea; in fact it was the largest sea battle before World War I. Crowley gives a fine diquisition on the relative merits of sail ships and oar-driven ships (galleons). The European forces prevailed as they had the more mobile oar-driven ships. Also an unpleasant reminder that these ships were manned by slaves (galley slaves). About 40,000 men died in about 4 hours, the highest rate of slaughter not seen until, again, World War I. One young writerly soldier named Miguel de Cervantes - wounded in battle - thought it to be the greatest event of the ages.

The Siege of Malta and the Battle of Lepanto were great stories, but they were just two conflagrations of the complex geopolitics of the 16th century Mediterranean. Crowley has done an excellent job, not only of describing the main events, but also filling in the background with rich detail.
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122 of 132 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good, but not great, history work, July 3, 2008
By 
David W. Straight (knoxville, tennessee United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World (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 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, page-turning history, August 1, 2008
By 
Bruce Trinque (Amston, CT United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World (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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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting....who said history was boring?, August 7, 2008
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This review is from: Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World (Hardcover)
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. Also the Turkish side of things is presented pretty clearly as illustrated with the following:

"Selim, Ottoman Sultan, Emperor of the Turks, Lord of Lords, King of
Kings , Shadow of God, Lord of the Earthly Paradise and of Jerusalem, to the
Signory of Venice: We demand of you Cyprus, which you shall give Us
willingly or perforce; and do you not irritate our horrible sword, for We shall
wage most cruel war against you everywhere; nor let you trust in your
treasure, for We shall cause it suddenly to run away from you like a torrent;
beware to irritate Us." (page 207)

Empires also does a great job in examining the growing Turkish presence in the Med as a naval power. Sulieman's reach and projection of power was made possible in part by the wonderful naval commanders that were available to the Sultan and by the absolute naval incompetence of the Europeans. In the end Sulieman's navy couldn't help him however.

Crowley writes for the layman and explains himself clearly. The information that is presented is done so in context and though I'm not an expert on the subject feel that I've read a complete treatment of the topic. The maps that are included in the book make sense and are easy to read and the inclusion of the illustrations and woodcuts add to the information in the text.

I recommend Empires of the Sea.

Peace
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very entertaining and educational read, July 22, 2008
This review is from: Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World (Hardcover)
AS the published author of several books about Islamic terrorism I find this book hypnotic in its content, but sadly I had read it in two sittings, I could have read on and on. The history crammed into 300 pages is truly rivetting, and a sad reflection of the struggles we see today in the same parts of the world. The description of the sheer power of Suleiman the Magnificent, Muslim ruler of the Ottoman Empire at the height of its power, can only give the reader the slightest glimpse of the power the Ottomans held, in an epic struggle between rival empires and faiths for control of the Mediterranean and the center of the world.

In Empires of the Sea, acclaimed historian Roger Crowley has written his most mesmerizing work to date - a thrilling account of this brutal decade - long battle between Christendom and Islam for the soul of Europe.

It is educational and an awe inspiring read, give it a go, you wont be let down.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bringing the 16th century Mediterranean to life, August 18, 2010
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Roger Crowley, author of the excellent 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West, continues his history of the clash between Islam and Christianity after the Middle Ages in Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World. While some Americans know that Europe thwarted the Ottoman land invasion at Vienna, few realize that the Ottoman threat hung over the Mediterranean Sea for much of the 16th century. Crowley deftly covers several of the major sea battles between the Ottoman Empire and Hapsburg Spain, including the siege of Malta and battle of Lepanto.

Crowley has a gift for writing historical narrative. His writing is extremely readable and fluid. History comes alive with several personalities, including Barbarossa the Muslim corsair/pirate who brought terror to coastal Europe; the stern La Valette, Knight of St. John, who raised the drawbridge at Malta to ensure that the fortress defenders would not retreat; and Don Juan, the dashing Spanish prince who pushed his unwilling fleet towards battle at Lepanto.The focus of Empires of the Sea is, of course, the battles, and these are narrated with gripping detail. Crowley lets readers really feel like they are on the galleys, from the way the arrows stuck out of the deck to the noise of the cannons.

My only complaint about Empires of the Sea is that it doesn't provide much background about the Ottoman or Hapsburg Empires. I understand Crowley had to limit that background information he provides in order to focus on the narrative and battles. Still, I suspect many readers will know next to nothing about these empires, which might make them reluctant to invest in the narrative. Fortunately, I did remember quite a bit from my university history courses, but still I felt I could use a brief refresher on key events like the Battle of Vienna, which Crowley barely mentions but defined Ottoman-European relations during the 16th century. I guess my point isn't so much a criticism of Crowley's book as much as it is a suggestion that readers at least browse an article about the history of the Ottomans and Hapsburgs before taking on this book.

Overall, if you generally don't like to read books about European history, Roger Crowley's books might change your mind. If you do like history, then Empires of the Sea will be as exciting and enjoyable as watching the space battles in Star Wars.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars exciting, July 8, 2008
This review is from: Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World (Hardcover)
After reading 1453 I have been waiting more than a year for Crowley's next book but alas, I read it in just 2 days so my first complaint is that 300 pages is not enough - it deserves at least 500 pages, hence 4 stars. There were some typos which the publisher missed and the maps were insuficient.
An example of an area that could have received more explanation was the innovation of the galleasses which after further development made the galleys obsolete .
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding telling of the great conflict in the Mediterranean, August 12, 2008
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This review is from: Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World (Hardcover)
Mr Crowley has captured the brutal and grim conflict that spanned from 1521 to the fateful fight at Lapanto in 1571. The clash between the forces of Islam and the combined units of Italy, Spain and others is detailed in a most readable fashion, touching on key events like the battle of Cyprus, Famajusta and Malta. The incredible siege at Malta in 1565 is without a doubt one of the greatest stories of a 'last stand'. I would recommend Ernie Bradford's terrific book 'The Great Siege' for more insight into this important battle against enormous odds, but this book covers much about Malta in a handful of chapters. Some powerful characters and their lives are explained in this fine book and it is rich in detail, historical information and some rather gruesome tortures and scenes of combat. Excellent data that leds one to search out other books on this vast and often bloody period in history.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hooked Me in the First 10 Pages, May 29, 2010
By 
Amazon Customer (The Old North State, US) - See all my reviews
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This book is outstanding. In the first half of the book you basically have:

1. The Ottoman Empire which is reaching the apex of its maritime capabilities.

2. The Barbary Pirates of North Africa who are in league with the Ottomans and strike the coastal regions of Europe with impunity.

3. A knightly order left over from the last crusade which plays as "down and dirty" as their Ottoman enemies.

These knights make a stand on the island of Malta ultimately defeating an Ottoman force much larger than their own. Sound like fiction?

Roger Crowley does good job of portraying the dynamics of the time: the desperation of entire Christian communities enslaved, the division of Europe, the power of the Ottoman Empire, the hesitation to commit large naval forces into battle, etc. He also explains the technology of the time including the manpower-intensive galley which represented the ultimate in naval warfare.

It is no small stretch to envision a much different Europe had Lepanto or Malta played out differently. Further, I find that good historical books play up small factors that ultimately decide the outcome. For instance, if Anastagi had not carried out the cavalry charge from Mdina at the critical moment it is likely Malta would have fallen to the Ottomans.

This book reads like fiction with the author making use of foreshadowing. The major characters intertwine in complex ways and often generationally. Like all good story telling you can empathize with all of the characters involved; from Sultans to galley slaves. However you can't help but be shocked by the brutality of the period - all in the name of God. This is one of those books that I literally stayed up too late reading.

I have been reading quite a bit on my Kindle lately and as a result reserve 5 stars for truly exceptional books. I feel compelled to give "Empires of the Sea" 5 stars.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unputdownable!!!!, July 14, 2010
This book is fantastic. If you have an interest in Mediterranean history and are looking for a fantastic storey as well as the facts this is an amazing book by Roger Crowley. When I finished this book I started it all over again immediately! No wonder it was the sunday times history book of the year for 2008! Well done!
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