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The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans, and the Battle for Europe Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 28, 2009

4 out of 5 stars 85 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, April 28, 2009
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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Wheatcroft (director, Centre for Publishing Studies, Univ. of Stirling, Scotland; Infidels) offers a richly detailed account of the 1683 Ottoman siege of Vienna and subsequent battle with the Hapsburg central European forces. Although focusing on a single military campaign, Wheatcroft draws on decades of his own research on the Hapsburg-Ottoman conflict to provide needed historical context for the events of war. As Wheatcroft aptly states in his introduction, his is in fact a broader study that seeks to understand "Europe's fear of the Turks" within the frame of a specific Ottoman-Hapsburg military clash. Much of Wheatcroft's detail comes from European accounts of life in the Ottoman Empire and first-person descriptions of war, but the inherent bias in these sources is always acknowledged. As a result, Wheatcroft is able to move beyond tales of the "Terrible Turks" to provide a realistic portrayal of Ottoman leadership, a political context for the Hapsburg-Ottoman conflict, and a description of the shifting balance of power between these two dynasties. This is not a work of popular history for the casual reader, but scholars and students of history would benefit greatly from this well-researched account of 17th-century Ottoman-Hapsburg political power.—Veronica Arellano, Univ. of Houston Libs.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Four centuries ago, the West really was involved in a seminal “clash of cultures” against an aggressive Islamic power, and that struggle reached its zenith at the siege of Vienna in 1683. Wheatcroft has written a fast-moving and exciting account of this sustained conflict and the history-turning siege that may well have preserved the Christian character of Europe. Since their smashing defeat of the Byzantines at Manzikert in 1071, Turkish nomadic warriors had threatened Europe, but the Ottomans had harnessed the power of an efficient state to their superior logistics and mobile cavalry. On the front line opposing the Ottoman advance were the forces of the polyglot Hapsburg Empire. Wheatcroft indicates that the Hapsburgs had their own particular assets, including a superbly trained infantry, and an effective, largely Polish cavalry. Relying to a large extent on contemporary Hapsburg sources, Wheatcroft offers an outstanding blow-by-blow description of the siege, which in the end was decided through a combination of luck and several critical Ottoman blunders. --Jay Freeman
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (April 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465013740
  • ASIN: B003R4ZDQW
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,945,347 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Andrew Wheatcroft does an excellent job of narrating the dramatic struggle between the Hapsburg Empire and it's allies and the Ottoman Empire and their allies for control of Central Europe. He describes not only the military events but also the political and cultural aspects of this struggle. I enjoyed the entire book but being retired military the descriptions of the various military forces involved were most interesting to me. The Janissaries and Sipahis were aggressive, fierce and highly courageous but they were facing opponents who learned their trade in the Thirty Years War and understood the value of dicipline and massed firepower. Wheatcroft makes a good argument that,"Nothing until the battle for Stalingrad in 1942 equalled the relentless struggle in the ditch before Vienna." I disagree with the other reviewer who questioned the need for Wheatcroft's continuing the story to include the campaigns to liberate Hungary. I thought it was facinating to read about the heroic old Pasha of Buda and his doomed stand against Lorraine, and I'll read about Pringe Eugene any day. There's a reason why Napoleon called Eugene one of the greatest generals of all time. If you have any interest in the history of Central Europe or just want to read a great story you owe it to yourself to read "Enemy at the Gate."
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Format: Hardcover
As an aged reader of histories, I often wonder at my seemingly insatiable appetite for more accounts of more events in more detail. Just can't get enough. We experienced pursuers of what's past pretty much know how "things," be they prominent persons' lives, or battles, or natural cataclysms, or whatever, turned out, that is, we know who won the battle, invented the whatever, caught the miscreant, etc., but we always want to know more. How many books can one read about, say, World War I, and not be completely sated? Well, it turns out, at least in my case, to be just about every one that comes down the pike. No historian can ever adequately describe the convoluted causes, the military missteps, the human suffering, the nation-changing results. But they continue to try, and we continue to be fascinated by their efforts.

I guess if my memory of relatively recent readings had served me better, I would have passed on Author Wheatcroft's latest effort in view of my reaction to his 2005 work, "Infidels." As with that earlier effort, "Enemy" gets off to a decent start but trails off in unsupported observations and uncertain conclusions. Two failings stand out in my mind. First, Mr. Wheatcroft possesses a distressingly dry and unimaginative writing style. If an author can't invigoratingly portray the inherent drama and human terror and suffering of the Siege of Vienna, then I don't know what other event could propel the effort. I understand that it was long ago and that the implicit sprawl of a siege does not lend itself to concise and engaging descriptions.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I must say that when I first bought this book, I didn't know what to expect. The reviews weren't the best and this time in history wasn't one of my favorites.

However, when I opened the book and started reading it, I was impressed. The pictures that it painted of this period of time, where very good. The Ottoman Empire of that period was a very dictatorial environment with the Sultan running everything and disobedience resulting in death. And, when they attacked a Christian city, the inhabitants were provided two options prior to the start of the siege - either surrendur or die. At the end of the battles, if the inhabitants did not surrender, the results were truly barbaric.

This was the lead in to the campaign that resulted in a near run affair of the siege of a major European city in 1683 - the siege of Vienna. The city was under siege for 2 months - and the book shares the specifics of the bombardment, the Ottoman mining (which they were very good at), the assaults of Ottomans (after mines were exploded taking down some of the city walls), the defense and the potential loss of the city. As the book continued through this section describing these events, I couldn't put it down. I kept wondering what it must have been like to experience this. And, what would have happened to the thousands of people in the city, if the city was taken.

The highlight of the book is the arrival of the "cavalry". A joint army of units from Poland, Saxony and other locations arrives in the nick of time, fights a battle with the Ottomans that ends with a successful heroic attack of the Polish Winged Hussars. You can just picture the result as you are reading the book - the hussars attacking with their lances, chasing the Ottomans and routing them.
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Format: Hardcover
With only rudimentary knowledge about either the Ottoman Empire or the Holy Roman (Habsburg) One, I found Andrew Wheatcroft's "The Enemy at the Gate" to be a good primer about the empires, their epic clash in 1683, and 17th century European history generally. Although the narrative lacks focus, its heart - a study of the massive Ottoman campaign against the capital of the Habsburg Holy Roman Empire - is solid.

The conquest of Vienna would have been the crown achievement of the Ottoman Empire, a victory to rival the conquest of Constantinople. Vienna had withstood a siege by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 1521, and topping his achievement would have immortalized his distant successor, Mehmet IV. It was a battle for the glory of the empire and that of Islam - "to be hailed as the Conqueror of Vienna was an irresistible Prospect" (p. 82).

Irresistible, but far fetched. From the get go, the Ottomans were disadvantaged - their troops, although superior to the Habsburg forces individually, were far less disciplined, and were unable to maneuver as ably. The Ottomans were facing an invasion of a well defended country in an era in which military maneuvering were moving away from pitch battles into sieges. By the late seventeenth Century, the Ottoman Habsburg border was littered with formidable castles. Vienna itself sported impressive defenses, admittedly poorly maintained. Mehmet's task was considerably more onerous than the one attempted by his legendary ancestor.

Not that the Sultan was there to command the campaign - in fact, neither sovereign participated directly in the campaign. Mehmet IV, after accompanying his soldiers part of the way as a de jure commander, gave formal authority to his Grand Vizier, Kara Mustafa in Belgrade.
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