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1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West Paperback – August 15, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
On May 29, 1453, Ottoman forces, under the leadership of Mehmet II, concluded their long and bloody siege of Constantinople by storming the city and overtaking it. According to Crowley, who works in publishing in England;the Ottoman conquest of the city brought to an end centuries of conflict between the Byzantine Empire and Islam. In overwhelming detail and colorless prose, Crowley chronicles the story of an ancient city and its attraction to members of two major religions. Before Mehmet's conquest, Constantinople had faced various unsuccessful sieges, and Crowley faithfully records them. The most destructive events came between 1341 and 1371, when earthquakes and the Black Death devastated the city, turning it into a forlorn series of villages. Although the Byzantine capital recovered enough of its former glory to entice Mehmet to its walls, even he felt tremendous disappointment, finding the city didn't live up to its reputation. Crowley drones through the day-by-day events of Mehmet's siege and the results of the conquest. Perhaps the author's most instructive point, made by others as well, is that Mehmet turned the city into one where religious toleration and multiculturalism flourished. (Aug. 10)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Crowley's fascinating account...reads more likely lively fiction...The characters, led by Mohammed II, the young leader of the Ottoman Turks, and Constantine XI, the wearying 57th emperor of a weakening Byzantium, are drawn in great detail from historical source material to bring them to life on the page."
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Top customer reviews
Here, as we are taken by the hand and led from the fourth to the fifteenth century into one cataclysmic year -- indeed into one cataclysmic day -- May 29, 1453, we then finally begin to understand how the clash of civilizations unfolded and what it all means.
But as the author well knew, understanding that history, did not require a linear recitation, a one line narrative strain, but required a novel way of telling this multi-millennial story, a way that allowed, not just a dramatic depiction of a set of constantly changing events embedded within a constantly changing geopolitical context, but also and most importantly, required giving the reader an almost tactile feel for the connective tissues and sinews that bound the context to the events in the story.
In my view, it is this constant depiction of the role the connective tissue played in the embedded events that reveals the author's special talents, and that also reveals all the reader needs to know about that history.
For instance, I often wondered why, if the barbarians were (by definition) savage, inbred idiots, how it is that they were nevertheless still brilliant enough to bring down, arguably, the highest civilization man has ever known?
Well, as the author makes devastatingly clear here, outside the walls of Rome and Constantinople, while the "so-called barbarians" were constantly fighting each other, among other things, they also were perfecting the art of war, especially siege and mounted warfare.
And as it turns out, "fighting while riding horses," for half a millennium, proved to be a game changing asymmetric advantage against a basically sedentary and corrupt city-dwelling opponent, content to hide behind the delusional security of walls and moats. With well-honed war-fighting abilities, and patience, military innovation became the barbarians main ally. Their battle cry was: Be resourceful, wait; and the those walls will come tumbling down. And so they did.
But more than this, they also recruited soldiers from amongst the disgruntled feudal ranks. There was a new kind of equality in being a barbarian soldier that had not yet been invented by Europe's feudal-run societies. Being a barbarian soldier actually was an elevation in status from that of being a vassal peon.
But surviving in a walled-in death trap, erroneously imagined to be an impregnable defense, also required ingenuity, savvy-ness and savagery at least equal to that of their barbarian opponents.
How about the "on-the-spot" invention of fourth-century flame throwers that decimated Muslim ships, sending them scurrying with their tails tucked. That innovation still baffles military specialists even today.
In fact, the utter joy of this book is that with the operational cockpit vantage point provided by the author, the reader is literally carried away by the details that show how innovation is used "on-the-fly" on both sides, throughout the clash to underwrite survival from day-to-day. No wonder this literary format was used.
If history gets more exciting than this, I will not be able to contain myself. Five stars
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