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Empires of the Sea: The Final Battle for the Mediterranean, 1521-1580 [Paperback]

Roger Crowley
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Jun 2009
Empires of the Sea shows the Mediterranean as a majestic and bloody theatre of war. Opening with the Ottoman victory in 1453 it is a breathtaking story of military crusading, Barbary pirates, white slavery and the Ottoman Empire - and the larger picture of the struggle between Islam and Christianity. Coupled with dramatic set piece battles, a wealth of riveting first-hand accounts, epic momentum and a terrific denouement at Lepanto, this is a work of history at its broadest and most compelling.

Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber; Reprint edition (4 Jun 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571232310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571232314
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 206,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Roger Crowley read English at Cambridge before going to live in Istanbul. 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: Constantinople: the last great siege(2005), Empires of the Sea (2008) and City of Fortune: How Venice won and lost a naval empire(2011). His website address is www.rogercrowley.co.uk, where he blogs about history.

Product Description


'A gripping narrative account of several decades which really did shape the modern world.'
-- Michael Kerrigan, Scotsman

'Crowley succeeds in turning the events of 500 years ago into a thrilling spectacle.' -- James W. Wood, Scotsman

'Magnificent ... Crowley shows a novelist's eye for vivid scene painting.' -- Christopher Hart, Sunday Times

'Nothing less than thrilling. [Crowley's] descriptions of the great set pieces - the siege of Malta and the battle of Lepanto - left me holding my breath.' -- Michael Prodger, Sunday Telegraph Books of the Year

'This is a first-class narrative history, splendidly illustrated with old-fashioned engravings.' -- Christopher Silvester, Daily Telegraph

'[It] is an account of human beings under extraordinary circumstances... This is narrative history at its most gripping.' -- Noel Malcolm, Sunday Telegraph

`Amazing narrative power as well as an even-handed approach to the grisly horrors endured by Christians and Muslims alike.' -- Antonia Fraser, History Today Books of the Year

`Glorious narrative history.' -- Dominic Sandbrook, Daily Telegraph

`There is a certain British genius for Boys' Own Paper military history, and Roger Crowley has it.'
-- Norman Stone, Guardian Book of the Week

`This rousing account ... has everything ... [Crowley's] scholarship is sure-footed, and his narrative skills an old-fashioned delight.' -- Andrew Holgate, Sunday Times, History Book of the Year --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

A major success in hardback, this is one of the most gripping and exciting stories ever told of an epic period of international warfare.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
88 of 89 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History as it should be written. 5 Jun 2008
The conflict between Ottoman Turkey and Christian Spain for mastery of the Mediterranean basin had a huge influence on the development of the modern world, yet is probably not something you know very much about, even if you studied history at school. Roger Crowley deals with the key period of this struggle during the 16th Century in a page-turner of a narrative peopled with almost larger-than-life personalities - Suleiman the Magnificent, Bluebeard the Pirate (actually there were father and son Bluebeards) - Andrea Doria, the mercenary Admiral, and a supporting cast of Kings and Popes. What becomes clear is how very close the Ottomans came to extending their Empire into France, Italy and Spain, and how much better organised they were than the European powers who faced them.
The centrepiece of the book is the siege of Malta. The heroism of the defenders would not be believed if it were fiction, and the complex tale is told with exemplary clarity.
You may find parallels in the 21st Century, but Roger Crowley wisely doesn't labour them. Read it twice!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Empires of the Sea 4 Dec 2008
Read a review in the Wall St. Journal which wetted my appetite. Being a history buff it intrigued me. The book was an excellent read, covering the Seige of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto and the Contest for the Center of the World in the sixteenth century. The constant battle for supremacy in the Christian/Muslim world with it's shattering disregard for human life. After it was all over little had really changed and that state of affairs continues to this day. Magnificent descriptions of battles, especially the sea battle at Lepanto which is described as "Europe's Trafalgar" during which 40,000 were killed in four hours and really ended the crusades of the time.
There is a lot to relate to in today's world.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
By Kentspur VINE VOICE
This is a pacy, easy-to-read overview of the steady westward movement of the Ottoman Empire in the Sixteenth century Mediterrean and it's crunching full stop at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. Like the many books on the Crusades, it has modern resonances and maintains an even-handedness throughout.

The strengths are the descriptions of the siege of Malta- in particular - and the cataclysmic battle of Lepanto. The weaknesses are a little bit of 'reaching' to make this area, perhaps, more fundamental to modern Europe than it actually was - describing the conflict as a 'world war' for example and the failure to convey what the combatants in a naval battle are actually trying to do or achieve. How does a sea battle 'work'? I am sure the author was trying to avoid the level of detail that takes a book like this - very much a popular history - into a military history sales cul-de-sac, but I felt this undercut some of the tension. The siege description was far more gripping.

Nevertheless in a decent epilogue, Roger Crowley makes the pithy point that rising prices and cheap labour costs in the Christian West did as much to undermine the Ottomans as Don Juan's galleys. Capitalism wins again!
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EMPIRES OF THE SEA 22 Jun 2009
Another cliff-hanger from Crowley as he tears aside the veil of a `clash of civilisations' to show the people beneath, some of whom, yes, fought for Christianity or Islam, some of whom like Hayrettin Barbarossa fought for revenge and profit as much as for the Prophet. Some like the countless thousands of galley-slaves fought to stay alive (the supply of whom stripped coastal regions and perpetuated the war in a self-feeding cycle).More realpolitik than religion, this is Pirenne's divided Mediterranean, both sides aping the defunct Roman Empire, trying to project their version of it. Starting with the siege of Rhodes and Famagusta whose commander met a gruesome end, skinned alive and the skin stuffed and dressed in finery and sent to the Sultan, this book tells the next chapter of Ottoman expansion after the Fall of Constantinople and a grim remorseless story it is.
Thematically structured into two parts, the siege of Malta and the battle of Lepanto, both presented as huge triumphs in the West, Cervantes describing Lepanto as the `greatest event witnessed by ages past, present and to come', slight setbacks in the East.
As for Malta, forget the Alamo which held out for two weeks, the fight to hold St. Elmo's fort which held out for a month would read like a pot-boiler if it were not true, down to the very end when its captain Miranda had himself tied to a chair because of his wounds and waited by the gate with his pistols and his swords for the Janissaries who stormed the building.
Lepanto where the two fleets blundered into each other, produced an apocalyptic battle that is hard to credit when reading the story in the comfort of an armchair. The rate of death, 40,000 in the first four hours, would not be equalled until WWI.
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great story 21 Oct 2008
Crowley does an extraordinary job putting together three extraordinary stories that marked the 16th Century in the Mediterranean: The siege of Rhodes, the siege of Malta, and the Battle of Lepanto. These stories, especially that of the siege of Malta, makes the book read like a novel, most enthralling and nail biting.

Although Crowley has written a very accurate and detailed account of these clashes between the Christian and Muslim worlds, one gets the impression, that he tends to minimize the role of Christian leaders, their armies and the importance of their victories, and maximizes that of the Ottoman side. For example, he doesn't give much importance to the conquest of Tunis by Emperor Charles V, while he gets to the detail with other minor Turkish exploits.

The author is notably pro Turkish throughout most of the book, presenting the Christians as more religious fanatics than the Muslims, when probably both were exactly the same. The fact that Crowley lived for a long period of his life in Istanbul may explain this and that he recreates himself longer when detailing the fascinating ottoman world. This is perfectly clear, when at the end of the book he goes through the list of mausoleums and great internments of all the ottoman main characters, while he ignores the final resting place of the Christian kings and admirals.

However, the book is fully recommendable, and anybody interesting in this period of history, and in the last of the crusades, will surely enjoy it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A very fine work
I knew little of this era, beyond sketchy details of Lepanto.
This book is a vivid, authoritative and highly readable account of an epic struggle. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Wyn
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read
After reading this book I now want to visit Vienna. Well written in my view, an easy read and interesting read. The detail is brilliant as are any of Roger Crowleys books. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Barry Elliott
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent piece of work.
Very well researched and written. The author always maintains a high level of suspense although it is quite complex to say something new about a very well known story.
Published 2 months ago by Julien Halfon
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting period of history made easy to read
Bought this mostly from my interest in Maltese history, but the book details an interesting period in history of the religious wars in the Mediterranean. Read more
Published 2 months ago by MalteserinHK
5.0 out of 5 stars Really Interesting
I saw the ratings for this book and it was a part of history I knew nothing about. After the Crusades I thought it went quiet except for the capture of Constantinople and then the... Read more
Published 3 months ago by david bethom
5.0 out of 5 stars A stimulating Christmas present
We bought this book for our son, a historian. It was in excellent condition. We already have a copy ourselves.
Published 3 months ago by Elizabeth Harrison
4.0 out of 5 stars Little known aspect of History
I found this very well researched book of great interest to me as I like history. The details of the battles and campaigns are well laid out for the reader without ever boring... Read more
Published 4 months ago by David Briggs
5.0 out of 5 stars A suberb book
A very readable book which -the pace is excellent and history superbly recorded. You will find this book very difficult to put down.
Published 4 months ago by EJ Bowen
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent resource for an interesting moment in history
An engaging book about an extremely interesting point in history. Well written, it effortlessly pulls you right along with it. Read more
Published 4 months ago by B. Calder
5.0 out of 5 stars Give yourself time for this book
I started this book after the Venice one and it tyed in all the stories and facts together. It gave another perspective to the information given in the other two books. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Carole Willatt
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