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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 19 November 2015
A well-researched history, told largely from the Ottoman perspective, of the siege of Vienna that very nearly succeeded. The Ottoman troops were brave and well-trained and organised, but, ultimately, poorly led. The conflict was bloody. Prisoners on either side were likely to be slaughtered or sold into slavery. Andrew Wheatcroft succeeds admirably in conveying the ethos of the times. A recommended read.
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on 5 December 2009
As I'm writing this the end of 2009 is approaching, and looking back upon the (many) history books I've read this year, this one ranks among the best. Not a few of those history books dealt with diverse aspects and periods of what I'd loosely describe as 'the East' (Judith Herrin's 'Byzantium', Roger Crowley's 'Constantinople, the last great siege' and 'Empires of the sea', Jason Goodwin's 'Lords of the Horizons', all of them fine books), and they have only increased my interest in the subject.

Wheatcroft's subject is the siege of Vienna in 1683 by the troops of Sultan Mehmed IV under the command of his Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa, a pivotal event in the struggle between the Habsburg (Austrian) empire and the Ottoman empire (a struggle that went on for centuries), and Wheatcroft writes this account not only with a thorough knowledge of the subject but - as importantly perhaps - with great enthusiasm. His own interest in the subject, one might safely even speak of fascination, is evident on every page and like a virus affects the reader.

The story of the siege in itself is truly absorbing stuff, but what lifts this book above the level of a 'mere account' ('first this happened and then that happened') are the clear insights Wheatcroft gives in the machinations and mechanisms behind the siege, and the way in which he treats it not just as a major confrontation isolated in time but situated in a long chain of events building up to that particular year, and reverberating for decades afterwards. In doing so, he also dispels many myths and prejudices (such as 'the evil Turk') that even today are still current. Therein, for me, lies the great value of this book because the past always begets the present, and the better we understand the past the better we are equipped to deal with today's challenges.

In a word: a masterpiece!
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I really enjoyed this. It is a very readable history about a little known (in the west) conflict between Christian Europe and Muslim Ottomans.

The story is nicely set into context (the previous few hundred years are deftly outlined). The main players are well characterised. The preparations for the war, and the siege itself are grippingly described almost in the manner of an adventure story.

The only part I didn't really enjoy was the long description of the aftermath, which I felt went on too long.

Overall, highly recommended.
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on 5 August 2014
Wheatcroft tells a story little written about by English speaking historians - the attempts by the Ottoman Turks to capture Vienna in the 16th and 17th centuries. The focus here is on the campaign which came closest to success, that of 1683. The most useful part of the work is in placing this attack in the context of Turkish advance westwards since the 15th century and in showing the reader new to the topic just how extensive this was. The duration of the Turkish presence in much of Hungary until the 18th century and the Hapsburg wars against the Turks which lasted until the end of that century were a surprise to me.

The 1683 siege is covered in much detail although as mentioned before in other reviews the quality of the maps in this ebook was poor and place names almost totally unreadable (when will publishers do something about this? Some now recognise the problem but their solution is to publish without any maps at all...) which made it difficult to always follow the progress of both the initial Turkish march on the capital and then the military configuration of those armies lifting the siege. However the detail of the narrative is clear.

Unfortunately, the focus tends to fade once the siege is lifted and the narrative becomes an outline of future campaigns and battles which I found somehow lacking in substance and unsatisfying. Part Three is more an essay on the nature of Austria's "Age of Heroes" (Heldenzeitalter) which followed the final succession of victories against the Ottomans. These included the hero of 1683, Charles of Lorraine, and Prince Eugene of Savoy the 18th century leader and enabled Vienna to construct a fantasy of military heroism and prowess that would last well into the 19th century (and even contribute to the hubris of 1914) and long after any repetition of victorious military campaigns was possible within the Empire. The Austrian historian Michael Hochedlinger is quoted as describing this ‘belated great power’, as having a ‘splendid baroque surface, it perhaps had more of a trompe l’oeil and resembled a colossus on feet of clay, whose fate was always hanging by a thread’. The connections with 1683 are made but at times this final section feels more like an afterthought.
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on 1 July 2013
This is a concise and enjoyable book that (notwithstanding its title) is really a history of the siege of Vienna 1683 and its immediate aftermath. It does this job well. There were some oddities though and I was left wondering whether the author had a different and wider scope in mind when he first set out to write this book. The background to the war is very much looked at from the Ottoman side and it is unfortunate that there was not a chapter dedicated to explaining the state of Austria in 1683 and why, for example, its other European commitments (France) left it particularly vulnerable at that point in time. The decades of war after the fall of Pest in 1686 are covered extremely briefly, which seemed unfortunate. The last part of the book, oddly, is dedicated to how war heroes such as Eugene of Savoy were utilised in the Austro-Hungarian national and political culture. What is odd about that is that Eugene barely features in the book because his war is covered so quickly. The book ends with following through to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and giving some views on Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman fates. It left me wanting more - a general history of the conflict between these two powers over the centuries - and I can't help but wonder if that was what the author originally set out to do, but was frustrated by time or publishers..?
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on 11 February 2014
I loved this book and one of the best aspects is that Andrew Wheatcroft manages to take you into the Ottoman camps and palaces and while you are there you feel profound sympathy for the Ottoman perspective and the Turkish heroes. He then takes you back to the beleaguered Christians and quite naturally the readers perspective swaps over and the Habsburgs and Poles become the heroes. This is good writing and the very best way of presenting history.

One of the lasting images that comes from the retelling of this dramatic story is the valiant charge by Jan Sobieski and his Polish Cavalry to relieve Vienna from the hoards of Ottomans who were at the point of taking the city. It does not take great insight to match this up with the charge of King Theoden to relieve Minas Tirith in Lord of the Rings and undoubtedly this was Tolkein's inspiration. The difference of course is that the Janissaries were not Orcs and Kara Mustafa was not (for all his failings) the Witch-king of Angmar.

The Enemy at the Gate left me wanting to know more about Sobieski and the link with the fictional Theoden. I made the mistake of using Google to try and satisfy that thirst for knowledge. It turns out that an awful lot of fairly unpleasant people have made this same link - but have found it more difficult to separate fact from fiction. Google led me to Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist web sites. They seem to have adopted poor Sobieski as one of their own. I am sure he is turning in his grave.
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on 14 October 2010
There are some good reviews here in the 3 star arena that highlight very well and in some detail the shortcomings of the book. In addition I would like to add that the lack of clear maps to back up the narrative would have helped, the ones included in the book are not very good. Also the book is prone to ramble a bit and could have been a lot tighter written/edited, for example the aftermath of the siege of Vienna is passed over too quickly to be much use and I would say the space used could have been better employed adding to the preceding time period or edited out altogether.

However, this important part of European History has not really been given the exposure it warrants (at least it hasn't in the English speaking world) and so full marks for coming out with a book that addresses this.
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on 23 November 2009
Extremely easy to read, unfortunately no chronology (internal and external factors) which seems a common theme amongst a lot of history books these days. Why we need a map of Europe incorporating the UK and Norway on the assault on Vienna beats me. Maps are pretty amateurish and could have really enhanced the book. Irrespective of the above, it was a good read but I somehow got the feeling that there was a high level of cut and paste. Lets face it, it really is all about the siege of Vienna as that is where the best sources are. A book that has the word "lazy" written all over it.
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on 4 October 2011
It is surprising to see how many critical reviews 'The Enemy at the Gate' got. Probably it attracts a highly intelligent readership with exacting standards.
As far as I am concerned, this is a truly great book. There is a lot of context (little-known Austro-Turkish conflicts in the centuries before and after 1683 are well treated), but most importantly the author brings the story alive very well - one can really imagine how it would be to walk with the huge Turkish army from Istanbul to Vienna, or to be one of the brave defenders of the city, desperately fighting on ruined ramparts against all-out Turkish attacks. The author's only annoying habit is his zeal in trying to be politically correct by arguing - against compelling evidence to the contrary - that both sides were equally cruel. This hardly detracts from what is otherwise a doubleplusgood book. Oh - one final comment: I would really like to understand why the Ottomans always walked from Istanbul to the front - why couldn't they just set up a base much closer to their enemies & extend the effecive campaign time by a few critical months? Wheatcroft does not provide the answer, and neither does any other author I have consulted on the subject. Too bad.
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on 13 May 2016
The Enemy is no longer at the gate - they are infiltrating, deceiving and terrorizing all non-Muslim territory, Islam's Land of War.
The attacks and wars in the name of Allah, holy war - jihad, are all inspired by the most vital laws of Islam, that are described in the Qur'an, the Hadith-traditional stories, and Islamic law. Jihad is the epicentre and pinnacle of Islam, until Allah and Islam reign supreme over all others.
Allah's holy Law of War is in fact the most important religious duty in Islam, obligatory for all Muslims. This is absolutely clear in the Qur'an, the Hadith-traditional stories, the very first valid histories by Ibn Ishaq and Tabari, and Islamic law.
Qur’an 9:29 Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.
The phrase la ilaha illa allah in the Qur’an: in Mecca 37:35, 38:4-10 and Medina 47:19.
In these it means religious war for supremacy against all disbelievers.
Qur’an 47:19 Muhammad So know that La ilaha illallah, there is no god except Allah.
Maududi says: This was at the time of the battle of Badr. It is also entitled al-Qital, the Fighting, because it gives the firm command for Jihad, and its theme is to prepare the Muslims for war against disbelievers and to give them instructions about those who kill and those who are killed:
Qur’an 9: 111 Verily, Allah has purchased of the believers their lives and their properties for (the price) that theirs shall be the Paradise. They fight in Allah's cause, so they kill and are killed.
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