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83 of 86 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A highly accessible retelling of a clash of civilisations
The problem with non-fiction is that certain areas of history are covered over and over again. Want to know about Hitler- take your pick. The Romans- how many books do you want? The issue is that where there is feast in certain areas there is famine in others. This book is one of those marvels that tells the story of an area of history largely forgotten. What Andrew...
Published on 27 Mar 2009 by J. Duducu

3.0 out of 5 stars Useful to English readers but needs developing
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...
Published 1 month ago by Les Fearns

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3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A battle for Europe, 26 Sep 2009
trini "HWS" (Hertfordshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This book is very interesting but also very unsatisfactory. The main reason may be that the author does not realize how little knowledge the average reader possesses of the one thousand and fifty year conflict (638 AD to 1683 AD) between Islam and Christendom that made the siege of Christian Habsburg Vienna in 1683 by the Muslim Ottoman Turks truly a `battle for Europe', as the author's subtitle calls it.

The book goes into very great detail on the strengths and weaknesses of the resources and the tactics of the Muslim and Christian armies, both in open field warfare and in siege warfare, whether as attackers or defenders. It discusses (rather scrappily, in my opinion) the military leaders on both sides. It then concentrates on the siege of Vienna in the summer of 1683.

But why were the Christians and the Muslim Turks fighting? The book fails to supply two essential aids which the reader needs in order to understand this.

The first missing key to the book is a chapter or two on the spread of Islam from its heartland in Arabia, starting with the Muslim capture of Christian Byzantine Jerusalem in 638 AD, six years after the death of Mohammed (and surely the average reader also needs a few pages on the life and teaching of Mohammed himself, on the origins of the whole Muslim thing). Islam then spread rapidly by military conquest, overrunning Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt and the whole North African coast - all Christian lands - during the next hundred years, and invading Spain in 711 AD. Then, over the centuries, Islam spread northwards into the heartland of the Byzantine Empire in what is now Turkey; after two centuries of the Crusades (1098 to the end of the thirteenth century) the Turks crossed into Europe and conquered the Balkans behind and around Constantinople in the fourteenth century. The conquest of Constantinople itself by the Turks in 1453 meant the end of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium). Turkish armies spread further northwards, into the plains of Hungary and the borders with Russia and Poland, and to the gates of Vienna. A first siege of Vienna in 1529 was unsuccessful, but the Turks remained menacingly on the borders of the Christian lands in central Europe, leading to the new siege of Vienna in 1683 - the main theme of this book.

A few background paragraphs are also needed to sketch the attacks on the Christian West by the Muslims in the Mediterranean. The growth of Muslim power there already posed the same kind of threat to the whole of European Christendom in the sixteenth century that the Muslims again posed in central Europe before Vienna in 1683. The Mediterranean threat was thwarted only by the desperate but ultimately successful Christian defence of Malta in 1565 and the Christian naval victory at Lepanto in 1571.

Is it any wonder that, as our author often reminds us, Europe lived in constant `terror of the Turk'? But he does not adequately stress the underlying cause, namely, that Christian Europe justifiably felt forever under threat by Islam, which always proclaimed that it had a divine mission to conquer the whole Christian world.
The second missing aid is a series of good maps. The book has a few fuzzy maps, which totally fail to illustrate the broad strategic picture of the advance of Islam into Europe. What is needed is a series of coloured maps showing the Muslim and the Christian lands, with borders clearly drawn, some showing the whole Mediterranean, Europe and the Near East together, others showing in more detail the central, eastern and southern European areas where these civilizations met and clashed between 1100 and 1800. These maps need to show the different political controls of the same geographical areas at certain key moments in history - e.g in 1099 (the first Crusade), 1453 (fall of Constantinople), 1683 (siege of Vienna).

So what this book gives us is an excellent description of the clash of swords, the thunder of artillery and the effectiveness of sappers blowing up defensive walls, but not enough of the reasons why it all happened. And even the central account of the siege of Vienna just peters out, without final analysis. There is a detailed build-up, hour by hour, to the final successful advance of the rescuing Polish cavalry on 12 September 1683, which caused the Turkish besiegers to turn and flee. But then the author's dramatic skill seems to desert him, and he merely lamely says, with hardly any further comment, that that is what happened: "Thus, twelve hours after the battle had begun in confusion it ended in chaos, with complete victory for the relief army. ... Vienna had been relieved. ... By 10.00 p.m. it was clear they [the Turks] had gone for good. Vienna and Christendom had been saved." [last words of chapter 8]. The very next words begin chapter 9: "When dawn broke on Monday 13 September 1683 the Turkish host had already vanished".

There then follow another 80 pages of text, sketching the history of the struggles between the Habsburg and Ottoman empires which continued after 1683, with Prince Eugene of Savoy figuring prominently - but, to my mind, disjointedly. And so to the end of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, and the founding of modern secular Turkey in 1923.

In a final coda the author quotes "a former Commissioner of the European Union, Frits Bolkenstein, who said very publicly [in 2004] that if Turkey entered the EU, then `the liberation of Vienna in 1683 would have been in vain' ", a view echoed by the soon-to-be-Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, that "the entry of Turkey into the EU would be anti-historical" (p. 267). Food for thought.

The book is well worth reading. But it could have been so much better.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Tale of Two Halves, 21 Sep 2009
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The Enemy at the Gate by Andrew Wheatcroft is really a mixed-bag of a book. It is certainly an interesting tale which is very well- researched and has a very good bibliography. However, it suffers because of a slow opening half of the book and a lack of structure and clarity. Overall, it is an interesting period of history and certainly the second half of the book is well-written and very interesting but it is let down by a flawed opening which lacks direction and purpose.
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The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans and the Battle for Europe
The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans and the Battle for Europe by Andrew Wheatcroft (Paperback - 6 Aug 2009)
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