9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
This is the best book of the Osprey series .I bought this book on arrival to Malta and I can say that I have read it more than 4 times .I used it as a guide when I went to Valletta and I suggest reading this book before visiting the siege museum.
Written by Tim Pickles, it describes the siege for Malta by the Ottomans in 1565 ,in which the defenders endured incredible hardship and had to fight against overwhelming numbers of Turks.
Is very easy to read and will satisfy the general public and amateur historian rather as it does not have much in-depth information.
The illustrations and the maps are very good and give an excellent idea of the situation and movement of the forces during the siege.
The chapters covering the assault on the forts are excellent and found it very difficult to put the book down.
This title could have been good. Instead, it is just about decent, because the facts of the siege are well told. So this is certainly not a five star book, nor is it worth four stars.
However, it also has a strong tendency to “hype up” events and present the Knights of Saint John as paragon of chivalry fighting against the forces of evil which, at times, is so excessive that it becomes almost laughable. So the first problem with this book is that it essentially fails to capture the religious fanaticism that existed on both sides among at least some of the combatants and, perhaps more generally, the fact that there were no “goodies” and “baddies”, contrary to the impression that is given.
The siege and defence of Malta can be, as has very much been portrayed as “heroic” although this is only part of the story, and the fame and glory it brought to the Order is largely a function of the fact that it was successful. What the author fails to emphasise, although he does admittedly allude to it, is that the Order brought this onto itself and onto the Maltese because of its relentless attacks of Ottoman shipping. This was seen as “piracy”, of course, by the Ottomans, just like the Christians qualified the Moslem raids on their coasts as piratical. The point here is that there is some uncertainty, to say the least, as to whether the Ottomans really had some kind of “grand plan” for a seaborne invasion of Italy or whether they simply wanted to eradicate what they saw as a nest of pirates that was disrupting their shipping.
Another related point is that La Valette, the Grand Master, was, in the pure tradition of the Military Orders, a fanatic. He is often presented as a fearless leader, which he certainly was, who had the wisdom to know that the Ottoman storm would come and who therefore did his outmost to prepare for the inevitable invasion and attack. This is, to some extent, a rationalisation after the facts. Even more excessive is the statement that, thanks to La Valette’s actions, “Europe would never be Muslim.” He seems, in fact, to have provoked the invasion and siege of Malta, and the island’s defences were not fully ready – far from it – by the time it came, if only because the Order lacked sufficient money to do so and the Christian powers’ enthusiasm to fight the Ottomans in the Mediterranean was somewhat lukewarm.
What he in fact managed to do was to force the hand of the Spaniards, and of the Spanish Viceroy of Naples in particular, who had to come to his help. However, what looks in retrospect as an extremely high risk gamble almost failed as the Viceroy hesitated to commit to the defence of Malta the limited numbers of troops with which he was supposed to defend Naples and Sicily and almost arrived too late. In military terms, therefore, the Spanish hesitations were perfectly understandable in purely military terms, even if it was indefensible to “abandon” fellow Christians, and members of a religious Order in addition, to their fate and let them be slaughtered by the Ottomans.
An additional point that the author has entirely avoided is a discussion of the Maltese themselves. The Knights ruled the islands as a sovereign State and with a heavy hand. The local population clearly had no say in the matter regarding the Order’s very aggressive and antagonistic policy against the Ottomans and did have to suffer multiple Muslim raids prior to the Great Siege. They, perhaps more than the Order’s members, were the real - and the largely unsung - heroes of the Siege if only because they had something to lose (their homes and families) and they had not vowed their lives to fight against the Muslims contrary to the Order’s members.
Then there are some rather awful blunders and mistakes. One reviewer has already listed one of them. The fort of Saint Elmo at the time of the siege was not the very elaborate and state-of-the-art structure that is illustrated in the book. This is the plan of the fort that replaced the one destroyed during the siege and which was a smaller, simpler and weaker stronghold. In fact it was only after the siege that the defences of the island really became formidable as money poured into the Order’s coffers because it had survived the Ottoman onslaught. Ironically, these superb defences which are the ones you can visit nowadays never had to be used.
A second blunder is a claim on the very first page of the book about the Muslims falling “more and more under the control of the warlike descendants of Genghis Khan’s Mongols. This simply omits that the Mamluks of Egypt resisted the Mongols very successfully and defeated them several times so that Egypt did not fall to the Mongols who also did not manage to permanently occupy Syria.
A third and just as surprising blunder is the claim that “the last Christian forces left Palestine”…”and gave up their toe-hold on Cyprus” so that only the Order of Saint John remained in the East. Here, either the author has not done his research properly or he is being somewhat “creative” with the facts. The Christians did not give up Cyprus, far from it. It remained a Christian Kingdom ruled by the Lusignan dynasty until the second half of the 15th century when it was taken over by Venice who governed it until the Ottomans conquered it in 1570. Accordingly, the Order of Saint John was certainly not the only remaining Christian power in the East after the loss of Palestine. For instance, Lesbos belonged to the Genoese until 1462 and Venice would hold on to Crete for over four centuries until the second half of the 17th century.
The title also lacks a bibliography, which as far as I am concerned always “earns” a book a “black mark” since it prevents the reader from going any further as she/he might be tempted to do if the book manages to arise more than a passing interest. Three stars, mainly because the factual narrative of the siege is well told, despite all the glitches mentioned. The plates are acceptable and competent, although not great and I must confess that I never been a fan of Christa Hook’s blurry-faced characters.
on 14 October 2013
Having read Ernle Bradfords "The Great Siege" I have been fascinated by this epic battle. When Osprey released their Campaign book of the siege of Malta I couldn't wait to get the hold of it. Osprey produce well researched and beautifully illustrated books by some of the leading authorities on their subject. Not this one! I basically found myself reading a condensed version of Mr Bradford's book. If a writer is going to rely as heavily on one source I would expect the decency of it being mentioned in the bibliography however and probably not surprisingly, there is none. As to the illustrations, apart from the artwork by Christa Hook (for which I have given the book its star), the illustrations are largely irrelevant to the event. As Mr Pickles helpfully points out in a photo of Fort St Elmo " The picture gives no idea how the fort stood during the siege" The tactical map doesn't either though, it shows the footprint of a much later version of the fort.
I must admit to feeling a bit ripped off with this offering. Very disappointing
on 15 October 2013
This is an excellent and detailed account of one of the crucial military battles in Europe's bloody history. A clash between Islamic and Christian civilisation which carries an extra echo today, what with the upsurge of the new Islam Militant, as one might call it. It was here in 1565 that the rampant Islamic forces were stopped in their tracks. Tim Pickles really knows his stuff, not only strategy and tactics, but the minutae of weapons and day to day living during combat of this kind. The writer gets down and dirty about the reality of such fighting - including its savagery. Anyone wanting to live and feel this battle should buy this book. For the aficionado it's unputdownable, for the general reader it's a great introduction to that period and that battle. Marvellous illustrations too as well as useful plans of the various fortresses involved. I'm a history buff and it sure enlightened me! Be great to read more from this military expert.
I rather disagree with the previous review. I liked this book, although it was the first one I ever read on this siege, so I really couldn't compare. Of course I can understand that when you are a scholar on the topic, you can find this book a little bit superficial - but Osprey Campaigns are short by principle and they never pretend to be other thing that a general introduction to more serious studies. And this one is quite good, with quite honest illustrations.
26 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on 26 June 2001
The siege of Malta is a seminal event in European History, much of which would have been significantly different if the Knights had not held out against the odds. As such the 1565 Siege has attracted more than its fair share of studies both Academic and General. This title from Osprey seems to be a distillation and synopsis of a particularly popular modern history of the Siege. No use has been made of the small number of contemporary accounts... There is therefore no new interpretation of events and the details present in other studies is severly lacking. Overall, therefore the text has nothing to commend it.
The illustrations are almost all from much later works and as such do not illustrate the dress, the weaponry or the tactics of the mid sixteenth century. A cynic might comment that they were chosen because they were were cheap to reproduce and not becuase they illuminate the text. (An illustration of Napoleon's Imperial Guard Mamelukes is really going too far).
Overall this is a book best avoided, there are a number of better books on the Siege readily, available both for text and for illustrations.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 23 July 2007
And heres the tickler both the current reviews on this book are accurate and fair, depending on where you are coming from. Yes I believe that there are better written accounts of the 1565 Battle for Malta, but I also agree with the reviewer who rated the book highly, as I personally found the story very intresting, at times gripping when the relief force for the christian knights was delayed and delayed again....Call me a layman if you wish, but for the size of the book I was not expecting the most analitical historical post-mortem....But I enjoyed it.!