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on 31 August 2014
Mr Bicheno's usage of English is very good indeed however this book jumps around listlessly from one topic to another so as to make it, for me at least, unreadable; this was not helped by certain comments in the introduction about 'the genie of nationalism' that are overt drivel and do not bear repeating. When exasperation set in, I jumped to the chapter covering the battle which yet again could have been made more interesting (but wasn't) so after half an hour gave up.
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on 26 August 2003
Historically, Lepanto holds a similar position to Salamis and Plataea, Waterloo, Stalingrad and Midway; in other words, a victory which prevented a seemingly overwhelming force from sweeping all before it. It is the sea equivalent of the Relief of the Siege of Vienna, in that, from that day onwards, the Ottoman threat was never quite perceived at the same level. There were still scares for the next 200 years, but, from then on, the Ottoman Empire could be seen as being mortal.
The author has used the same methods as he used in his previous books on Gettysburg and Midway; first of all assess the opposing forces and their capabilities, and then go back to original sources to see what the combatants on either side thought at any given time, as far as is possible over 430 years later.
Obviously, the battle itself cannot be treated as being in a "vacuum", and the author spends much of the book in detailing the background to the conflict between Christianity and Islam, and, thereby "setting the scene" for the climactic battle between the huge galley fleets.
The battle itself is brilliantly described, and, as with the author's previous books, he greatly helps his style of writing by utilising appendices full of relevant , and, at times almost overwhelming, information on the contending fleets.
It is many years since a full-scale campaign and battle history of what was considered in the 16th Century to be an earth-shattering event has been written in English, and it is a pleasure to read such a book which should remain a prime source on the subject.
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The narrative of this thorough and extensive work is divided in two: Iconic Battle and Military Battle. The first section deals with the Mediterranean in the 16th century (The Stage), ships and weapons (The Props), the empires, states, peoples and leaders of the time (The Players), international politics and role of the Catholic Church in the formation of the Holy League (Billboard). Part Two looks at the immediate background (Scene Setters), the campaign of 1570, the Ottoman offensive of 1571, the Holy League response and the details of the battle, concluding with an epilogue.

The book opens with a Chronology of rulers from 1500 to 1600 and important events from 1492 to 1600. Eight pages of colour plates include, inter alia, portraits of Don John, Sultan Selim II, Pius V, and various battle scenes by artists like Vasari, Vicentino, Veronese, Titian, Sebastian de Caster and Juan Luna. The 8 pages of black and white plates include the flagships of Ali Pasha, Don John Of Austria, various types of armor and weaponry, papal galleys and some battle scenes. In addition, there are three diagrams in the text: a depiction of a Venetian light galley, fortification systems and the decorative stern of Don Juan's galley La Real. Thirteen excellent maps enhance the text, focusing on relevant parts of the Mediterranean and Adriatic, on the Ottoman expansion into Europe, Africa and Asia, the 1570 and 1571 campaigns, the battle site at Navpaktos at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth, the deployment of ships and different stages of the battle.

The vast scope of the book encompasses discussions of culture, religion and representations of the famous clash in Christian art and iconography. Bicheno deals extensively with the myth and the legend in literature by discussing and quoting works by Cervantes, Felix Lope de Vega y Carpio, Luis Velez de Guevara, Shakespeare (Othello), Thomas Moravius, Fernando de Herrera, Alonso de Ercilla y Zuniga and of course GK Chesterton and his magnificent poem Lepanto. The account of the battle itself is quite detailed as Bicheno draws on all available sources (whilst evaluating them) to analyse the vessels, the weaponry, the tactics, the terrible carnage and the liberation of the Christian slaves.

The author is highly critical of Europe and the fractious Christendom of the time in his introduction. He compares the world of the 16th century with our own time and is a Eurosceptic (good) but a bit too repetitive in his assertions of the supposed tolerance and civilizational superiority of the Ottoman Empire against the supposed backwardness of Europe (bad). Bicheno insists time and again that the battle had no major military significance and that the Catholic Church largely nurtured the legend of the great Christian victory. In this, he does not fully convince. Yes, the Turks immediately rebuilt their navy but it was done in great haste to produce a ramshackle fleet that never again threatened the West.

What makes the writing difficult to enjoy, if not exhausting, are the frequent detours that the narrative takes into the events leading up to 1571. Instead of pursuing a thread from beginning to end, the author frequently digresses by smothering the reader with a plethora of minor events, details and personalities so that the plot does not unfold smoothly. This occurs frequently as he deals with flashpoints of the conflict in Malta, Cyprus, Crete, Tunis, Djerba and along the Dalmatian coast. It really makes your head spin if you seek a linear progression of events.

The four appendices discuss the principal actors, the estimate of forces, orders of battle and casualties. There are 5 pages of bibliographic endnotes, a complete bibliography and an index. Despite my irritation with Bicheno's non-linear or frequently interrupted presentation of the conflict between the Holy League and the Ottomans that culminated at Lepanto, Crescent And Cross is a masterpiece of sorts, a most valuable reference work and a detailed study of the culture, weaponry, politics and personalities of the time.
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on 27 May 2009
This is a fantastic read. As early as the introduction, Bicheno displays a formidable intellect, the evidence of which permeates the entire book. Bicheno is able both to explain the social and ideological importance that Lepanto has aquired and to see through that to describe what actually happened and determine the concrete political and military consequences. His account is more reliable than anything produced previously because his analysis uniquely takes into account how the physical geography of the location in question has changed since the battle took place. He displays an impressive ability to situate the battle in both a contemporary political and historical context. I picked up this book without knowing anything about the author, but after reading it determined to seek out his other works. I definitely recommend it, along with his other books.
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on 15 August 2005
In order to write a new, acceptable book on Lepanto an author should do something more than distillate facts and ideas from older works. Unfortunately this is exactly what Mr. Bicheno did and, more unfortunately, he was not able to choose the better sources in the vast bibliography he lists.

Deprived of any new archival research, this book is historically misleading and completely useless for the serious scholar.
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on 28 September 2005
A truly awful book - poorly researched and dreadfully written. The author is clearly out of depth in trying to understand his subject and merely manages to confuse and contradict himself throughout the book.
The chapter dealing with the art of Lepanto is obviously a 'filler' and is, unbelievably, even more turgid and facile than the rest of the book.
To anyone looking for a comprehensive account of the battle, the background, the men, the tactics and vessels employed - don't bother with this book.
It is truly, truly dreadful.
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on 26 August 2003
Historically, Lepanto holds a similar position to Salamis and Plataea, Waterloo, Stalingrad and Midway; in other words, a victory which prevented a seemingly overwhelming force from sweeping all before it. It is the sea equivalent of the Relief of the Siege of Vienna, in that, from that day onwards, the Ottoman threat was never quite perceived at the same level. There were still scares for the next 200 years, but, from then on, the Ottoman Empire could be seen as being mortal.
The author has used the same methods as he used in his previous books on Gettysburg and Midway; first of all assess the opposing forces and their capabilities, and then go back to original sources to see what the combatants on either side thought at any given time, as far as is possible over 430 years later.
Obviously, the battle itself cannot be treated as being in a "vacuum", and the author spends much of the book in detailing the background to the conflict between Christianity and Islam, and, thereby "setting the scene" for the climactic battle between the huge galley fleets.
The battle itself is brilliantly described, and, as with the author's previous books, he greatly helps his style of writing by utilising appendices full of relevant , and, at times almost overwhelming, information on the contending fleets.
It is many years since a full-scale campaign and battle history of what was considered in the 16th Century to be an earth-shattering event has been written in English, and it is a pleasure to read such a book which should remain a prime source on the subject.
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