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on 16 November 2014
The period covered by this book is an enthralling one, and, in many ways, the story is the final end of the crusades. Although the crusades that everyone thinks they know about were long over, their effects were still reverberating around the Mediterranean. The European Christians had long since left the Levant, but their residue were still very much alive, such as the Knights of Malta, and the Ottoman Empire was still growing at the expense of much of South East Europe. Whilst some in Europe still had fanciful ideas of new crusades, the Ottomans were slowly expanding, and politically, each new Sultan needed to produce victories to consolidate his position. This led to decades of conflict.
This book tells the story admirably. It is a difficult story to tell; there are so many strands to bring together that it could easily be either too detailed or too vague. The author, for me, gets it just right, and tells the story in a clear, but authoritative way.
In many ways, it is hard to see how the Ottomans failed. They were a ( reasonably) united single entity, whereas Europe was a mess of conflicting countries and states with little or no common ground or purpose. The road to the eventual outcome is told clearly and sometimes reads almost like a good novel. Although there were victories and defeats on both sides, from the perspective of the time, there was no clear winner. Only with hindsight can we see that eventually, the Ottomans turned inward, and Europe turned largely westward to the New World. This rift, which led to each side lacking understanding of the other, is still affecting us today.
Anyone who has an interest in history will find this book very worthwhile reading.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 17 October 2015
Roger Crowley's book is an account of the naval battles for control of the Mediterranean during the sixteenth century. Predominantly a conflict between the Muslim Ottoman empire and the Christian Spanish empire, the fighting saw many others sucked in - and many people of each religion fighting on the 'wrong' side - but that does not detract from the underlying clash between two different empires with very strong religious overtones.

The clash of religions - and indeed civilisations - is largely forgotten in much of western Europe, but it still has a legacy that is pulled on, in particular by those seeking to justify violent extremism in the name of either religion. Many of the roots of violent Serbian nationalism, on awful display in the 1990s, lie in the Serbian history of Christian and Muslim armies clashing on its territory. Whilst this book concentrates on events further south and at sea, it nonetheless sets the broader scene too.

As the Ottoman empire looked to expand into the centre of the Mediterranean and into central and western Europe, it faced a series of military campaigns as it sought to besiege and then take fortresses on islands and coastline across the area. Many victories were won, but Malta held out and then at Lepanto the Turkish navy was destroyed. Lepanto was, until the battle of Loos in 1916, probably the single bloodiest day in military conflict with around 40,000 killed.

After both defeats the Turkish military was quickly rebuilt, but the two defeats stopped expansion and cost time. Eventually peace treaties were signed as the Ottoman empire slipped from the height of its powers, facing its own internal difficulties and a western Europe increasingly strengthened by the flow of money from expeditions and colonies in the Americas.

The barbaric nature of much of the conflict is described, mixed in with occasional displays of piety, charity and humanity. The pirates of north Africa have a particular gruesome history, including widespread use of slavery before the trans-Atlantic slave trade started. It is unlikely that north Africa just happened to have some of the worst of humanity present there and at the same time; it is more likely that the pirate history demonstrates how far too easily people can be sucked down to the worst of behaviour. When one pirate sets the lead demonstrating leadership and control by violence and inhumanity, others spiral downwards in a bloody attempt to make their own mark, each egging the other on to worse and worse acts.

There was also a brutal practicality behind the many horrors faced by galley slaves who rowed warships of the time. As Crowley points out, rowing slaves were the fuel supplies of the time. As inhumane conditions drove slaves to their deaths, the commanders were driven to hunt out more and more slaves to keep their ships running: "The galleys created their own need for war".

Curiously, although occasional acts of generosity were used to motive galley slaves - such as promising freedom ahead of a battle if victory were to be won, none of the commanders described by Crowley appear to have decided that the way to get the best out of people was to treat them well rather than to treat them badly.

The question of quite where religious beliefs really fit in this picture is left mostly untouched. The worst of both Islam and Christianity was frequently on display as civilians were murdered, paranoid violence was meted out to those of suspect loyalty on the flimsiest of pretexts and prisoners tortured for public entertainment. Holy places were both seen as sites of refuge - and frequently despoiled.

How people squared such barbarism with the humane parts of their own holy books is left untouched and, despite the strongly religious rhetoric frequently displayed, Crowley points out numerous incidents of large numbers of Christians fighting for Muslim forces and vice versa.

Both the strategies and tactics of the naval conflict are though well described in this book. The non-Ottomans come in for heavy criticism for poor leadership, squabbling and disorganisation, with both their victories on land at Malta and at sea at Lepanto being painted as owing large amounts to luck. In contrast, the Ottoman organisation is frequently praised, even though the book starts with the Ottoman empire at its height and its pages recount how it failed to go further despite numerous attempts.

For all the praise heaped on the Ottoman war machine, by the end of the book it was as restricted to the eastern Mediterranean as at the start - and that in many ways was the victory for its opponents, for whilst they lost ground in the eastern Mediterranean, the homelands of Spain, the Papacy, Venice and others all remained intact.
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on 9 August 2017
Gripping, exciting, and very well-written. This is narrative history as a page-turner, exactly the way I like these sweeping tales of conflict to be written. Mr. Crowley conjures unforgettable imagery as he describes the intense sieges of Rhodes and Malta and the fatal naval encounter at Lepanto. He also paints vivid portraits of the many key figures in this ongoing struggle for supremacy between Islam and Christendom in the Mediterranean. Brilliant book. I didn't want it to end.
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on 12 August 2017
excellent book, put you inside the story of what the major players were thinking at this time, so at odds with the hollywood king of Spain, a funny little man minceing down hallways, making war on impulse, here you see the real Phillip, a man who wanted the glory, but not the cost of war
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on 19 May 2017
A fantastic read for anyone show interested in Mediterranean, Maltese, Turkish or military history. This battle for the island of Malta should really be made into a film, it would be just as exciting as game of thrones (minus the dragons).
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on 8 November 2017
Enjoyed this book. I think I have now read all Roger Crowley's books and they have all been good.
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on 24 April 2017
This is a very well written history of the battle for the Mediterranean between an expansionist Muslim Empire, the Ottoman Turks, and a multilayered and religiously divided Christian Europe. I heartily recommend it.
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on 3 June 2017
Absolutely first class. A real education
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on 2 June 2017
Only a small discolorment to pages from te the top. Very good read.
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on 19 April 2017
Book in NEW Condition excellent value for money.
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