I loved it. I appreciated the balanced telling of this significant battle, and I was struck with how little I actually knew about its importance.
A must read, especially if you are planning to visit Malta.
It held the attention of this non-fan of the genre. The strategies were interesting, the battles were gory.
Having grown up in Malta, I am no stranger to the great deeds done by the knights of St. John in Malta, before, during, and after the great siege of 1565. As one might expect the great siege of 1565 is taught in history classes in schools here on the Island; albeit not in such great detail as delivered by Bradford. As Voltaire puts it "Nothing is better known than the siege of Malta.". Balbi, one of the Order's historians, took great care to describe even the smallest of fights and speeches, and no deed went unrecorded.
Being Maltese I cannot deny the fact that I felt an immense sense of pride as the story developed. In the past, friends of mine stated that we as Maltese did nothing worth noting through out this siege; we only followed orders. I couldn't disagree more after going through Bradford's work in this book. It shows the tremendous amount of resilience with equal amounts of courage and resoluteness exerted by the lesser amounts of defenders both Knight and Maltese. Balbi even takes time to note the Maltese people's acts of courage and unwavering loyalty to the grand master and his order but most importantly their faith. (He also mentions that we're a staunch, short-legged, barrel-chested race, which in my opinion is pretty darn accurate! :))
On my return to Malta: next year, I will make sure to visit all the fortifications, churches and places mentioned in this book. I am sure that I will be looking at them through a very different lens, driving me to appreciate my country more and the hurdles it has been through.
I admit up front that I do not like to read books about history, especially military history. This book, however, kept me riveted from the start. The real-life story of the Knights of Malta and some of their Grand Masters (especially the protagonist of this episode in history, Jean Parisot de la Valette), as well as the portrait of Suleiman the Magnificent and one of his famous commanders, Dragut, brought a little-known period in the history of Christendom to life for me. It inspires, and it makes one wonder: does the West still have heroes of such faith, conviction, strength and prowess as the brave men who fended off the Ottoman Turks and helped preserve Christendom in the 16th century? (The answer to me is clear, when I consider that we ourselves have been digging tunnels under our own Christendom the past 50 years so that it is falling without even a fight.)
After reading the book, I went to Malta with 2 other people who had also read the book so that we could see what this tiny Catholic country in the center of the Mediterranean, which has played such a heroic part in world history (in 1565 as well as WWII), is like. You can walk around (or boat around) all of the places where the events recounted in this book happened. The trip was a great way to top off an excellent book.
The narrator of the audiobook has a wonderful British accent. Listening to the audiobook, in addition to reading a hard copy, helped me learn how to pronounce the complicated Maltese place names. (Reportedly, Maltese is a mix of the Arabic spoken in Sicily in the 11th century, with a lot of Italian words and some English cognates.)
This book is one of the most engaging books about battle that I have ever read. It has all the drama of a epic film, the mystery of a forgotten time in history, and the inspirations that comes from brave people overcoming great difficulties.
When the Knights defending St. Elmo die knowing that no help will save them you mourn, but you also are inspired because they knew that their deaths had meaning because it meant buying time for the rest of the island of Malta.
Good book. Highly recommended.