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Empires of the Sea: The Contest for the Center of the World | [Roger Crowley]

Empires of the Sea: The Contest for the Center of the World

Empires of the Sea tells the story of the 50-year world war between Islam and Christianity for the Mediterranean: one of the fiercest and most influential contests in European history. It traces events from the appearance on the world stage of Suleiman the Magnificent through "the years of devastation" when it seemed possible that Islam might master the whole sea, to the final brief flourishing of a united Christendom in 1571.
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Publisher's Summary

Empires of the Sea tells the story of the 50-year world war between Islam and Christianity for the Mediterranean: one of the fiercest and most influential contests in European history. It traces events from the appearance on the world stage of Suleiman the Magnificent - the legendary ruler of the Ottoman Empire - through "the years of devastation" when it seemed possible that Islam might master the whole sea, to the final brief flourishing of a united Christendom in 1571.

The core of the story is the six years of bitter and bloody conflict between 1565 and 1571 that witnessed a fight to the finish. It was a tipping point in world civilization, a fast-paced struggle of spiraling intensity that led from the siege of Malta and the battle for Cyprus to the pope's last-gasp attempt to rekindle the spirit of the Crusades and the apocalypse at Lepanto.

It features a rich cast of characters: Suleiman the Magnificent, greatest of Ottoman sultans; Hayrettin Barbarossa, the pirate who terrified Europe; the Knights of St. John, last survivors of the medieval crusading spirit; the aged visionary Pope Pius V; and the meteoric, brilliant Christian general, Don John of Austria.

It is also a narrative about places: the shores of the Bosphorus, the palaces and shipyards of the Venetian lagoon, the barren rocks of Malta, the islands of Greece, the slave markets of Algiers - and the character of the sea itself, with its complex pattern of winds and weather, which provided the conditions and the field of battle. It involves all the peoples who border the Great Sea: Italians, Turks, Greeks, Spaniards, the French and the people of North Africa.

This story is one of extraordinary color and incident, rich in detail, full of surprises, and backed by a wealth of eyewitness accounts. Its denouement, the battle of Lepanto, is a single action of quite shocking impact - considered at the time in Christian Europe to be "a day to end all days".

©2008 Roger Crowley; (P)2008 Tantor

What the Critics Say

"A masterly narrative that captures the religious fervor, brutality, and mayhem of this intensive contest for the 'center of the world'." (Kirkus)
"Masterfully synthesizing primary and secondary sources, [Crowley] vividly reconstructs the great battles...and introduces the larger-than-life personalities that dominated council chambers and fields of battle." (Publishers Weekly)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Ethan M. Cambridge, MA 08-05-13
    Ethan M. Cambridge, MA 08-05-13 Member Since 2000

    On Audible since the late 1990s, mostly science fiction, fantasy, history & science. I rarely review 1-2 star books that I can't get through

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Military history, both epic and personal"

    Empires of the Sea is a fascinating look at the struggle between Christianity and Islam in the middle of the last millennium, as played out in the fight between the Ottomans and the Hapsburg. Crowley magnifies one perspective on this conflict: the military clashes in the Mediterranean and the sieges of Rhodes and Malta, and uses that as a lens on the entire conflict. In doing so, he is able to cast light on a few of the most interesting characters of the age - Mehmet, Don Jon of Austria, the Barbarossas, and many others. The result is an engaging take on this relatively overlooked but important war to rule the sea "at the center of the world."

    The books strengths can also be its occasional weakness. The sieges of Rhodes and Malta are described in very great detail, as unfolding narrative. Usually this is terrifically interesting, but some of the details drag a bit. The author's narrow focus on the war in the sea also somewhat limits the perspectives of the book, making it hard to understand how important it was relative to other events in the world. The critical siege of Vienna, the high water mark for for Ottoman expansion, is barely mentioned in passing.

    All of the strengths and weaknesses come together in the grand climax of the whole fight, the battle of Lepanto, with hundreds of thousands of sailors and galley slaves involved. It is told epically, but brings the book to a bit of an abrupt conclusion, with relatively little reflection on what the whole conflict meant on the wider stage.

    The criticisms are minor, however, and the reading is excellent. If you like military history or want to know more about this fascinating period in history, this is an excellent choice. The only real downside is that the author never included parts of the poem Lepanto, which would have been wonderful to hear John Lee read:

    White founts falling in the Courts of the sun,
    And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
    There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
    It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard;
    It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips;
    For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
    They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
    They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
    And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
    And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross...

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David Houston, TX, United States 04-05-14
    David Houston, TX, United States 04-05-14 Member Since 2008

    Actor/director/teacher. Split my time between Beijing and Seattle now. Listen to Audible on the subway and while driving. Love the reviews.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Detailed but very readable"

    There is a wealth of fascinating detail here, all placed in illuminating context and presented with the skill of a fine story teller. The book is nicely balanced with a sweeping overview of an extraordinary era emerging coherently from the particulars of valor, struggle, horror, betrayal, avarice, pride, politics, sea water and blood--so much blood.

    There is a good deal in the narrative which resonates with the struggles we currently face, but Crowley refrains from larding the story with superfluous modern interpretation. In fact, the book presents a picture which is much more focused on the motivations and idiosyncrasies of the individuals driving the conflict than on any great clash of competing philosophies or world views. Best of all, he includes riveting first hand accounts featuring scores of lesser players. A fine job of showing both the forest and the trees in living color.

    If you would like to like history but usually can't quite manage it, this may be the book for you!

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Clodhopper Tucson, AZ, United States 07-31-12
    Clodhopper Tucson, AZ, United States 07-31-12 Member Since 2005

    I'm a geologist and I use Audible books to while away long hours on the road... My pickup truck is my reading room!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "History that happened in the space between nations"

    Crowley has written a history that is poorly known and yet extremely important.

    Most popular histories of the medieval world focus on the emerging nation-states of Europe or the vast, unstable Islamic empire that stretched from India to Spain. But few spend much time on the maritime power struggle for control of the Mediterranean. And yet it was on the sea that the contest between these two worlds played out.

    The battle of battle of Lepanto does not figure prominently in any country's history, because it took place at sea, between navies built up out of small squadrons from many reluctant allies. It was not a critical battle of survival for any particular nation, and so no nation celebrates it. And yet the battle really was a defining "clash of cultures", and it had a huge impact on the current map of the world.

    Roger Crowley tells this little-known history with great insight, and helps us understand both the background to the naval rivalry and the implications of the battles at Malta and Lepanto. Along the way, he keeps us entertained with a wealth of details about the historical personages that acted in the drama. And because this is a story most of us don't know very well, he keeps it moving along with well-paced suspense toward a decisive ending.

    Fans of the Aubrey/Maturin series will find in this book all the maritime drama and historical urgency that they enjoy in O'brien's novels.

    John Lee's narration is excellent.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Noah Bryan, TX, United States 08-25-10
    Noah Bryan, TX, United States 08-25-10
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    "Most fun history book ever!"

    I was expecting a somewhat dry recounting of names and places and dates; what I got was an explosively exciting, richly detailed, superbly vivid tale of adventure, desperation, and glory on the not-so-high seas. I am running out of adjectives to describe how gripping this book was. I usually listen to audiobooks for less than an hour a day; with this one, I couldn't take my headphones off until I had finished.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nikolas Manchester, NH, USA 06-22-10
    Nikolas Manchester, NH, USA 06-22-10 Member Since 2008
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    "Great"

    I really enjoyed the book. A vivid representation of historical events around the Mediterranean Sea. I couldn't stop listening.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kristi Richardson Milwaukie, OR, United States 05-04-13
    Kristi Richardson Milwaukie, OR, United States 05-04-13 Member Since 2011

    An old broad that enjoys books of all types. Would rather read than write reviews though. I know what I like, and won't be bothered by crap.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "History of Wars between Muslims vs Christians."

    This was an amazing book detailing the fight for the Mediterranean Sea access. I had no idea how long this conflict went on and how close the west was to losing it.

    I learned a great deal about the parties who fought for dominance of the seas in the 1300's to late 1500's. The author was very non partisan and I enjoyed learning about the Ottoman Empire and that my prejudices that Muslims at this time were backwards and savages just isn't true. Both sides could be savage at times. Once after a huge battle the Muslim commander cut off everyone's heads and shot them in cannons back to the ships of the Christians to show he meant business. Other times Christians did similar things to the Muslims.The arquebus (an early gun) was something I had not known about.

    This book was narrated by John Lee who is one of the best narrators in Audiobooks.

    My favorite person was Don Juan of Austria in the battle of Lepanto. He tried to be fair with his opponents but sometimes his wishes were not respected. He was very sad that Aly Pasha had been killed. He was a wise leader and would have been a good ruler. He wasn't above asking for suggestions from others who had fought the Turks before.

    I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in history and warfare.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    J. A. McCarron 09-18-12 Member Since 2001
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    "should be a movie or 3"

    I couldn't ask for a better history book.

    I have read several books about the crusades but this was the first book I have listened to relating to this time period and this theatre of war. I was surprised at what I had been missing.

    Since this is my first book dealing specifically with this time period I don't feel qualified to address bias. I will say that partisans on both sides, who are inclined to try to read these books to justify, or vilify, either side will find much ammunition in this book.

    The soldiers who fought in these wars on both sides tend to define both bravery and cruelty in a strange mixture.

    The author did a masterful job of providing fascinating anecdotes from early sources as well as setting the context and informing the reader a bit about the context of the times. Even, as a new reader to this time period I did not feel lost as the story unfolded.

    The reason I say a movie "or 3??? is that there were several major battles covered and any one of which could make a great movie. Rhodes, Malta, and Lepanto seem obvious choices.

    As stated by several others, the narrator was first class.

    Bravo to all involved in this audible book.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    "unknown" GAINESVILLE, VA, United States 09-21-11
    "unknown" GAINESVILLE, VA, United States 09-21-11
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    "Great history book"

    I strongly suggest you download this book and THEN (I unfortunately did the opposite) download "The Religion" by T. Willocks. Both of the books are outstanding. "Empires" gives one the historical background (though it reads like a novel) and "The Religion" adds the flavor of historical fiction (one cannot help but pull for the main character Tannhauser). Oh yes, I almost forgot, John Lee could read the phone book and make it interesting.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeffrey KENT, WA, United States 03-04-11
    Jeffrey KENT, WA, United States 03-04-11
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    "gold"

    Well written and well narrated, this book inspires the imagination, whether delving into particular affairs of state or epic battles. For me, the battles were particularly interesting, hearing not only how battles were fought, but how armies were assembled and sieges conducted by the christian and muslim sides. The only down side of this book is that it was my first audio book, and it set a very high standard for those that followed.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    10-21-13
    10-21-13 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A critical note of history that still resonates."

    The present relationships and emotions between Europe and the near-eastern Muslim world were reborn and reformed in this 16th century time frame described in "Empires of the Sea: The Contest for the Center of the World". It wasn't until I had listened to this book that I understood the significance of all the watch towers that line practically every piece of coastline along the entire Italian peninsula. Today these seem quaint and picturesque but in an earlier time they meant life or death or slavery by the warning they might give the people of any town or village that is exposed to the sea.

    The savagery of the Muslim raiders and the fate of entire towns down to the last child, branded the black image of "The Turk" onto the Christian mind and memory. Although there were religious influences effecting the actions of the various peoples involved, it was at its core a conflict over power, trade and fortune.

    If you think you know the history of Western Civilization and you don't know much about this particular time, then you will not really understand the present and a good chunk of the past. Roger Crowley does a superb job of giving the details (and there are plenty of details) in a storybook style that makes you want to know how it all comes out. John Lee is amazing as well, he always makes the narrative better.

    The Ottoman Empire was a formidable force to be reckoned with at this time. Every country in Europe was concerned to one degree or another with this threat from the East. I was astonished to discover my own ignorance of vast scale of this conflict. The characters of this story are fascinating, on both the Muslim and Christian sides. Bravery, endurance and incredible savagery play parts in this narrative.

    More importantly, this history allows you to better understand the posture, attitude, rhetoric and actions of the two sides in the present clash of violence and instability. The one thing you will discover is that neither side can support their claim that peace and tolerance flow from their religious theologies.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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