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
"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)
I really enjoyed learning about this forgotten period of history. The violence of man against one another frightens me, particularly when it's in the name of God. this book tells a detailed account of the war between Spain and Christians Europe and the Ottoman empire in their battle for control of the Mediterranean Sea.
This reminded me of Garrett Mattingly's classic Defeat of the Spanish Armada, and I would not be surprised to learn that Crowley was in some way inspired by that work. Certainly the subject and themes are similar, and while I don't feel Crowley's work quite reached the narrative or literary heights of Mattingly's, it was not for want of trying.
Empires of the Sea is an excellent overview of the conflict between the Ottoman Empire and the Christian Mediterranean powers in the 16th century, an honest portrayal of the protagonists that doesn't shy away from crediting the virtues or exposing the brutality of either side.
In addition to demonstrating a thorough understanding of the forces at play in this conflict, Crowley is adept at describing specific events so that the reader (or listener) is engaged and educated without losing track of the flow of a battle or a conversation or political machination.
While he doesn't delve quite as deeply into the character or psychology of his protagonists as Mattingly did in The Armada, Crowley does a good job of imparting an understanding of their motivations. In this way an otherwise large scale narrative maintains a personal quality which ties the reader to it. One gets a keen sense of the dashed ambitions of the rulers, and the sufferings and brief triumphs of the soldiers and slaves fighting their wars.
Ultimately, this is a story of two empires that never achieved their goals of spreading their dominion and their religion across the world, of the hundreds of thousands who suffered and died in the respective attempts, and of the extremities of brutality and chivalry, cowardice and courage that men will go to in war.
The best narrator of a history book I've heard so far. Emotive when necessary, academic when appropriate, avoids over-dramatisation without being dry. Good pronunciation and enunciation, and a nice, authoritative quality to the voice. Would definitely look for other book s narrated by him.
The description of the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 stood out for me. The contest between the last ambition of an ageing Sultan, the crippling caution of the Prudent King of Spain, and the fiery, zealous resolve the Grand Master defending the island is impossible to resist.
The high drama is juxtaposed with the horrific violence endured by the soldiers and slaves on both sides, and the shocking resilience of the native Maltese as their home is reduced to a hellish war zone. That this crucial event in the war remains largely unknown even to people who are well aware of the outcome at Lepanto seven years later makes the story all the more fascinating.
I highly recommend Empires of the Sea to anyone looking for an introduction to the 16th century Mediterranean world or interested in the Ottoman - Habsburg wars more generally. Or, to anyone who enjoys a well told, impeccably narrated historical account of any sort.
The centuries-long conflict between East and West, Muslim and Christian, comes to a head in the Sixteenth century Mediterranean Sea. Crowley details the fascinating rivalry between Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire. Their greatest victories, their most ignominious defeats, and everything in between are brought up at one point or another.
The Great Siege of Malta, as reviewers all over the place say, is a point in time that begs to be adapted by any entertainment medium. Somewhere around 7,000 Christians made a heroic stand against upwards of three times their number in the great fortress-island of Malta. Led by Grandmaster Jean de Valette of the Knights Hospitaller, the very citizens themselves put forth the most effort, according to Crowley, in defense of their home and hearth. Crowley definitely stresses Philip II of Spain's epithet: the Prudent, in relation to the great siege. The course of history has proven that Christendom is utterly incapable of uniting for a common cause, and it's fascinating to see how down to the wire the siege was due to Philip's extreme cautiousness.
Andrea Vicentino’s 1603 painting in the Palazzo Ducale in Venice depicts the sea of blood and corpses, the cluster of galleys.
The Holy League, vigorously promoted by Pope Pius V, in the spirit of "united" Christendom, which took ages to even have the various Christian rulers assent to involvement, finally took to the sea at the Battle of Lepanto is the culmination of the period, where the Christian fleet shattered the larger Ottoman navy in a battle of nearly 500 ships. The young Ritter Johann von Österreich, commonly known as Don Juan of Austria, just 24 at the time, led the massive coalition fleet that included Miguel de Cervantes to the great battle against Ali Pasha, the Grand Admiral of the Ottoman Navy, and very much a mirror image of Juan himself. Juan's leadership inspired G.K. Chesterton's 1911 poem, named after the eponymous battle.
Crowley lays out a detailed (surprising for its length) narration and analysis of the Mediterranean between the Siege of Rhodes in 1522 and Lepanto in 1571 - not particularly favoring one side or the other, though it is difficult as a reader not to feel some sort of good at sieges where the defenders are hugely outnumbered. The narration itself is bloody and the bodies pile up in masses, turning the very sea that the galleys slice through crimson.
This is historical non-fiction at its best, with a strong, flowing narrative style that brings the characters of both sides back to life in a readable amount of pages (though I listened to the audiobook), complete with stats and strategies for military history buffs all the while remaining exciting as hell to read. Empires of the Sea only scratches the surface of the nearly three hundred year conflict.
Names and places enter the story and leave quickly. Losing context and your place in the story is common with little distractions. While it's a big commitment, I will probably listen to the story again.
I had a very difficult time with the narrator changing his voice to sound like a child's voice. I'd much prefer if he'd simply read it in his natural voice. I'm an adult and don't need to be read to like one would to a little kid. The change of voice was very distracting and sounded silly.
by changing his voice to that of a young child
Empires of the Sea is an excellent book, well worth the credit. I found it to be interesting, informative and well written. I had no idea of the magnitude of the slave trade that was perpetuated by the Ottomans and the Barbary Corsairs from their raids of Italy and Spain. Entire populations on some islands and towns were captured and taken away into slavery. The book is actually very suspenseful as it goes into very detailed descriptions of people and soldiers undergoing a siege. The leadership of the defenders at Malta was another aspect that I found to be incredible.
I also found it interesting that the author suggests that economic impacts from gold and silver discoveries in the New World may have been one of the greatest factors in the decline of the Ottoman war machine.
Narration was top notch.
If you enjoy European history you will enjoy this book. I would also recommend the great siege by Ernie Bradford as a complementary book to this one
I just finished another Roger Crowley book on Venice and it reminded me of how good 'Empires of the Sea' was as well. I love history and both books were exactly the right depth of factual detail interwoven with personal insights that make the listen as enjoyable as watching a your favorite movie. I could not give higher praise than I would give this book. If you have an interest in history I would almost guarantee that you would find this book a keeper.
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