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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

Critic Reviews

"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

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Performance
  • Story

History that must be known.

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.

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great story but struggled with the narrating

Would you listen to Empires of the Sea again? Why?

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.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

by changing his voice to that of a young child

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  • Mark
  • Toney, AL United States
  • 06-18-14

Exceptionally Good Book

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

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  • Scot
  • Bloomfield Hills, MI
  • 06-12-14

A Great Book

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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Better than a movie

If you could sum up Empires of the Sea in three words, what would they be?

Gives a real sense of what the Mediterranean was like in the 15th-16th century for those who had to live on its shores. As well as its significance.

Which scene was your favorite?

The defense of Malta

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

I don't know what a good tag line might be, but I would certainly dedicate it to the countless thousands who had to sacrifice their life futilely on that sea.

Any additional comments?

Not to be missed by anyone interested in history.<br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>

  • Overall

Good Book

What made the experience of listening to Empires of the Sea the most enjoyable?

The book was written well and the writer has a excellent grasp of history.

Who was your favorite character and why?

King Philip.

Have you listened to any of John Lee’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I have not but he was quite good.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The siege of Malta.

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  • jon
  • Meridian, ID, United States
  • 06-18-13

Interesting, but could have been much shorter

Where does Empires of the Sea rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This is a middle of the pack book. The trouble with military history in audio format is that you zoom past the large number of places names and dates. Its hard to keep it all straight. It was interesting, and I knew next to nothing about this period in history, so I am glad I got it.

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  • Alison
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 01-24-12

You can smell the salt air...

The subtitle says it all, "The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World." The coverage of the time period was excellent. There were times I could actually picture the sea battles. Excellent read on the subject.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Rachel
  • YAKIMA, WA, United States
  • 06-28-12

Lots of people tried to kill each other

Lots of people tried to kill each other in brutal ways. There, you know all you need to know and now you don't have to download this book.

It was painful to listen to, like being killed with a ball of metal shot that soared through the air, ripping into my flesh and tearing out my organs which lay oozing blood in the street. There, now you know what the writing is like and you don't need to download this book.

What, are you still interested? Fine, maybe you like blood and gore more than I do. Maybe you actually are interested in the details of each and every tedious, repetitive battle. I'd rather read history, political maneuvering, biographical information about the leaders, cultural information about the fighters or the countries doing battle. You don't get that in this book. You get tedious, repetitive descriptions of battle interspersed with itty bitty bits of historical information or information about the reasons for the long, deadly, bloody, horrible, sickening battles.

The narrator was fine, given the crappy material he was reading.

1 of 4 people found this review helpful