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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)

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  • Overall

Brilliant detail, exciting story

This narrative came as a complete surprise; I had no idea the Mediterranean Sea was a major war zone in the 16th century; no idea, either, that citizens of both Europe and the Ottoman Empire were enslaved on such a scale by the "corsairs" of the opposing sides. Crowley tells the story as if it were recent history, extracting a full measure of excitement and suspense out of each incident. Narrated by the irrepressible John Lee. The only problem is that, as with other works on similar topics, the unfamiliar names -- unfamiliar to me, at any rate -- are hard to grasp without a printed text alongside. Wikipedia helps a bit. A map of Malta, especially of the Grand Harbor, is essential.

34 of 34 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Dennis
  • Western Springs, IL, United States
  • 09-30-08

Thoroughly enjoyable

This was an absolutely wonderful book, exciting, informative, and important. It gives the reader an understanding of the struggle between Islam, under the Ottoman Turks at the height of their power, and the Catholic Christians, led primarily by the Hapsburgs of Spain, the Pope, and the Venetians.

The depictions of the battles are as evocative of the horror of war as any I have ever heard; the incredible tenacity and purpose of the Turks, the astounding resilience of the Christians, both sides calling with equal fervor on the Lord for his favor in battle; suffering, bravery and brutality all around. The book also contains stories of many men whose names I had never before heard, but whose actions had an impact on history that lasts to this day.

Some listeners may feel that, at times, the book goes into too much detail, though I did not. The reader was clear and easy to understand, well matched to the material.

22 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Brilliant narration and great history

This is an excellent piece of very readable military history covering a period often if not universally overlooked in the education of most people. The narration is also first rate.

The author makes excellent uses of the sources available to him and lets the primary sources speak using their own voice whenever possible. This makes for a very reliable and well constructed piece of historical writing. His style is flowing and interesting and he refrains, mercifully, from dwelling too much on the gruesome details that abound in the historical record of the period.

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in an overview of the battles between Europe and an ascendant Ottoman empire at the hight of its powers in general or interested in a very detailed account of the absolutely fascinating siege of Malta. Its coverage of the battle of Lepanto is less well done but still competent. A great read.

Finally, the narrator is brilliant.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Well writen and well read

This is a very interesting book about a period of history which I did not know much about. It covers the basic history very well but is particularly good at giving an impression of what it was like to be involved in the horrific battles both on sea and on land. The narrator read with just the right degree of dramatic inflection.

15 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Amit
  • Edison, NJ, USA
  • 11-06-09

Absolutely fantastic and masterfully read

I downloaded the book last month and thoroughly enjoyed the rivetting narrative of the author and gripping reading by the narrator.
I subsequently downloaded the 'Enemy at the Gates' and the content, the narration and the reading are utterly lackluster compared to this book's.
I am eagerly looking forward to the next book from Roger Crowley and I hope John Lee reads it for the audio format!

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Wonderfully Read

This book is fascinating at first, especially the detail in the battles at Cyprus and the battle for St. Elmo on Malta. Those are done in such detail that you are almost told what was going on each hour. The info is a little less specific later on, and by the time you get to the Battle of Lepanto, you're left a little disappointed since that battle was started and ended in the same day. Also, it's certainly a one-sided telling of the story, so if you're likely to be rooting for the Turks maybe you would want to listen elsewhere (even though they win a majority of the battles).

But, I would recommend a listen mostly because John Lee is the best narrator that I've heard so far. I try to get all of the books he's read.

Also, be prepared to open an atlas while listening.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • L
  • 11-02-08

Illuminates a Forgotten Part of History

Want to know more about conflict between the Christian and Muslim worlds in history? How about this fascinating story of the fight for control of the Mediterranean in the 1500s? The siege of Malta, the strength of the Ottoman Turks' navy, and the interesting characters of those times come alive. Enjoyed the narration too.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Eunice
  • Harrodsburg, KY, United States
  • 03-13-09

One of my favorites

Empires of the Sea is a fascinating history of a period of which I knew little. The book itself is very well written. There is a good bit of detail, enough to let the reader visualize, without being overdone. John Lee, as usual, renders a superb narration. Absolutely topnotch!

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Riveting history, well read!

The book is well written, full of detail, exciting, and beautifully narrated. A definite recommendation for anyone interested in this era of history and the turbulent times of the Middle Sea.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Daniel
  • North Potomac, MD, United States
  • 12-10-09

Great Book

Really enjoyed this book. Learned alot of new history that I had not known before. Author wrote the book in a way that was very easy to follow and really brought out the personalities of the main actors in the events. Strongly recommend.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful