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Sea Of Faith

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  240 ratings  ·  21 reviews
The medieval Mediterranean was a sea of two faiths - Christianity and Islam. Though bitter rivals, they shared a common history and, in this book, Stephen O'Shea tells a riveting story which stretches from Syria and Israel to France and Morocco.
Paperback, 432 pages
Published by Profile Books (first published 2006)
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Stephen O'Shea examines the thousand years over which Islam and Christianity contested the Mediterranean, keeping in mind that the armies and navies that clashed were not always composed of one side to the exclusion of the other. It is his contention that this millenium of strife is best seen through seven battles, not all of which are those that one would expect him to choose: no stopping the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna, no final eviction of Islam from Spain, no sea battle of Lepanto (which ...more
What a lovely thing it is when an author frames meaningful stories between evocative symbols. The Mezquita in Cordoba (originally a mosque, now converted into a Christian cathedral) and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (originally a Christian cathedral, now a mosque) - at opposite ends of the Mediterranean - serve to frame and introduce Sea of Faith. Other places, in the manner of Chaucer or Sheherezade, frame the tales within the tale - the canyon of the Yarmuk River on the Jordan's northern border ...more
Elliott Bignell
Unusually, this rivetting study of the interplay between Islam and Christianity through the Middle Ages speaks of both conflict and convivencia. Spanning a thousand years of interaction punctuated by five major battles, this masterful account paints a more nuanced picture than any I have otherwise encountered. The explosive rise of Islam overturned a status quo in the Mediterranean which pre-dated Christianity and was bound to sow permanent rivalry. Mare nostrum, "our sea", had been a private Ro ...more
This is in many ways a very good book. The three is given mostly because I think the book is too long. Before you hiss and catcall, hear me out. The book is about the interplay, and well, mutual murder, between the Christian West and the Islamic East. O'Shea starts his story with a brief description of the rise of the Arabian Empire, but quickly moves to the Battle of Poitiers, one of the points at which Islam was stopped in its quest to spread across the globe. It ends with a similar check, at ...more
George Kaposi
This book details a number of major battles between the Islamic world and the Christian world occurring around the Mediterranean Sea. The major battle are Yarmuk (636), Poitiers (732), Manzikert (1071), Hattin (1187) Constantinople (1453) and Malta (1565). Additionally, there are chapters on the era of ‘convivencia’ in both Spain and Ottoman Constantinople. So, while each chapter deals with the major battles, the real focus of each chapter is the political, religious and intellectual events lead ...more
Wonderfully written. Stephen O'Shea's enthusiasm for his subject is catching. He has packed his Medieval Mediterranean compendium with a sweeping array of details. From early post antiquity to the beginnings of the renaissance O'Shea gives a fine account of both the major players and events that shaped this fascinating and vital period. I was especially interested in his account, albeit cursory, of the beginnings of Islam and it's early struggels with the "West". A fun and fascinating read.
This is a very brief, yet interesting, history of the rise of the Muslim empire and the pushback it encountered from Christian lands.

I enjoyed the glimpses of various key points in Mediterranean history, but would have liked to have seen a little bit more about how the Jews fit in; in O'Shea's narrative they seem to be little more than unwitting victims/players in the big boys' games, with occasional reference to great Jewish thinkers thrown in.

I could have done without the modern-day references
A balanced, well-researched (including accounts of visits made to several of the historical sites where the main events of this period took place) and thought-provoking study of how two worlds have been colliding - or, in many cases, cooperating and living one with the other - since a new religion was created out of the first two main monotheist systems of belief. A great basis to help understand several of those conflicts still tearing the craddle of Western civilization.
This is a superb book. The first time I have gained a real idea of what was going on in the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages. Key battles are described, and yet an overview of possible peace and accommodation is given. And the writing is superb as well. A great read.
Ashley Memory
It was a bit of a difficult read because there are so many people and places but I was simply fascinated. It will be one of the books that I will read again and again. If you've ever been interested in the genesis of the conflict between Christians and Muslims, this book is for you. Puts it all in perspective and makes you ponder a bit about how different the world would be if Charles Martel had not defeated the Muslim invaders in 745.
Compact and highly readable history of the flow and ebb of Christianity and Islam around the Mediterranean in the Middle Ages. Reads better when discussing the interfaith convivencia that took place in Al-Andalus and various other polyglot locations, but the descriptions of battle certainly hold up, too.
Bill Sleeman
I read this awhile ago but came back to it recently to answer some questions that came up in my men’s group at church. O’Shea has written a wonderfully lush and informative history of two cultures and their shared history. An excellent read.
No doubt - terrific book. Now, quite a lot of dozens of "notes" pages, almost a story within a story! Surprisingly, rather optimistic book. Written in times when ISIS & Co. could only form the most bizarre nightmares.
Bill Viall
O'Shea is one of my best buds, and this is arguably his best book. He covers much ground in a small space, but his trenchant sketches make this a magnificent narrative of this complex & relevant subject.
A very interesting and informative book but not an easy read. You had to go back and re-read some stuff. Lots of useful geographical information. Some of his Arabic translations are not entirely accurate.
An excellent book on the history of the relations between the Christian and Islamic worlds throughout the Middle Ages. One of the very best books I've read in this area. I recommend it very highly.
Laurence O'Bryan
Excellent historical narrative of the main incidents in the struggle over control of the Mediterranean in the past two thousand years.

I enjoyed this.
Zack Shaeffer
Interesting history of warfare, but also cooperation, among Christians and Muslims (and Jews) in the Mediterranean from Muhammad to Luther.
Dec 01, 2012 Jessica rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: school required
Kind of hard to follow if your are not farmiliar with the material. More like a story than a textbook though.
Emre Karadeniz
Mare Nostrum çevresinde islam-hrsitiyanlık çerçevesinde dönen politik tarihe detaylı bakış
Nov 11, 2008 Lars marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Reading for HIS 2543 Intro to Islamic Civilization.
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