KC's Reviews > Empires Of The Sea: The Final Battle For The Mediterranean, 1521-1580

Empires Of The Sea by Roger Crowley
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Jan 03, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: history, military, politics
Read on January 03, 2012

After reading this book, I was genuinely shocked that I had never come across a widely published history of this period before. In a time when histories are becoming increasingly narrow and specialized, it is refreshing to find a sweeping account of an era and arena that has not already been memorialized to death.

If not for the first eighty or so pages of this book, I would have given it five stars. The buildup to Malta and Lepanto are quite necessary, but Crowley seems to fall into a no-man's-land of narration: too concise to provide flavor and details about critical moments (the disastrous expedition against Algiers in 1541 gets only two pages, but evidently left quite a mark on Spain) but too long to easily hold the reader's interest between a deluge of foreign names and places. There were times where I really wished the author had provided some more detailed maps of North Africa and the Western Mediterranean.

But when the timeline reaches 1565 and the Ottomans start in on Saint Elmo, Crowley hits his stride. The narration is by turns tragic and absurd, delivered in such detail and color that it captures the violence and chaos of a political world caught between the Middle Ages and the Age of Discovery. The march of time slows enough that the reader can focus on individual leaders and soldiers, and the story develops a striking contrast between the desperate struggle of the men in the field and the anxious state of paralysis in Rome, Madrid, and Istanbul. By the end of the book, the reader has gained a real appreciation for the violence and the subtlety of a massive geopolitical chess match that today has been all but forgotten.
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01/03/2012 page 193
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