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Holy War: How Vasco da Gama's Epic Voyages Turned the Tide in a Centuries-Old Clash of Civilizations
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Holy War: How Vasco da Gama's Epic Voyages Turned the Tide in a Centuries-Old Clash of Civilizations

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  857 ratings  ·  106 reviews
A sweeping historical epic and a radical new interpretation of Vasco da Gama’s groundbreaking voyages, seen as a turning point in the struggle between Christianity and Islam

In 1498 a young captain sailed from Portugal, circumnavigated Africa, crossed the Indian Ocean, and discovered the sea route to the Indies and, with it, access to the fabled wealth of the East. It was t
Hardcover, 560 pages
Published September 6th 2011 by Harper
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4.11  · 
Rating details
 ·  857 ratings  ·  106 reviews

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Gary Patton
Jul 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Holy War is a great book. It's an exciting, intiguing historical novel but is based on historically researched facts.

It's core thesis was new to me as one trained in history at University. It sheds powerful light on the historicity to supremicist Islam's current revival of their 1400 year old attempt to dominate the West.

It also is filled with brief, fascinating snipets of information about medieval culture, sailing and navigation, diplomatic protocol at the time, plus much more that adds to t
Jan 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Nigel Cliff has written a very readable and extremely interesting history of Vasco da Gama's voyages to India by sailing around the southern tip of Africa. Rather than launching straight into a biography of da Gama or starting with his first voyage, Cliff spends a good few chapters narrating a history of the conflict between Christians and Muslims, and of Portugal, the country from which da Gama sailed and which led the initial search for a sea passage to the East.

Only once Cliff has provided th
Oct 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Aa fascinating story of how the Portuguese broke the Muslim stranglehold on the spice trade through luck, dogmatism and psychotic behaviour. And then lost it all through those same attributes. Entertaining, informative and if your Portuguese a little sad.
Frank Roberts
May 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Fascinating account of Vasco de Gama's trailblazing voyages around the tip of Africa and on to India. About the same time as Columbus, Gama's exploits were (at the time) considered more important, as here was a proven path to India, while it was yet unclear what exactly Columbus had found. Within 20 years of Gama's voyage, Portugal had broken the Muslim monopoly on trade with the exotic East, and had established a maritime empire along the coasts of Africa, Asia, and the East Indies. Within 150 ...more
Marie Fouhey
May 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book wasn't the straight-forward recounting of da Gama's life and voyages that I expected. Instead the author starts out with the history of Islam and its conquest of much of the globe before the ruling muslims were driven out of Europe. He ties da Gama's voyages to India into the european desire to rid Jerusalem of muslims. Indeed, da Gama tried to get the Indian potentates with whom he wanted to trade, to rid their domains of the muslims who lived and traded there. When they wouldn't da G ...more
Very interesting as it gives a thorough exposition to Vasco da Gama history changing expedition, though with a great preview putting things in context and then it follows up with what happened later, but the focus is on da Gama and here the book differs from others who either focus on the whole Portuguese maritime empire or only on the da Gama expedition per se

Definitely recommended
Chris F
This is one of the most interesting and enjoyable history books I've read for some time. Nigel Cliff writes solidly researched intelligent history that is as engaging as a good novel. For anyone with an interest in the Age of Exploration or the interaction between the muslim and christain worlds, this will be an enjoyable and fascinating read. As well as telling the story it has extensive notes on the sources of the information for anyone who wants to dig more deeply into any part of its content ...more
B.J. Richardson
Nigel Cliff presents a new look on the beginnings of the age of discovery with a particular emphasis on the journeys of Vasco da Gama. He begins with an overview of the reconquista and the creation of Portugal and then focus on the religious fervor of Christian vs Muslim as the primary motivator that spurred Europe into global dominance.
While his history is excellent, well researched and yet easily readable, I believe he has placed far too much emphasis on the religious factor. The traditional
Apr 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
We have all read about Vasco Da Gama and his discovery of the route around Africa and the passage to India. This is the story of that discovery. It is quite amazing that the tiny country of Portugal was able to accomplish this feat. Portugal was fortunate to have the location, the leaders such as Prince Henry the Navigator, and intrepid explorers like Vasco Da Gama. It was almost comical that the Portuguese thought the Hindu people were a strange form of Christianity. This book is based largely ...more
Meenakshisankar M
Jan 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
In this ambitious and spectacular narrative, Nigel Cliff traces the background and significance of Vasco da Gama's adventurous journey to discover the spice route to India by sailing south along the African coast and turning east, a contrast to Christopher Columbus' attempts to sail towards the west and reach the Indies. Vasco da Gama was chosen and sponsored by the Portuguese king Manuel I. According to Nigel Cliff, the Portuguese interest in discovering the sea route to India was not just limi ...more
Jan 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
I love Vasco de Gama, and not just because of his OG name ("OG" means "original gangster" for anyone white and over 40). Just like the greatest Conquistadors, he risked everything on a trip into the unknown where death or glory were the only options. I have been to his tomb in Portugal and can assure you that he is still bathed in glory.

This book is the story of how he found that glory, rounding the deadly Cape of Good Hope and securing Portugal's foothold in India. This was no mean feat and the
Apr 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
I remember college Western Civilization classes...boring! The assigned textbooks, and "extra reading"? Even worse! But, not so with this refreshingly readable tome of information!
Nigel Cliff mesmerizes the reader with a fascinating look at the world's "dawn of intercontinental discovery".
It's the late 1400's through the mid 1500's, and Europe has its sights set on establishing a maritime path to India and its fabled treasure trove of spices, jewels and silk. Of course, Christopher Columbus grabs
Nov 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
Nigel Cliff’s Holy War is a reinterpretation of the explorations conducted by Vasco da Gama. Specifically, he tells the story of the deeply flawed, fanatically religious, but very brave but edacious men who first sailed around the Cape of Good Hope from Portugal to India, and in the process broke up the monopoly of the spice trade that the Islamic world had exercised over Europe.

To Cliff, the original motivation behind the Portuguese expansion was not so much trade and profit, as it was religio
Mar 26, 2012 rated it liked it
This is a fun, well-written, entertaining, but frustrating book--I suppose that characterizes much of popular history. Some of the author's analysis is insightful and spot on, but the last chapter is just tedious an shallow. WAY WAY to much space is spent on the bloody details of Vasco da Gama's second and third voyages to India, but those bloody details do confirm the author's (and history's) conclusion that the Portuguese were vile, bloody, unprincipled, fanatical, piratical, etc. etc. in thei ...more
Oct 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world-history
Clear and readable with scholarly footnotes but a narrative style, this is excellent. The author adds evidence to the clear case that the world map was never a "blank" and describes the interactions between Europe and the "East" (which could be argued to include parts of Africa) that led into the development or European colonialism and the retreat of Islam. Not uncontroversial, but well supported and intriguing.
Benjamin Cooper
Oct 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very readable account of Portugal's expansion to the East. Almost reads like an adventure story, and doesn't pull any punches. Could have focused more on Bartolomeu Dias' contribution. Spends a lot of time connection Portugal's exploration to the Crusades and the Reconquista - a connection I hadn't thought of before.

Gives a good deal of information in the notes at the end, some of which would have worked far better as footnotes. Good, quick read.
Leanne Smith
Apr 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating book - felt I had to read it as I spent many summers in the town where Vasco da Gama was born. There is a big statue of him,looking very similar to Henry VIII. I had never realised what an amazing life he led, as well as contributing to the Muslim / Christian conflict that continues today. A bit of a surprise to think I was only 70% of the way through the book on Kindle to then find the book ending...the rest is footnotes / sources.
Charlie Knox
Interesting book historically regarding the exploration aspect, but not a relaxing, enjoyable read for me. Incredible how cruel and callous ancients in leadership roles of all stripes could be in pursuit of their personal, kingdom, or religious enrichment. Some things never change, I guess.
Mark Mellon
Apr 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Although the goombah from Genoa’s reputation has taken a fearsome shellacking in recent times, few Americans are unaware of Christopher Columbus and his voyage across the Atlantic to discover the New World. For better or worse, Columbus still looms large in the collective memory.
What is lost to contemporary recall, however, is the fact that for some time after 1492, no great account was made in Europe of Columbus’s achievements. He plainly hadn’t found Asia, only some savages on the edge of the
May 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a bit of a puzzler at first...then I noticed it was previously released as Holy War. Then it made more sense.

The book has a bit of an identity crisis. It wants to be a book about the crusades. Towards that end, it starts with the first crusade and provides a brief overview of the crusades up until the 15th century. It's hard to follow because we cover a lot of ground, quickly...and it rambles along without a lot of focus.

Then, it starts to slow down and focus more on the spice trade, a
Victor Sonkin
A very good account of the travels of Vasco da Gama, beginning long before his age, in the era of Mohammad and the general reshaping of the civilization around the Mediterranean and beyond. (Those early chapters were also more gripping than the latter; probably because in many places the author had to base his story on few accounts, so there was less wiggling room.) However, it offers a very good picture of the curious Portugal of that age, of the crusades, popes, Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, ...more
May 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-history
This book is a lively account of the voyages of exploration in the East, notably those of Vasco da Gama, who was much more successful than Columbus. Coming off the reconquest of Iberia, these fellows were intrepid, inured to suffering, and quite ruthless.

Although he retraced much of these journeys, i don't have total faith in the author's historiography or his conventionally globalist editorializing, but it's a fascinating tale on many levels. Can't really tell because the sources aren't annota
Kevin Fitzpatrick
Jan 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wonderfully comprehensive yet entertaining read about a historical period with which I am more than slightly obsessed by, "The Last Crusade" tells a tale full of twists and turns, of heroic men facing seemingly insurmountable odds, of brutality and ugliness that turns your stomach, yet one is ultimately left with a feeling of awe and wonder at the times that de Gama lived in. In addition, because of its accessibility, this book makes all the facts go down with ease and joy, a grand outcome. Tw ...more
Aug 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Amazing book. Mr Cliff starts w background history and then delves into portugals rivalry w spain to find a way to the Indies for the spice trade routes. What is really interesting is the way he shows the rivalry between christians muslims hindus and ottomans in commerce and always the battle for souls. Be sure to read the epilogue where he ties historical holy crusades to todays geo political environment and the new “crusades”. Just read it😊
Nov 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
A history of the early phase of Portuguese exploration, covering the period from the first African conquests to the death of de Gama. Illuminating that Portuguese did not truly understand that the Hindus they encountered in India were not in fact a Christian sect. Also of interest in the book is the discussion about the Venetian reaction to the Portuguese exploration, and how it threatened their maritime commercial empire.
Daniel Kukwa
Apr 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
An epic work of scholarship, worthy of its epic subject matter. The ultimate story of exploration, war, religious fundamentalism, and occasional moments of friendship & compassion, this book has as good a claim as any to be THE definitive account of Portugal's 15th & 16th century imperial ambitions. Breathtaking in scope, terrifying in the world it depicts, and wonderfully written.
Andrew Tuttle
Oct 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Rich, deep and vast. A detailed view of an age of religious imperialism. Portugal's rise and collapse as masters of the far east. An enduring legacy of cultures in conflict and surprising alliances.
Mar 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: orient, non-fiction, kobo
educational, entertaining and with nice humorous twists!
Tom B
Sep 10, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good book on how Da Gama's travels were part of Portugal's crusade against Islam. Da Gama himself turns out to be quite the barbarian himself. Enjoyable read!
Cathy McCrea
May 22, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: set-aside
So interesting, but I just couldn't wade through all the settings and participants throughout the world. Maybe it's just me, but I felt like I was just starting to get a handle on one area of the world and the major players involved and then we would move to another one. I just couldn't stay with it.
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Nigel Cliff is a British historian, biographer, critic and translator. He specialists in narrative nonfiction, especially in the fields of cultural history and the history of exploration.
“Christianity and Islam are sister religions, and in Iberia they long lived side by side. If you are about to hunt your sister out of your home, you need to work yourselves into a much more self-righteous frenzy than if you were expelling a stranger.” 1 likes
“It was Islam’s armies and the empire they spread across three continents that reduced Christianity, with a few scattered exceptions, to a European faith.” 0 likes
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