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Victory of the West: The Great Christian-Muslim Clash at the Battle of Lepanto

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On the morning of October 7, 1571, in the Gulf of Lepanto on the Ionian Sea, the vast and heavily-manned fleets of the Ottoman Empire and the Holy League clashed in one of the most significant battles in history. By four o'clock that afternoon the sea was red with blood. It was a victory of the west-the first major victory of Europeans against the Ottoman Empire. In this c On the morning of October 7, 1571, in the Gulf of Lepanto on the Ionian Sea, the vast and heavily-manned fleets of the Ottoman Empire and the Holy League clashed in one of the most significant battles in history. By four o'clock that afternoon the sea was red with blood. It was a victory of the west-the first major victory of Europeans against the Ottoman Empire. In this compelling piece of narrative history, Niccolo Capponi describes the clash of cultures that led to this crucial confrontation and takes a fresh look at the bloody struggle at sea between oared fighting galleys and determined men of faith. As a description of the age-old conflict between Christianity and Islam, it is a story that resonates today.


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On the morning of October 7, 1571, in the Gulf of Lepanto on the Ionian Sea, the vast and heavily-manned fleets of the Ottoman Empire and the Holy League clashed in one of the most significant battles in history. By four o'clock that afternoon the sea was red with blood. It was a victory of the west-the first major victory of Europeans against the Ottoman Empire. In this c On the morning of October 7, 1571, in the Gulf of Lepanto on the Ionian Sea, the vast and heavily-manned fleets of the Ottoman Empire and the Holy League clashed in one of the most significant battles in history. By four o'clock that afternoon the sea was red with blood. It was a victory of the west-the first major victory of Europeans against the Ottoman Empire. In this compelling piece of narrative history, Niccolo Capponi describes the clash of cultures that led to this crucial confrontation and takes a fresh look at the bloody struggle at sea between oared fighting galleys and determined men of faith. As a description of the age-old conflict between Christianity and Islam, it is a story that resonates today.

51 review for Victory of the West: The Great Christian-Muslim Clash at the Battle of Lepanto

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ozymandias

    When looking at the book’s name I have to say I was rather worried. Victory of the West? Umm. Sounds like one of those tired Christian nationalist tracts. The ones where anything done in the name of civilization (read white European civilization) is justified and the essential unity of Christianity is emphasized. Well fortunately the title’s not a very good reflection of the tone and focus of the book. In fact, it’s so far from the truth that it’s possibly meant to be ironic. At no point do the When looking at the book’s name I have to say I was rather worried. Victory of the West? Umm. Sounds like one of those tired Christian nationalist tracts. The ones where anything done in the name of civilization (read white European civilization) is justified and the essential unity of Christianity is emphasized. Well fortunately the title’s not a very good reflection of the tone and focus of the book. In fact, it’s so far from the truth that it’s possibly meant to be ironic. At no point do the Christian nations of Europe put aside their petty bickering to form a united front against the advancing Turks. Even when they win a sudden and unexpected victory it was only a blip in the factional infighting and petty advantage-seeking that defined Renaissance polities. Actually, one of the most impressive elements of this book is how well it captures the Turkish perspective. We spend almost as much time on the Turks as we do with the League members. The Turks are not presented as barbarians in any way, and we’re encouraged to see things from their perspective. That includes recognizing the different threats surrounding them and how the Turks were basically limited to expanding in one of three directions at a time (west towards Central Europe through Hungary, west through the Mediterranean, and east towards Iran). As he points out, the Turkish navy was the terror of the Mediterranean for years. And modern perceptions of the Turks as technologically and militarily backwards really only come from the 18th and 19th century. At the time they had the largest fleet around due to their enormous empire and many excellent admirals, largely due to their coopting North African corsairs. They were not pushovers. The basic intent of the book is to tell a popular history of the conflict that ended with Lepanto. As such it’s heavy on storytelling and somewhat light on historiography, although there was more than I expected. The introduction was particularly well told, almost novelistic in its approach. That said, it soon becomes bogged down in the complex muddle that is Italian Renaissance politics. Every state is in conflict with every other state and every prince has his own ulterior motives. And if that’s not bad enough there are countless condottieres and warlords thrown into the mix. As such it’s a complex mess just to get through the muddle of how the states of Italy and Spain ended up forming the Christian League with which they ultimately confronted the Turks. I can ‘t help but feel there must have been some way of getting through this mess without covering every detail. Detailed coverage of nonessential facts bogs down the account of the fleet as well, overloading us with facts that we don’t need and not drawing strong enough attention to those that are crucial. We have an entire chapter dealing with the armament of the ships, and while I won’t dispute that this was an important factor do we really need to know the exact disposition of every ship in the fleet to understand this battle? The battle itself is impressively clear, if somewhat brief (one chapter). The basic idea that it was won by superior use of (and reliance on) cannons is as true as I was told, but I was unaware how close the League forces came to total defeat. Even after their navy had been devastated by a barrage at range the Turks continued to advance and nearly flanked the Christian forces. It was a hard fought (albeit brief) battle. His argument for the battle's importance despite the Turks succeeding in capturing Cyprus and rebuilding their massive fleet within a year is solid. This was the last major Turkish attempt to conquer the Mediterranean. From this point on they focused more on the land campaigns that they were obviously more comfortable with. I feel the book probably would have been helped by a brief description of their Hungarian campaigns since this seems to potentially limit the importance of Lepanto in changing the Turkish approach. If they needed soldiers to capitalize on or defend their successes there it casts the decision to sideline the Mediterranean war in a different light; less a decision to cut losses than one to focus on the most successful campaign. I thought the book was an intelligent and clearly-expressed account of Lepanto and the campaign leading up to it. It’s a popular account so not everything is sourced, but I suspect the details could stand up to scrutiny. It alternates between being immensely readable and being nitpicky and overstuffed with nonessential details. On the whole it’s a good introduction to the topic.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Edoardo Albert

    For the first thousand years after the armies of Islam burst, like a tsunami, upon the unsuspecting empires of late antiquity, destroying the Sassanids and crippling Byzantium, it must have seemed inevitable that the heirs to the Desert Prophet would eventually win, and the crescent flag fly from the cities of Europe, as they flew over the towns that had created and cradled Christianity: places like Corinth, Hippo, Antioch and Jerusalem itself. They all fell under Muslim rule. A grim foreboding For the first thousand years after the armies of Islam burst, like a tsunami, upon the unsuspecting empires of late antiquity, destroying the Sassanids and crippling Byzantium, it must have seemed inevitable that the heirs to the Desert Prophet would eventually win, and the crescent flag fly from the cities of Europe, as they flew over the towns that had created and cradled Christianity: places like Corinth, Hippo, Antioch and Jerusalem itself. They all fell under Muslim rule. A grim foreboding seized Christendom, a sense of the inevitable failure of the struggle, a sense made more implacable by the loss of the Crusader Kingdoms and the dribbling away of the crusading impulse under the weight of its contradictions and the rivalries of the kingdoms of Europe. It was like trying to fight the rising tide. Waves flowed up the beach, and back again, sometimes seeming to recede, but always returning and gradually washing higher, sweeping away, like sand castles, defences that had once seemed firm. Looking back, with the historical ignorance that now informs most Western debate about Islam, we seem to have forgotten how desperate the struggle was and how doomed it must have seemed. And each time one Islamic dynasty failed, it was replaced by another, more dynamic and more expansionist than the last. So as the Abbasids declined, they were replaced by the Mamluks, and then, finally but no one knew that, the Ottomans. Under the Sublime Porte, Rome - in its eastern Byzantine form - finally fell and the Ottomans advanced into south eastern Europe, conquering Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, turning the Black Sea into an Ottoman lake and twice beseiging Vienna. The flow was all one way: Muslim advance, Christian retreat. The only exception was the centuries long Reconquista, the reconquest of Spain, once the brightest, most brilliant civilisation of the Islamic world. The key to this centuries long strategic difference was Christian disunity compared to Muslim unity. The Islamic world saw a succession of strong, centrally organised empires, exercising a long-term unity of purpose directed towards military expansion. The Christian world featured innumerable competing, squabbling, fighting kingdoms, mainly concerned with protecting themselves against the ambitions of their immediate neighbours than the doings of the Sultan. What's more, as kingdoms coalesced in the late Middle Ages to become the ancestors of modern nations, the Sublime Porte became a most useful ally in the diplomatic/military dance against Holy Roman Emperor/France/Venice/Papal States (delete adversary as applicable). Then, when Europe fractured in the great break up of the Reformation, the skilled diplomatic service of the Ottomans found it had even more fissures to exploit. For the Venetians, consummate players of the game and thus not trusted by anyone, matters came to a head in the second half of the 16th century as their trading interests and colonies in the eastern Mediterranean were gobbled up by the Ottomans. With Cyprus beseiged, they decided to act, and with the pope, Pius V, an enthusiastic advocate, set about forming an alliance to act against the dominant Ottoman navy - which had not lost a battle for centuries. The problem was, the Spanish, the other main members of the Holy League, were perpetually beset by money worries and the last thing King Philip II wanted to risk was his very expensive ships. The Mediterranean, with its calm waters and long calms, was ideally suited to galleys - but feeding, supplying and paying the men needed to man a galley was wildly expensive. So Philip, for form, joined the Holy League but left his commanders in no doubt that he wanted to avoid battle if at all possible. But as fortune, and family, would have it, Philip had trusted the command of the Holy League to his half brother, Don Juan of Austria, telling him to avoid women as well as battle. Don Juan had no intention of doing either and, after many months, brought the bickering, quarrelling fleets of the Holy League to face the Ottoman navy at Lepanto. Capponi points out how battle became inevitable in part because both sides were convinced that they were the stronger. In the end, the Holy League won, and Capponi gives a detailed and convincing account of the battle, a confusion of gunsmoke, burning ships and drowning men. For the first time in centuries the Ottoman advance was halted. It might have seemed like just another sandcastle, standing before a retreating wave only to be overwhelmed when the sea rose again, but it turned out to be the start of the turning of the tide. Capponi is a master of the historical sources, particularly on the Christian side, and this is a fine account of one of the most definitive battles in history. Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, fought at Lepanto, dragging himself from his fever bed to do so and losing the use of his left hand as a result of the wounds he suffered during the battle. Yet even so, he could say: What I cannot help taking amiss is that he charges me with being old and one-handed, as if it had been in my power to keep time from passing over me, or as if the loss of my hand had been brought about in some tavern, and not on the grandest occasion the past or present has seen, or the future can hope to see. My only real criticism of the book is that the publishers skimped on the proofreading: there are far too many typos and infelicities of translation. Otherwise, excellent.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    This one gets 4 stars, for the title, if nothing else. As the author states, he chose the title just to be provocative. There is no “West” to speak of in the 16th Century but there certainly was the Turkish Empire or “The Porte”. And was that a formidable force! I don’t think we view the Turks as a sea power, now or ever. But in the 16th Century, they were amazingly powerful on land and sea. The book covers a lot of ground in the 75-100 years up to the Battle of Lepanto (which is dealt with at t This one gets 4 stars, for the title, if nothing else. As the author states, he chose the title just to be provocative. There is no “West” to speak of in the 16th Century but there certainly was the Turkish Empire or “The Porte”. And was that a formidable force! I don’t think we view the Turks as a sea power, now or ever. But in the 16th Century, they were amazingly powerful on land and sea. The book covers a lot of ground in the 75-100 years up to the Battle of Lepanto (which is dealt with at the end in far too little detail). One thing stands out, the Muslim-Christian clashes of that era are far different than today. In many interactions there is almost a mutual respect by the combatants, although that doesn’t mean there aren’t atrocities and outrages by each. This book brings out clearly the role of religion in how states competed, while also pointing out that business and profit can easily get each side to overlook religion when money can be made. But each side was confident enough to often let the other religion conduct religious services for slave or captive populations. Another thing that this book brings out well is the brilliant strategic and tactical plans of the Turks. Opposing them was a motley collection of various monarchs and merchant princes/states. Hard to fathom how the “West” came out victorious in the end. The 16th Century and its cast of characters are fascinating. The Medici’s, Don Juan, Suleyman the Magnificent, Cervantes at the battle itself. Worth spending more time on this period of history.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Joseph P. Alexander

    Splendid read with lots of detail. Enjoyed how knowledgeable the author was in citing info in the Ottomans as well as the Catholic league.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    The title of the book claims a little bit more than is delivered (which is probably for the best). This popular history (with no hand wringing over religious warfare) piles on the details and makes it clear that the "West" did not exist in the minds of European leaders (at least not before ideas of national interest). The book is really a history of the centuries leading up to the Venetian/Spanish victory over the Ottomans at Lepanto, following the fortunes of the Ottomans, Venetians, Spanish, a The title of the book claims a little bit more than is delivered (which is probably for the best). This popular history (with no hand wringing over religious warfare) piles on the details and makes it clear that the "West" did not exist in the minds of European leaders (at least not before ideas of national interest). The book is really a history of the centuries leading up to the Venetian/Spanish victory over the Ottomans at Lepanto, following the fortunes of the Ottomans, Venetians, Spanish, and papacy, among others. The battle itself takes up only one chapter (I wanted more of it actually) and it passes in too much of a flurry. Capponi writes in a breezy light style, but piles on too many details, especially names of people and places, and they become a bit of a blur. I enjoyed it and the backbone of history he provided - the detail did tend to overwhelm and the battle's importance was lost amid the sea of names.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David

    The first 250 pages of the book serve as background leading up to the battle of Lepanto, the account of which takes up only one chapter. If you enjoy history, especially the history of Muslim-Christian relations, you will enjoy this book. It is filled with a myriad of names and places, but the story is told well. Perhaps victory of the west is a misleading title, as for much of this time period France was in league with the Ottoman empire. Nevertheless, Lepanto was a turning point for both the O The first 250 pages of the book serve as background leading up to the battle of Lepanto, the account of which takes up only one chapter. If you enjoy history, especially the history of Muslim-Christian relations, you will enjoy this book. It is filled with a myriad of names and places, but the story is told well. Perhaps victory of the west is a misleading title, as for much of this time period France was in league with the Ottoman empire. Nevertheless, Lepanto was a turning point for both the Ottoman Turks and the Christian nations of western Europe, which Capponi points to in a too brief epilogue. For as much background as there was, to demonstrate that this battle was the "victory" of the west, a few chapters on what happened afterward would have been good. Just a note, I recently read and gave 3 stars to a few books by James Reston. I give this 3 stars also, but found it much better than Reston's work, so perhaps 3.5 or 3.75 stars would be more appropriate.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ricardo

    Capponi tells the story both of the Battle of Lepanto and the war leading up to it. The title suggests that this is an ideologically-loaded account that panders to contemporary anti-Muslim sentiments, but this is not the case at all. There is no readily apparent bias in the account, nor is there any attempt whatsoever to glorify the Christian cause. In fact, I found this book quite illuminating in the attention it paid to the quarrels among the Christian powers involved in the so-called "Holy Le Capponi tells the story both of the Battle of Lepanto and the war leading up to it. The title suggests that this is an ideologically-loaded account that panders to contemporary anti-Muslim sentiments, but this is not the case at all. There is no readily apparent bias in the account, nor is there any attempt whatsoever to glorify the Christian cause. In fact, I found this book quite illuminating in the attention it paid to the quarrels among the Christian powers involved in the so-called "Holy League" that won at the battle. An excellent antidote to the propagandistic art and literature that was produced in both Italy and Spain after the victory.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lance Kinzer

    A fun read, packed with detail and covering a couple hundred years of European\Ottoman political intrigue. The back story regarding the formation of the Holy League, the life story of the real Don Juan, the differences in tactics and technology that made the difference at Lepanto and much else, are truly fascinating and help provide a context for a history the impact of which continues to this day.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    This book provides a fascinating history of the Ottoman Empire and its Christian enemies in the 16th century, centering on the decisive battle that marked the beginning of the end for the Ottomans. The author provides insight into a period that does not receive much scrutiny. He strikes a good balance between providing a macro level history and providing insight into the individuals involved. He also has a pleasing style, making the book a fast read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Relstuart

    A solid read on a naval battle with broad consequences on Ottoman expansion efforts into Europe. The author does a good job setting the scene and explaining the back story before taking you into the battle. For those who usually do not read this sort of thing I could see this being a bit dry for them.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Palm Desert

    boring, horrible, awful

  12. 4 out of 5

    John

    Good, but a bit of a name blizzard towards the end

  13. 5 out of 5

    Aubri De baudricourt

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sinan Danacioglu

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sikander

  16. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Giordano

  17. 4 out of 5

    David Kamioner

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ted

  19. 4 out of 5

    Philip Freidhoff

  20. 5 out of 5

    Robert Corzine

  21. 4 out of 5

    A

  22. 4 out of 5

    Doug

  23. 4 out of 5

    Davis Donnell

  24. 5 out of 5

    Richard

  25. 4 out of 5

    James Reed

  26. 4 out of 5

    Chris Serger

  27. 4 out of 5

    David

  28. 5 out of 5

    Brian

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

  30. 5 out of 5

    DoctorM

  31. 4 out of 5

    Debra

  32. 5 out of 5

    Ben

  33. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Crown

  34. 5 out of 5

    Gene

  35. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Crosslin

  36. 4 out of 5

    Pam

  37. 5 out of 5

    Dominik

  38. 4 out of 5

    Phil

  39. 4 out of 5

    Ben

  40. 5 out of 5

    Britain

  41. 4 out of 5

    Ed

  42. 4 out of 5

    Kevin J. Rogers

  43. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

  44. 5 out of 5

    Mark

  45. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

  46. 4 out of 5

    Nicolle

  47. 5 out of 5

    Scott

  48. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Coons

  49. 5 out of 5

    John Nellis

  50. 4 out of 5

    Charles DeWitt

  51. 4 out of 5

    Brad Fonseca

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