Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Barnaby Rogerson's THE LAST CRUSADERS Praised in ForeWord Magazine

Coming next month is Barnaby Rogerson's The Last Crusaders: The Hundred Year Battle for the Center of the World, a new study of the late Crusades. Here's a glowing notice from ForeWord Magazine: "The world of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was shaped by two powerful forces: religion and gunpowder—a devastating combination. In The Last Crusaders Barnaby Rogerson paints a vivid canvas, sweeping in scope and full of memorable detail, of the hundred-and-fifty-year struggle between the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires for control of the Mediterranean.

The period from 1450 to 1590 changed the face of world history. It saw the creation of the first great nation states—Spain, Portugal, Austria, Turkey, and the countries of North Africa. The boundaries drawn then remain national, cultural, linguistic, and religious boundaries today. The author’s purpose is to explain the “last great tectonic shift” in the balance of power in the Old World. “We should all hear these stories at least once,” he writes, “if we are to have any understanding of our modern age.” Readers will indeed be struck by the similarities to our own day. Like the atom bombing of Hiroshima, the destruction of Constantinople by Turkish artillery in 1453 sent a shock wave around the world (the Turks’ biggest gun could throw a 1200 lb. granite ball over a mile) and launched a ruinously expensive arms race. Cannons were the ICBMs of their day and there ensued a race among the great nations to forge as many as possible. Skilled weapons makers (many of them Jews expelled from Spain in 1493) were in high demand and often willing to work for the highest bidder. And, like uranium today, sources of saltpeter, an ingredient of gunpowder, were bitterly fought over. Terror, too, became a legitimate weapon of war. No captive city escaped savage pillaging and rape. Both sides routinely practiced impaling, dismemberment, flaying alive, enslavement or forced conversion of whole populations.

Against this background, we meet the great figures of the age: the intellectual Prince Henry the Navigator; the cunning and ruthless Ferdinand of Spain; the chivalrous Charles V; and the legendary sultans, Mehmet the Conqueror and Suleyman the Magnificent. The minor actors are equally compelling—secret agents, pirate captains, and turncoats and traitors of every stripe. In colorful vignettes, we rub shoulders with Turkish Janissaries, Genoese mercenaries, Portuguese explorers, Moroccan corsairs, and galley slaves. The author is especially good at narrating in gripping, and often grisly, detail the great sieges and battles that punctuated this struggle. The book is furnished with excellent maps, a useful chronological chart, numerous illustrations, and a very full bibliography. The writing is engaging and vivid, never pedantic. Any history buff will find this book a pleasure." - Bruce Macbain

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