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Saturday, April 15, 2017

1453: THE HOLY WAR for CONSTANTINOPLE and the CLASH of ISLAM and the WEST (audiobook) by Roger Crowley


Unabridged Audio Edition Published in 2016 by Hachette Audio and Blackstone Audio
Read by Simon Prebble
Duration: 10 Hours, 56 Minutes

When Rome was at its height it split itself in half and created a second capital for the eastern half in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). The eastern half survived the official "Fall of Rome" in 476 AD and continued on for nearly 1,000 more years until it succumbed to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. It was the seat of the Orthodox Christian Church and oftentimes stood as the bulwark against Muslim military advances into Eastern Europe.

From the time of the first formal attack against Constantinople in 674 AD until it finally fell in 1453, the capture of this city was, at the least, on every Muslim leader in this region's "to do" list, if not an active goal.

Once the Ottoman Turks arrive on the scene the Byzantine Empire is clearly on its last legs. The city is still defended by one of the most elaborate set of walls ever built and its history and architecture are truly amazing. But, its glory days are long gone. The city has sold a lot of its treasures to defend itself. Its territorial holdings, at one point, included a majority of the territory of the Roman Empire. By 14523 it only held a part of modern Greece and the territory immediately around the walled city.

The Ottomans, in contrast, were an Empire on the rise and they understood that the capture of Constantinople offered great strategic, economic and symbolic value. 

This is a book that could have truly been horrible. We've all had that professor or teacher or book that takes the most exciting parts of history and drains all of the joy from the learning experience and leaves behind a dry, lifeless exercise in tedium. 

This book had all of the hallmarks of that experience. 

1. Medieval battle? Check.

2. The Byzantine Empire, whose very name is literally synonymous in English with being unnecessarily complicated? Check.

3. Multiple religious traditions that most American readers know little about? Check (Islam) and check (Orthodox Christianity).

Constantine XI (1405-1453)
However, Roger Crowley's history is almost always highly entertaining and informative. He paints vivid word pictures of the battles and they come off much more like the epic struggles depicted in a Tolkien novel than the a dry recitation of facts. He introduces new historical figures and makes them feel like real people.

Constantine XI, the Byzantine Emperor comes to life as an honorable and brave warrior who refused to escape and leave his city even when there was no hope. He was an experienced soldier who actively led his men throughout the siege. Legend has it that he dressed as a regular soldier in his last moments and led his men in a hopeless last-ditch defense of the city. His body was never definitively identified.

Mehmed II was the hard-headed and often difficult young Ottoman emperor. He spoke multiple languages, survived the brutal family dynamics of the Ottoman leadership and embraced new technologies, like cannon. He was rewarded for this flexibility when he took the city that many considered impossible to take.

Simon Prebble's reading of this book was excellent. It was like listening to an amazing English history professor give one of the most interesting history lectures you have ever heard. Perfect combination of voice and text.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5,

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: 1453: THE HOLY WAR for CONSTANTINOPLE and the CLASH of ISLAM and the WEST by Roger Crowley.

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