Book Review - The Last Crusaders

The Last Crusaders is a lively and engaging history of the Mediterranean world in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and in particular the power struggles that pitted the Ottoman Empire against a Christian Europe dominated by Habsburg Spain.

Much more was at stake than two empires slugging it out for world dominion, however, for there were other players in what was a complicated and constantly shifting struggle for political and economic power. These include the Portuguese, the sultans of what is now Morocco, the maritime city-state of Venice, and the order of the Knights of St John. Nor is the action confined to the Mediterranean, for Rogerson's narrative ranges broadly across the Atlantic in the company of the conquistadores, and around Africa in the wake of the Portuguese as they penetrated the Indian Ocean in pursuit of the unbelievable riches promised by the spice trade.

The geopolitical sweep is impressive, and reminds us how much of what we now take for granted about the political, religious, and cultural landscape of the modern era was not a foregone conclusion. It was not inevitable, for example, that the Ottomans would remain bottled up in the Mediterranean and not compete with Christians' powers in the process of Atlantic exploration, just as it was not inevitable that Portuguese and Spanish toeholds in northern Africa would not turn into some more durable and extensive presence.

Rogerson knits his whole story together into a coherent and compelling whole. The book tells its tale with aplomb and dash, and, as befits an author with a travel background, the evocation of place and of the culturally exotic is well handled. This is all good swashbuckling stuff, its vision of the past as a place of excitement, brutality, excess, larger-than-life characters and strange twists of fate. - Marcus Bull, The Tablet (click below for full review)

The Last Crusaders: the hundred-year battle for the centre of the world
Barnaby Rogerson
Little, Brown

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