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

Overview -

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.  Read more...


 
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More About Holy War by Nigel Cliff
 
 
 
Overview

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 the longest voyage known to history. The little ships were pushed beyond their limits, and their crews were racked by storms and devastated by disease. However, their greatest enemy was neither nature nor even the sheer dread of venturing into unknown worlds that existed on maps populated by coiled, toothy sea monsters. With bloodred Crusader crosses emblazoned on their sails, the explorers arrived in the heart of the Muslim East at a time when the old hostilities between Christianity and Islam had risen to a new level of intensity. In two voyages that spanned six years, Vasco da Gama would fight a running sea battle that would ultimately change the fate of three continents.

An epic tale of spies, intrigue, and treachery; of bravado, brinkmanship, and confused and often comical collisions between cultures encountering one another for the first time; Holy War also offers a surprising new interpretation of the broad sweep of history. Identifying Vasco da Gama's arrival in the East as a turning point in the centuries-old struggle between Islam and Christianity--one that continues to shape our world--Holy War reveals the unexpected truth that both Vasco da Gama and his archrival, Christopher Columbus, set sail with the clear purpose of launching a Crusade whose objective was to reach the Indies; seize control of its markets in spices, silks, and precious gems from Muslim traders; and claim for Portugal or Spain, respectively, all the territories they discovered. Vasco da Gama triumphed in his mission and drew a dividing line between the Muslim and Christian eras of history--what we in the West call the medieval and the modern ages. Now that the world is once again tipping back East, Holy War offers a key to understanding age-old religious and cultural rivalries resurgent today.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780061735127
  • ISBN-10: 0061735124
  • Publisher: Harper
  • Publish Date: September 2011
  • Page Count: 547


Related Categories

Books > History > Expeditions & Discoveries
Books > History > Europe - Spain & Portugal
Books > History > Asia - India & South Asia

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2011-06-27
  • Reviewer: Staff

In this fresh take on the history of the age of discovery, British historian Cliff (The Shakespeare Riots) not only recovers the story of Vasco da Gama's voyages (long overshadowed by Columbus's) for our times. He also uncovers da Gama's complex motives. In 1498, his fleet he set sail ; from Lisbon to open a sea route from Europe to Asia and "unlock the age-old secrets of the spice trade," but also to reconquer Jerusalem from the Muslims and bring the Second Coming. After almost a year on the seas, tossed about by heavy storms and ravaged by disease and lack of food and water, the fleet found its way to India, which da Gama helped to conquer for Portugal. Yet, as Cliff points out, da Gama's men had arrived in India not just to acquire wealth; they were the new crusaders. They began as soon as they landed to push out the Muslim merchants and establish Christianity as the dominant religion. Da Gama's voyages, says Cliff, were the dividing line between the eras of Muslim ascendancy—the Middle Ages—and of Christian ascendancy—the modern age. Though occasionally digressive, Cliff's historical sketch opens new vistas on much-explored territory. 8 pages of color illus.; printed endpaper map. (Sept.)

 
BookPage Reviews

An explorer’s lasting legacy

Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama had the same goal: a sea route to “the Indies.” Despite our October holiday, it’s abundantly clear who succeeded. The Portuguese da Gama decisively won the contest by rounding Africa’s Cape of Good Hope and finding his way to the wealthy spice port of Calicut in India in 1498. Columbus’ voyages had the greater long-term impact by opening the Americas to European colonization. But historian Nigel Cliff argues in his sweeping Holy War that da Gama’s deeds had a huge influence on the economic and cultural competition between East and West that continues today.

Da Gama’s sea journeys provide the framework for Cliff’s epic, but he is only a symbol of the larger Portuguese imperial effort in the 15th and 16th centuries. Portugal’s royal house had two interwoven objectives: the worldwide spread of Christianity and the acquisition of wealth. Spurred on by their mistaken belief in a nonexistent Eastern Christian king called “Prester John,” they set out to break the Muslim Arab monopoly on the spice trade from India to Europe. Da Gama was the perfect spearhead.

Da Gama’s encounters with Africa and India make a compelling adventure tale, told by Cliff with the right mix of sweep and detail. Cliff portrays da Gama as tough, smart, ruthless and consumed with the hatred of Islam typical of his Iberian crusader background. He was a far better leader than Columbus, and although he certainly made mistakes—for example, he was long under the strange misapprehension that the Hindus were Christians—he got results.

Christianity didn’t triumph throughout the globe, but Cliff argues that the maritime empire created by da Gama and his successors through bloodshed and guile did tip the economic balance of power from the Middle East to Europe. That empire was mismanaged and short-lived, but the Dutch and English followed where the Portuguese led. The consequences linger.

 
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