How Vasco da Gama's Epic Voyages Turned the Tide in a Centuries-Old Clash of Civilizations
By Nigel Cliff
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780061735127, 560pp.)
Publication Date: September 2011
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A sweeping historical epic and a radical new interpretation of Vasco da Gamas 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 Gamas arrival in the East as a turning point in the centuries-old struggle between Islam and Christianityone that continues to shape our worldHoly 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 historywhat 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.
Nigel Cliff is a historian, biographer, and critic. He was educated at Oxford University, where he was awarded the Beddington Prize for English Literature. He is a former theater and film critic for the London Times and a contributor to the Economist and other publications. His first book, The Shakespeare Riots, was a finalist for the National Award for Arts Writing and was selected as one of the best nonfiction books of 2007 by the Washington Post. He lives in London with his wife, the ballerina Viviana Durante.
“Lively and ambitious . . . Cliff has a novelist’s gift for depicting character . . . he brings 16th century Portugal in all its splendor and squalor pungently to life.”
-Eric Ormsby, New York Times Book Review
“Epic . . . a compelling adventure tale, told by Cliff with the right mix of sweep and detail.”
“Readers who enjoy a yeasty narrative by a skilled storyteller will mark this book as one of their favorites of the year.”
-Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Nigel Cliff’s Holy War is one of the most readable, engaging, and provoking books of the season, hands down . . . Cliff . . . writes with considerable energy, humor and narrative skill.”
-Kansas City Star
“A fresh take on the history of the age of discovery . . . Cliff opens new vistas on much-explored territory.”
“A useful addition to a continuing lively discussion of Christianity and Islam, situated both in respect of religions and culture, as well as empires and trade.”
“Cliff tells an often thrilling tale of adventure . . . He effectively restores the luster of da Gama’s achievement and provocatively reassesses the goals and significance of his expedition.”
“A story told with great flair and serious scholarship.”
-James Eckardt, The Nation
“A stirringly epic book…a thrilling narrative…This is broad-brush history, but it is accurate, and enlivened by splendid spots of color.”
-Sunday Times (London)