Friday, September 2, 2011

Guest Review: Holy War

Summary: 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. -- Harper

If you are a regular visitor to Booking Mama, then you know that HOLY WAR: HOW VASCO DA GAMA'S EPIC VOYAGES TURNED THE TIDE IN A CENTURIES-OLD CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS by Nigel Cliff definitely isn't one that I'd read. I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with it. Rather I'm most likely to dumb to process all of it. However, Booking Pap Pap loves books like this one. Here are his thoughts:

As we all know from our grade school history lessons, in 1492 Christopher Columbus, working for Spain, sailed west from Europe in search of a route to India. We also learned that in 1497 Vasco da Gama, in the employ of Portugal, sailed east from Europe around the Cape of Good Hope in search of a route to India. The goal of the voyages was to tap into the rich spice trade that was being dominated by the Venetians.

Today we consider Columbus’ voyage as more significant because of his accidental discovery of America. But at the end of the fifteenth century before the full impact America would have on the world was known, da Gama’s voyage was the more talked about adventure. Columbus’ voyage was actually considered unsuccessful.

HOLY WAR by Nigel Cliff examines the significance and goals of Vasco da Gama’s voyage to the western coast of India. According to Cliff, Portugal not only was interested in controlling the spice trade but wanted to drive every Muslim from the land. King Manual of Portugal desired to not only destroy the Muslims but retake Jerusalem and set it up as the center of Christianity with him as the head of the empire.

Cliff provides the reader with the centuries old history of the clashes between the Christian and Muslim cultures from the time of Muhammad through the Crusades and Inquisitions. The author also examines the atrocities and massacres that accompanied da Gama’s voyages (he made three) at a time when Christian and Muslim hostilities were at a high point. He also describes the trials at sea that included shipwrecks, piracy, sickness and war. Relying on the logs from the voyages Cliff provides vivid detail of the hardships encountered in sailing into unknown waters.

Cliff makes a case that the da Gama initial voyage was a critical dividing line between Muslim (medieval) and Christian (modern) eras. Cliff also contends that while Portugal succeeded in controlling the spice trade for a time their goal of “a holy war to end all holy wars” was an unfulfilled dream.

HOLY WAR is an interesting perspective of the world at the time of Vasco da Gama as well as an insight into the nearly 10 decades of Christian-Muslim culture clashes beginning in 610. Although I wouldn’t recommend this as beach reading material (which is where I read it), it is a great book for anyone who enjoys the history of the fifteenth century or has an interest in the early history of the Christian-Muslim relationship. With the cultural clashes between the West and East we see today, HOLY WAR is a timely look at trying to understand these cultural and religious rivalries that have existed for centuries.

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this book and to Booking Pap Pap for his excellent review.


Beth F said...

I'll have to look for this one -- I've always liked reading about the explorers, like Vasco da Gama, and how their actions still have repercussions today.

bermudaonion said...

That does sound like a very relevant book in today's world. Thanks for another great review, Booking Pap Pap!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

My husband read this too and really enjoyed it. His review is way longer and after I read it (it hasn't been published yet) I made the mistake of asking him more questions about it so it got even longer! But it's hard not to get fascinated by the story! Great review!

Serena said...

Fascinating. Not sure I would tackle this now though.

Christian Fiction Addiction said...

Wow, this looks absolutely fascinating. Thanks for the review. I plan on checking it out :)

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