In the late 16th century, a prominent Albanian named Antonio Bruni composed a revealing document about his home country. Historian Sir Noel Malcolm takes this document as a point of departure to explore the lives of the entire Bruni family, whose members included an archbishop of the Balkans, the captain of the papal flagship at the Battle of Lepanto - at which the Ottomans were turned back in the Eastern Mediterranean - in 1571, and a highly placed interpreter in Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire that fell to the Turks in 1453.
The taking of Constantinople had profoundly altered the map of the Mediterranean. By the time of Brunis document, Albania, largely a Venetian province from 1405 onward, had been absorbed into the Ottoman Empire. Even under the Ottomans, however, this was a world marked by the ferment of the Italian Renaissance. In Agents of Empire, Malcolm uses the collective biography of the Brunis to paint a fascinating and intimate picture of Albania at a moment when it represented the frontier between empires, cultures, and religions.
The lives of the polylingual, cosmopolitan Brunis shed new light on the interrelations between the Ottoman and Christian worlds, characterized by both conflict and complex interdependence. The result of years of archival detective work, Agents of Empire brings to life a vibrant moment in European and Ottoman history, challenging our assumptions about their supposed differences. Malcolms book guides us through the exchanges between East and West, Venetians and the Ottomans, and tells a story of worlds colliding with and transforming one another.
©2015 Noel Malcolm (P)2016 Audible, Inc.
Noel Malcolm catalogues the fortunes of the Bruti and Bruni families as they make their fortunes on the borders of the Ottoman and Venetian empires during the renaissance. The story his dilligent researches have uncovered is fascinating and vividly brought to life. Many of the families sons trained as translators and their work as professional "ransomers"; acting as agents for wealthy christian families seeking the return of loved ones from the Ottomans; puts them at the centre of historical events. We are promised Knight, Corsairs, Jesuits and Spies and Malcolm delivers.
However; I liked this book rather than loved it and I think the reason is that Malcolm wants to write as much as possible about the beginnings of Albania as a country and I wanted to hear more about the "Game of Thrones" stuff. It's an impressive achievement and I stuck with it because he has produced something immersive and original but it was heavy going at times. Recommended if you love history and are ready to stick with books that become periodically dry.
If you're still not sure after reading this review there are a couple of newspaper reviews online from June 2015 in the Guardian and Daily Telegraph. They loved it; which probably means that I'm a bit shallow
Superb history of 16th century Albania, the Balkans, and the eastern Mediterranean.
The author follows the members of a family as agents of Venice, the Papacy, the Porte, and Spain. It spans the era just before Lepanto until the dawn of the 17th century. This is great history but it is not popular history. It is for the reader/listener who is already somewhat familiar with the history and geography of the era.
The research that went into this is just incredible. I bought the hardcopy version too just so I could look at the maps, illustrations, notes, and bibliography.
"Where's the story?"
No one picks up an academic history without a prior interest in the subject, and so academic historians aren't trained in the literary art of making a reader want to continue turning pages. I spent two hours with this book and found no story, no human being standing out from a crowd of similar names, no events of historical significance, nothing but a catalogue of disconnected facts attesting to truly wonderful feats of dogged research. There is no apparent structure to the material and the writing, while clear and precise, lacks all flair. Perhaps greater patience would eventually have been rewarded, but at the end of two hours I still didn't know what the book was about, much less why anyone should read it. The narrator is very good, though.
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