As remarkable as Columbus and the conquistador expeditions, the history of Portuguese exploration is now almost forgotten.
But Portugal's navigators cracked the code of the Atlantic winds, launched the expedition of Vasco da Gama to India and beat the Spanish to the spice kingdoms of the East - then set about creating the first long-range maritime empire.
In an astonishing blitz of 30 years, a handful of visionary and utterly ruthless empire builders, with few resources but breathtaking ambition, attempted to seize the Indian Ocean, destroy Islam and take control of world trade.
Told with Roger Crowley's customary skill and verve, this is narrative history at its most vivid - an epic tale of navigation, trade and technology, money and religious zealotry, political diplomacy and espionage, sea battles and shipwrecks, endurance, courage and terrifying brutality.
Drawing on extensive firsthand accounts, it brings to life the exploits of an extraordinary band of conquerors - men such as Afonso de Albuquerque, the first European since Alexander the Great to found an Asian empire - who set in motion 500 years of European colonisation and unleashed the forces of globalisation.
Roger Crowley read English at Cambridge. He has had a varied career as a teacher and publisher and is the author of three books on the history of the Mediterranean. He lives in Gloucestershire and now writes full time.
©2015 Roger Crowley (P)2015 Audible, Ltd
This is a joy because it's so well written and it also opens up a field of history which isn't much covered in the UK. The Portugese were stuck out on the atlantic coast of Iberia with very limited access to mediterranean trade so they were forced to hone their sailing and navigation skills voyaging south to Africa. Eventually this took them down to the freezing waters and mountainous storms of the south atlantic where they rounded the cape of good hope and found a route into the dazzlingly rich trading waters of the Indian ocean. The material about the voyages themselves is very good but if anything it's outshone by their adventures as they try to establish themselves in a wholly alien but very sophisticated culture covering South Asia, India, Goa, the east coast of Africa and beyond to Arabia. Think "Conquistador's versus Sinbad" and you're not far off. The cast of Portugese characters is brilliant because a large number of them come over as brilliant but unhinged psychopaths obsessed with personal glory, the acquisition of booty and (believe it or not) beard length. They also left enough personal correspondence that Crowley can paint believable charater portraits. He also acknowledges the awful impact that the Portugese had on the locals, who saw a relatively peaceful trading system thrown into uproar with the arrival of religious zealouts using next generation canon power to offset their small numbers. If you like this period of history I can't recommend this too highly. Personally, I listened to it as a double bill with Kirstin Downey's excellent "Isabella: Warrior Queen" which covers the same period in Spain and found it enhanced my appreciation of both books.
Very well-written and researched. Almost exclusively told from the Portuguese perspective, but this is not supposed to be a well-balanced historical analysis - it's a story, so that's OK I suppose. Well narrated and engaging.
Really informative book on the conquests of those early pioneering Portuguese seamen. Very well written and read. Brilliant insights into the lives of these people both the Portuguese and the poor people they dominated.
I think Audio - the format of the story lends itself well to narration, though a map would have been a welcome aid
Just to get the one flaw out of the way; John Sackville attempts to do accents for some of the races in his narration, which I found rather annoying. Plus he read far too quickly, and the sped adjusters didn't quite work out for me. To his credit though he did get a lot of the place names and Portuguese pronunciations correct
As a Goan who grew up in Macau, and whose family has long been associated with the Portuguese administration, this was an emotional story for me. I was expecting this book to be a commentary and digested treatment of the Portuguese expeditions. This is, instead, a blow by blow account of who did what when and why.
Personally I would have preferred some analysis as to the motivations and a little more historical and political context, but that is my personal preference. This book reads almost like an action novel with Vasco de Gama and Alphonso de Albuquerque as the heroes and protagonists. If you know that going in, then it is quite a good read in terms of the first hand accounts and motivations.
It helped me understand a little bit more about my heritage, and yes it focuses on the East African coast as well as the Indian Ocean, but doesn't go into any real detail on China, Japan or Malaca. Perhaps that would be too ambitious for a single book.
In either case, if you are interested in the early stages of the Portuguese empire, in the personalities of Vasco de Gama or Alphonso Albuquerque and want what could be called a journalistic view of those events, then this would be a good book.
An outstanding run through the formative years of Portuguese colonialism, looking at how those first steps into the Indian Ocean led to a wider empire. Full of engaging characters and told as an exciting story rather than dry history, this book was a pleasure from start to end. The narrator was particularly good and helped bring the text to life.
This is a brilliant short history of the early Portuguese exploration and conquest of the Indian Ocean. It's breathlessly written in such a way as to keep you on the edge of your seat in anticipation of the outcome of each key battle, voyage, negotiation, meeting and communique will be.
A highly researched book that covers facts in great detail. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I have a personal passion for Portugal and this book has helped to fill in a number of missing pieces.
A well researched and fascinating account of the European entry into the Indian Ocean. For all the destruction and disruption that it caused it remains a heroic tale of courage, stamina and confidence. As with every great enterprise success turned on the character and ability of the first leaders and in Almeida and Albuquerque the Portuguese found their foundational heroes. Extremely well narrated, I was gripped by the story from beginning to end and finished it over one long drive.
There were so many vivid descriptions, brutal conqeuring and far of lands! A fantastic story!
A very interesting read about a period of history that is not that well known. It helps contextualise all the other empires that came after and also an interesting looks at religious conflict and how it fed into global exploration.
"All the details I never knew"
Awesome account of the pioneer Portuguese explorers. Impeccable research. The writing is captivating and I never was bored. I'm planning on reading other books by this author.
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