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

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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.


About Nigel Cliff

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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, and their son.
Published September 13, 2011 by Harper. 560 pages
Genres: History, Religion & Spirituality, Travel. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Throughout the narrative, Cliff examines the roots of many succeeding atrocities and massacres, all levers in the service of opening foreign markets to competition and securing what even then was called “fair trade.” A useful addition to a continuing lively discussion of Christianity and Islam,...

Jul 01 2011 | Read Full Review of Holy War: How Vasco da Gama's...

The New York Times

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Vasco da Gama hoped to recruit Indian Christians against Islam.

Sep 09 2011 | Read Full Review of Holy War: How Vasco da Gama's...

Publishers Weekly

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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.

Jun 27 2011 | Read Full Review of Holy War: How Vasco da Gama's...

The Wall Street Journal

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Seeking to revolutionize views of the Age of Exploration, four books instead reveal more about the state of popular history.

Sep 17 2011 | Read Full Review of Holy War: How Vasco da Gama's...

City Book Review

“Tiny Portugal had set itself a truly audacious task: to outflank Islam by making itself the master of the oceans.” Vasco da Gama’s ships limped through the stormy straits in unmapped seas while his crew suffered the ravages of scurvy, starvation, and the attacks of those they encountered along ...

Apr 26 2012 | Read Full Review of Holy War: How Vasco da Gama's...

Bookmarks Magazine

Perfect for readers of Endurance:Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, Galileo’sDaughter, and Atlantic, this first-ever completeaccount of da Gama’s voyages includes new information from the recentlydiscovered diaries of his sailors and an ...

Sep 12 2011 | Read Full Review of Holy War: How Vasco da Gama's...

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