The history of an “epic clash of civilizations.”
Journalist Reston (The Conviction of Richard Nixon: The Untold Story of the Frost/Nixon Interviews, 2007, etc.) is the author or two previous books about major Christian-Muslim clashes—Dogs of God (2005) and Warriors of God (2001). Here he looks at a turbulent time featuring not one but several brutal confrontations. His Christian protagonist is Charles V (1500–58), who became Holy Roman Emperor thanks to his grandfather, Maximilian I. Charles also inherited the Low Countries from his father and the Spanish Empire from his other grandparents. Opposing Charles was Suleyman I (1494–1566), sultan of the Ottoman Empire under whom it reached the height of its power. Reston stresses that these deeply pious rulers loathed each other less than heretics within their own religion. Charles worked to suppress the charismatic Martin Luther’s rebellion against Catholic doctrine. A Sunni Muslim, Suleyman massacred Shi’ites within his realm and repeatedly invaded Shi’ite Persia in an effort to wipe them out. Both efforts failed, but three massive Ottoman invasions of Europe got as far as the gates of Vienna. History would have been vastly different had they succeeded, which almost happened because Charles and a colorful cast of secondary characters—Henry VIII of England, Francis I of France, Luther, several scheming popes—preferred to battle each other. Reston recounts the facts without the breathless dramatics many popularizers cannot resist, but since he is not a professional historian, there are few strong opinions and little deep analysis.
A competent account of a spectacularly eventful historical period.