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Old 11-04-2017, 02:57 PM   #1
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November 2017 Discussion: The Great Siege: Malta 1565 by Ernle Bradford (spoilers)

This is the place to discuss the fascinating November 2017 MobileRead Book Club selection, The Great Siege: Malta 1565 by Ernle Bradford. What did you think? Discuss whenever you’re ready.
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Old 11-04-2017, 08:18 PM   #2
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Once I finish my current listen, I'm going to let Si Vance read this to me.
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Old 11-05-2017, 01:05 AM   #3
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Once I finish my current listen, I'm going to let Si Vance read this to me.
Thanks for the reminder. I've got the credits to spare, so snatched it.
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Old 11-05-2017, 07:21 PM   #4
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I'm going to start re-reading tonight. I don't know whether I'll find it a lot different or not.

And in the meantime, even before I start re-reading:

In that sort of coincidence where you don't hear some weird word for years, and then hear it twice in a week - my husband and I sometimes watch lecture podcasts and drink wine at home for a cheap (and lazy) date , and the lecture he found and wanted to watch a couple of nights ago was about this same siege...
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Old 11-07-2017, 08:17 PM   #5
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About two hours into the Simon Vance narration. So fzr, so good.
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Old 11-08-2017, 08:59 AM   #6
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Just started, and already i’m quite annoyed by the usage of both Italian and Maltese place names, and the foreword that is só outdated, that a rewritten one from the publisher would’ve been a better option.

Lets just hope that it is just an issue of myself adjusting to the author, but so far it doesn’t bode well.
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Old 11-10-2017, 10:38 AM   #7
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There's an unfortunate western bias here, as in the different take on Christians' willingness to die for their faith as opposed to Muslims' willingness to die for their faith. A product of its time, but no more appealing for that.
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Old 11-11-2017, 12:53 PM   #8
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Yes, though I suppose it's inevitable, it's not appreciated.

I haven't finished yet (about 1/2 way through), but the one thing that has been missing so far that I'd like to have had more of is a clearer description and understanding of just why Malta is so strategically important. We're told it is, but not really a compelling description of why, even with today's powered ocean going vessels, Malta sits astride the shipping lanes and provides a strategic barrier between Africa/Asia and the European Mediterranean. This was even more true in the time of wind-powered sailing vessels.
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Old 11-15-2017, 10:19 AM   #9
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Bradford sure can spin a yarn. He gives an endlessly interesting account of the siege, replete with personalities and imagery, which could have been difficult to pull off about a centuries' old battle with little documentation. I could have escaped some of the visuals at that - such as the one of the Knights using cannon to fire the heads of the Turkish prisoners at the lost St. Elmo!

That said, I have mixed feelings about this. I like, really like, war as a topic (a taste which has been deplored by some in the club ). But what I like are the politics, the economics, the cause and effect, the social and cultural and intellectual aspects of war. I have limited interest in strategy (the broad strokes will suffice for me) and none at all in gore. This book was some strategy and mostly gore, as to be expected from a battle narrative. Nothing wrong with that, just not to my particular taste. Ultimately, it didn't advance my understanding to a great extent.

And aside from the aforementioned western bias, it also showed the defects of its virtues. As I said, it's a great read, but it's also typical of some popular history in not being terribly rigorous and I also suspect understanding has advanced in the past half-century, neither of which actually matters that much to me since I knew nothing at all about it going into it.

I'm glad to have read (listened to) it. I already owned both the ebook and the audiobook so the intention was there; having it as a book club choice just bumped it to the forefront. I was entertained and now I have some understanding about a key event in the history of west v. east.
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Old 11-20-2017, 01:21 AM   #10
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Well, even though our traditional start date is tomorrow, I confess I'm not quite finished.

That being said, while I enjoyed the book -- issybird is right, Bradford can sure spin a yarn -- I am ultimately disappointed in the book, and can barely give it a 3 out of 5. This was one of the most important battles in history, and had it gone the other way, things might have been very different. But there really isn't any discussion about the importance of this tiny nation, or why it's important, or what role it plays in maritime history. I read history to understand the forces that drive the world, not to understand the tactics and strategy of a battle. (There can be important lessons in those, certainly, but they're not what I'm in it for.)
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Old 11-22-2017, 02:25 PM   #11
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Finished.

And, while there are passing references to Malta's importance sitting astride the shipping lanes of the Mediterranean, and as a necessary gateway to conquering Sicily, and then Italy, and then Europe, those references are just passing mentions. Shame, really.

I also appreciated the political discussion around relieving the siege and the dilatory response of Don Garcia, I ultimately think the author ducked any responsibility for actually assigning cause, blame or motive for the failures of Christian Europe to support and relieve Malta and La Valette. He gives La Valette and the Knights full praise, but appears to give only grudging respect to the native Maltese, who were, after all, mere peasants.
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There were about 12,000 inhabitants in Malta, most of them poor peasants speaking a kind of Arabic dialect.
Final verdict? 3.5 stars. Should be 3, except that Simon Vance's compelling narration pumps it up a notch. And really, Bradford does a superb job of telling the story of the battles. I just wanted it to be more than that.
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Old 11-22-2017, 03:35 PM   #12
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And, while there are passing references to Malta's importance sitting astride the shipping lanes of the Mediterranean, and as a necessary gateway to conquering Sicily, and then Italy, and then Europe, those references are just passing mentions. Shame, really.
I was amused that Bradford cited the phrase, "the soft underbelly of Europe" in reference to Italy, but rather coyly didn't identify either the source or the context. Well, Churchill proved himself time and again to be a rotten strategist who advocated many military debacles, and the invasion of Italy in 1943 didn't go nearly as easily as he implied. Not such a soft underbelly at that. Napoleon did it, but he went over the Alps.

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I also appreciated the political discussion around relieving the siege and the dilatory response of Don Garcia, I ultimately think the author ducked any responsibility for actually assigning cause, blame or motive for the failures of Christian Europe to support and relieve Malta and La Valette. He gives La Valette and the Knights full praise, but appears to give only grudging respect to the native Maltese, who were, after all, mere peasants.
I had to look it up, but at the time the book was published, Malta was still a British colony. I suspect Bradford reflects an inculcated attitude toward the Empire and all the unfortunate assumptions implicit in it.
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