The story of the emergence of Portugal, a small, poor nation that enjoyed a century of maritime supremacy thanks to the daring and navigational skill of its explorers—a tactical advantage no other country could match.
Crowley’s history benefits from the voluminous correspondence of powerful captains as well as the diaries of ordinary sailors. He uses this rich source material to imbue events now half a millennium distant with incredible dramatic immediacy.
Manuel and Albuquerque came close to pulling off the biggest strategic coup in history, converting Portugal from the most backward fringe of western Eurasia to the center of a global empire. It is only when we ask why they failed that Crowley’s story perhaps fails too. But maybe that will be the subject for Crowley’s next book; and if it is as good as this one, it will be worth waiting for.