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Crowley (1453), an independent scholar of the 16th-century Mediterranean, focuses here on the final contest between Christian and Muslim, Hapsburg and Ottoman, for control of the Middle Sea. Masterfully synthesizing primary and secondary sources, he vividly reconstructs the great battles, Malta and Lepanto, that shaped the struggle and introduces the larger-than-life personalities that dominated council chambers and fields of battle. This was a time of hard men who took high risks, asked no mercy and gave no quarter. Familiar figures like Philip II of Spain and Suleiman the Magnificent share the stage with Jean de La Valette, whose inspired defense of Malta in 1565 checked a tide of Ottoman victories, and the great corsair Hayrettin Barbarossa. Crowley recreates the fighting and the brutality in page-turning prose that never sacrifices accuracy for color. He also demonstrates that the conflict, which ended with a compromise peace in 1580, marked the Mediterranean basin's end as the center of the world. Henceforth the loci of power would shift elsewhere in a modernizing world. Illus. (July 1)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.