Roger Crowley's Conquerors is a fascinating, engaging and well researched account of Portugal's plunge into the Indian Ocean in the early 16th century. In a short 20 year period, Portugal pioneered the global empires of Europe and stole Indian ocean trade from Muslim traders ending the Egyptian and Venitian monopoly on spices in Europe. It was a great Crusade against Islam and was also an act of conquest to rival the feats and atrocities of the conquistadors in South America.
In the late 15th century, Portugal was a small, poor and unimportant kingdom pressed up against the brutal Atlantic ocean. Their king was a pious Christian dedicated to war on Islam. They had started probing down the coast of Africa, developed their maritime technology and experience as they went. One of their main goals was to find the mythical tip of Africa and sail into the Indian ocean.
The breakthrough came in 1488, when Bartolomeu Dias, in a daring move, swept out into the Atlantic instead of hugging safely to the African coast and fighting the prevailing winds. In doing so he discovered trade winds that swept him around the cape. This book primarily details the feats of three nobles who followed him: Vasco da Gama, Francisco de Almeida, and Afonso de Albuquerque. Together they managed to dominate the Indian Ocean. They achieved this with audacity, aggression, handful of ships, a few thousand men, a superiority of tactics and technology, and a knack for rapidly understanding local politics. Time and time again they defeated enemies while vastly outnumbered.
Yet, the book also covers the dark side of this conquest. As a crusade, the Portuguese achieved their dominance through sheer terror, committed numerous atrocities. They frequently bombarded, burned and sacked cities, murdering the inhabitants. They captured Muslim ships at sea, taking their cargoes and burning the ships with their Muslim crews and passengers on board. Eventually, not strong enough to take on the whole Muslim world, they were forced to compromise and ally with some Muslim rulers against some of their more bitter enemies.
Overall, this book is a great read, and a compelling account of this important turning point in history.