Crowley’s book on the fall of Constantinople doesn’t disappoint. He leads off by giving a good overview of the rise of Islam, and various failed sieges of the city over the centuries, showing how it became something of a recurring ambition that was eventually absorbed by the Turks when they converted to Islam.

From there, the focus moves in to the decade or so before the siege, detailing Murat, and then Mehmet II, before giving Constantine XI’s background. The construction of the Throat-Cutter (an Ottoman castle built to cut Constantinople off from the Black Sea), and the final attempts to heal the Great Schism between Orthodox and Catholic rites are detailed before moving on to the siege itself.

Like Crowley’s Empires of the Sea, this is primarily a readable account of the siege, and not any sort of detailed analysis, but he does provide good information on walls of Constantinople, and just how they were outmoded by the coming of gunpowder and siege artillery. He also goes into the ability to take rubble and earth and create improvised fortifications that serve just as well (though perhaps being less imposing looking) while being much harder for artillery to deal with. The book also talks a bit about two weak points in the walls, which were particular targets for the siege. On the other hand, some details, such as the system of locked gates in the main wall, behind the forward wall where most of the siege was conducted, only come up when dramatically important, and not in the general description of how things were working (which, with a lighter book like this, are a bit lacking as extraneous technical detail anyway).

Crowley freely acknowledges that there’s a number of uncertainties that he cuts through to provide the best version he can. And that may be the best reason for keeping to a very readable format here. There’s enough contradictory legend here to weigh down a narrative so that the events are never seen through the maze of arguments. He does give several of the more prominent alternatives, and admits there’s really no reliable knowledge as to what happened to Constantine XI when the city fell.