The best books on the Mediterranean world

Who am I?

The Mediterranean is in my family’s history. My dad was a naval officer who worked in the sea in peace and war and took us to Malta when I was nine. I was entranced by the island’s history, by an evocative sensory world of sunlight, brilliant seas, and antiquity. I’ve been travelling in this sea ever since, including a spell living in Turkey, and delved deep into its past, its empires, and its maritime activity. I’m the author of three books on the subject: Constantinople: the Last Great Siege, Empires of the Sea, and Venice: City of Fortune.

I wrote...

Empires of the Sea: The Final Battle for the Mediterranean, 1521-1580

By Roger Crowley,

Book cover of Empires of the Sea: The Final Battle for the Mediterranean, 1521-1580

What is my book about?

Empires of the Sea is the history of the great sixteenth-century contest for the Mediterranean between the Ottoman Empire and Christian Europe. It opens with the Ottoman capture of Rhodes in 1521 and concludes with the shattering sea battle at Lepanto half a century later. It’s an epic of military crusading, holy war, piracy, oared galleys, and bloody sieges orchestrated by the two great figures of the age, Suleiman the Magnificent and Charles II of Spain, both vying for a claim to world empire.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is readers supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Vol. 1

By Fernand Braudel,

Book cover of The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Vol. 1

Why this book?

This is a big read but quite simply a classic, one of the great works of historical scholarship. I’ve found it invaluable. Its two-volume coverage of what sounds like a highly specialist topic belies its depth, panoramic sweep, and sheer interest to anyone fascinated by Mediterranean history and its setting. Braudel links events and historical personages to geography, climate, economics, natural history, population sizes, you name it – a multi-factorial analysis of the middle sea resonant far beyond the period it claims to cover.

The Venetian Empire: A Sea Voyage

By Jan Morris,

Book cover of The Venetian Empire: A Sea Voyage

Why this book?

Jan Morris, who writes as elegantly as anyone about Venice, conducts us on a historical cruise through its maritime empire – both a history and a travelogue. It’s a beguiling evocation of the Mediterranean that we all dream of. Venice at one time or another held Constantinople, Crete, Cyprus, the dotted islands of the Aegean and the coast of Dalmatia – an empire of forts, harbours, and naval bases, all badged with Venice’s corporate logo – the winged lion. In Morris’s hands it’s an invitation to sail immediately. Her book on Venice itself is excellent too.

Twice a Stranger: The Mass Expulsions That Forged Modern Greece and Turkey

By Bruce Clarke,

Book cover of Twice a Stranger: The Mass Expulsions That Forged Modern Greece and Turkey

Why this book?

We are reminded on almost a daily basis of the plight of refugees in fragile boats that this sea can be cruel as well as kind. The present diaspora has its forerunners – in this book the great population exchange of 1923 that saw the displacement of two million people across the Mediterranean: Greeks living in the Ottoman Empire, Turks living in Greece. Bruce Clarke both explains the chain of events in the aftermath of the First World War and records the personal stories of those who were uprooted from the places they called home. They have a familiar resonance, the repeating patterns of memory and loss: ‘I remember the day they went away,’ recorded a Greek woman of her Muslim neighbours. ‘Some kissed the earth, some took bowls of soil with them. They were decent types; their menfolk used to attend our funerals, and we would exchange presents of food on each other’s feast day. They cried as they left us.’

Prospero's Cell: Guide to the Landscape and Manners of the Island of Corfu

By Lawrence Durrell,

Book cover of Prospero's Cell: Guide to the Landscape and Manners of the Island of Corfu

Why this book?

When life gets a little too much I’d recommend a visit to Corfu in the 1930s with Lawrence Durrell. It’s a diary, semi-fictionalised, of a year living on the island, both a history and a personal evocation of one corner of the Mediterranean world – Corfu’s people, landscape, and history, woven through Durrell’s island idyll beside the most enchanting sea. Durrell hunts fish at night by lamplight, discusses philosophy in taverns, records the timeless cycles of island life – olive harvesting, grape gathering, village festivals, puppet shows, folklore, and superstitions –and sits by candlelight watching the moon rise over the sea, the night air ‘cool as a breath from the heart of a melon’. It’s bitter sweet.

War Music: An Account of Homer's Iliad

By Christopher Logue,

Book cover of War Music: An Account of Homer's Iliad

Why this book?

Logue’s modernist reworking of the Iliad – the Trojan war - mother of all Mediterranean contests, is quite unlike anything you’ll ever read. Logue doesn’t translate, he remakes. It’s as cinematic as a film script, cast in a poetic language as brilliant as anything in modern times, full of jump cuts, staccato effects, and startling contemporary references. The violence of the fighting has a slamming immediacy (‘Dust like red mist/Pain like chalk on slate’), the Mediterranean – ‘the sea that is always counting’ - glimmers and sighs, the Gods behave like spoiled children, helicopters go whumping over the dunes.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Mediterranean, Italy, and Turkey?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Mediterranean, Italy, and Turkey.

The Mediterranean Explore 37 books about the Mediterranean
Italy Explore 197 books about Italy
Turkey Explore 46 books about Turkey

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Piracy and Law in the Ottoman Mediterranean, The Sicilian Vespers: A History of the Mediterranean World in the Later Thirteenth Century, and Leading Men if you like this list.