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...

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.

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The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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.

By Fernand Braudel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Vol. 1 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The focus of Fernand Braudel's great work is the Mediterranean world in the second half of the sixteenth century, but Braudel ranges back in history to the world of Odysseus and forward to our time, moving out from the Mediterranean area to the New World and other destinations of Mediterranean traders. Braudel's scope embraces the natural world and material life, economics, demography, politics, and diplomacy.

Book cover of The Venetian Empire: A Sea Voyage

Why did I love 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.

By Jan Morris,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Venetian Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For six centuries the Republic of Venice was a maritime empire, its sovereign power extending throughout much of the eastern Mediterranean - an empire of coasts, islands and isolated fortresses by which, as Wordsworth wrote, the mercantile Venetians 'held the gorgeous east in fee'.

Jan Morris reconstructs the whole of this glittering dominion in the form of a sea-voyage, travelling along the historic Venetian trade routes from Venice itself to Greece, Crete and Cyprus. It is a traveller's book, geographically arranged but wandering at will from the past to the present, evoking not only contemporary landscapes and sensations but also…

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

Why did I love 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.’

By Bruce Clarke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Twice a Stranger as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire following World War I, nearly two million citizens in Turkey and Greece were expelled from homelands. The Lausanne treaty resulted in the deportation of Orthodox Christians from Turkey to Greece and of Muslims from Greece to Turkey. The transfer was hailed as a solution to the problem of minorities who could not coexist. Both governments saw the exchange as a chance to create societies of a single culture. The opinions and feelings of those uprooted from their native soil were never solicited.

In an evocative book, Bruce Clark draws on new archival research…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Lawrence Durrell,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Prospero's Cell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Lose yourself in this glorious memoir of the island jewel of Corfu by the king of travel writing and real-life family member of The Durrells in Corfu.

'In its gem-like miniature quality, among the best books ever written.' New York Times

In his youth, before he became a celebrated writer and poet, Lawrence Durrell spent four transformative years on the island jewel of Corfu, fascinated by the idyllic natural beauty and blood-stained ancient history within its rocky shores.

While his brother Gerald collected animals as a budding naturalist - later fictionalised in My Family and Other Animals and filmed as…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Christopher Logue,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked War Music as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A remarkable hybrid of translation, adaptation, and invention

Picture the east Aegean sea by night,
And on a beach aslant its shimmering
Upwards of 50,000 men
Asleep like spoons beside their lethal Fleet.

“Your life at every instant up for― / Gone. / And, candidly, who gives a toss? / Your heart beats strong. Your spirit grips,” writes Christopher Logue in his original version of Homer’s Iliad, the uncanny “translation of translations” that won ecstatic and unparalleled acclaim as “the best translation of Homer since Pope’s” (The New York Review of Books).

Logue’s account of Homer’s Iliad is a radical…

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Interested in the Mediterranean, human geography, and Italy?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Mediterranean, human geography, and Italy.

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