THE LAST CRUSADE: The Epic Voyages of Vasco da Gama is now available in paperback in the US, UK, Brazil and Turkey and hardback in Portugal, Japan and Russia

The first European to sail to Asia and step foot on shore was taken to the house of two Muslim merchants from Tunis.

“The devil take you! What brought you here?” one of the two asked.

The visitor—a convict brought along to do the dangerous work—drew himself up.

“We have come,” he grandly replied, “in search of Christians and spices.”

So begins one of the great human epics: a thrilling, terrifying, and often darkly humorous tale of intrepid spies, lost emperors, messianic kings, first contact between civilizations, and a race to divide up the globe.

This is the story of a young captain who embarked on a 24,000-mile, two-year journey into the unknown to open a sea route from Europe to Asia. As Vasco da Gama and his 170 mismatched men sail through uncharted waters and into hostile harbors, braving fierce storms, deadly calms, pirate ambushes, and pitched battles, they and their little ships are tested to and beyond their limits. Many will not survive, but those who do will bring home news that electrifies Europe – and transforms the world.

Behind this dramatic journey lies a still larger story. Nigel Cliff vividly recounts how the Age of Discovery was the continuation—and the climax—of four centuries of Christian Crusades against Islam. In a sweeping narrative that spans epochs and continents, he explains why it was tiny Portugal that embarked on a decades-long quest to master the oceans—and how it inadvertently founded the first colonial empire and unleashed the first wave of globalization.

The Portuguese voyages also inspired Vasco da Gama’s great rival Christopher Columbus to sail west in search of the same prize—the sea route to the East. The Portuguese explorer’s achievement has long been overshadowed by Columbus’s magnificent mistake. Now that the world is once again turning back east, Cliff finally redresses the balance. Vasco da Gama emerges as a towering, controversial figure whose voyages marked the end of the medieval era—the age of Islam—and the inauguration of 500 years of Western dominance that is only now coming to an end.

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