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Agents of Empire

Noel Malcolm
Noel Malcolm is a Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, and a Fellow of The British Academy. He has previously written histories of Bosnia (1994) and Kosovo (1998 )

This was first published in paperback by Penguin in 2016. This book was first conceived as being much smaller in scope and more centred on Albania in the sixteenth century, or specifically the earliest point at which an Albanian is identified writing about Albania, however as he searched first for the manuscript and then information about the original author of the manuscript, the project grew.

While the original manuscript in question was a short politico-geographical study of an area within the Ottoman Empire, what piqued the author's interest was the undoubted inside and authoritative knowledge displayed in the small excerpt he had seen. It took him twenty years to track down a copy of the original manuscript, once he had transcribed it he realised he couldn't publish it without at least a brief background on the original author, and from the name of Antonio Bruni the interlinked tales of the Bruni and Bruti families was retrieved from the footnotes of history. The positions occupied by family members at the various times throughout the book stretched across the whole spectrum of Ottoman and Western relations from membership of the Order of the Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, through command of a Papal Vessel at Lepanto, various diplomatic posts and working for the Ottoman-appointed Voivode of an Ottoman Province.

It's a fascinating book which covers a pivotal time frame in Mediterranean history, it fully explores the shifting loyalties and relationships of the era. By exploring the intertwined lives of two related families and how their lives and careers wove in and out of the pivotal events of this period we get a glimpse into the wars, religious affairs, commerce and diplomatic relations of the time from various viewpoints and get a whole new perspective on the competing powerful nations and their strategies and aims throughout this period. It highlights the competing priorities of the various shifting alliances and how loyalty one nation did not necessarily mean not working on behalf of another.

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It's an excellent read and fully worth a well deserved 5 out of 5 Mushroom Heads.
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