In 1497, the last bastions of Christendom were crumbling. The Ottomans had sacked the Vatican, Iberia was under Arabian control and the tidemark of Islam threatened Paris. Against this hostile backdrop, four ships left the shores of Portugal under the charge of a young Christian captain, Vasco de Gama. His mission was as quixotic as it was audacious: cut off Islamic wealth by seizing the spice routes, and re-conquer the Holy Land. Outmanned and outgunned, with the crosses of the crusades emblazoned on their sails, De Gama and his crew journeyed straight into the heart of the enemy.Navigating Africa and crossing the Indian Ocean, De Gama chartered his men through storms, mutiny and the vicissitudes of Islam, ultimately succeeding in carving out the first accessible route to the riches of the East. But when he retraced his steps six years later, as the admiral of a fleet of war ships, his youthful diplomacy had ripened into violence and righteousness and his second encounter with Islam was stained with the blood of massacre and oppression. Today, as the Arab world reclaims oil fields and the West flocks to the strength of India's tiger economy, the tide of religious imperialism continues to ebb and flow. In The Last Crusade, Nigel Cliff pinpoints De Gama's voyages into Islam as one of the most relevant clashes of theocratic tribalism; the aftershocks of which are as resonant today, as when Vasco de Gama set sail 500 years ago.

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