Albania does not, typically, sit at the center of most accounts of the conflict between the nations of Christendom and the empire of the Ottoman Turks. Yet a simple look at a map will show its importance. Modern Albania and parts of present-day Montenegro, Bosnia, and Croatia were by turns under the control of the Ottoman Empire and the European powers, especially Venice, and they sit a short distance across the Adriatic from Italy. That control was at times tenuous; composed of semi-autonomous hill clans, quasi-free towns, and a welter of religious and ethnic loyalties, this part of the Balkans was, in the sixteenth century, crisscrossed with intrigue and complicated alliances.

Exactly how complicated is revealed in Noel Malcolm’s masterful account of three interrelated families in Albania and their roles in the political, military, and diplomatic convulsions of a crucial...


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