The Bitter Sea

The Struggle For Mastery In The Mediterranean, 1935-49

Simon Ball

A lucid and masterly biography of the Mediterranean during a time of war, from Mussolini’s audacious bid for conquest to the creation of Israel and the start of the Cold War. The Bitter Sea is a fascinating interpretation of world affairs and a significant contribution to twentieth century history.

With incisive strategic and political analysis, Simon Ball demonstrates in this dramatic narrative how the Mediterranean Sea lay at the heart of recent world history.

The British conceived the Mediterranean as the world’s great thoroughfare, from Gibraltar in the west to the Suez Canal in the east. For Mussolini, the Mediterranean was ‘Mare Nostrum’, the stage for his violent vision of conquest. The French commanded an impressive navy and key ports. The Nazis found willing allies in the lands that encircled the sea. The Americans imagined a new kind of empire in the Mediterranean.

The blue waters of the Mediterranean, and its ‘golden pavement’ of surrounding nations, witnessed a brutal conflict of unlikely foes and opportunistic alliances. Spaniard fought Spaniard, German fought Italian, American confronted Arab and Briton killed Frenchman. The Mediterranean struggle was a modern, high intensity war – fought on land, sea and air. Its titanic battles stretched from Malaga to Beirut, from El Alamein to Anzio. It was also a war of propaganda, deception, insurgency and terrorism, where the lines of battle were not clearly defined. As the author demonstrates in sparkling prose, the Mediterranean was indeed the ‘bitter sea’.

Based on the most up-to-date research, including newly-released intelligence dossiers, Simon Ball’s compelling account untangles the plans and actions of the war’s most powerful decision makers, famous and forgotten. The result is exceptionally readable and original.

First published by HarperCollins Publishers in 2009.


‘Sharp and shrewd – Simon Ball does full justice to the story’s leading characters and the drama of his subject.’
Hew Strachan

‘Simon Ball’s elegant account of the power struggle in the Mediterranean during the 1930s and 1940s is a model of historical construction written in the most elegant and compelling manner. With enviable authority and panache he visits all of the region’s main protagonist states and leaders, as great powers struggled to define a unified Mediterranean according to their own imperial needs and visions of the past and of the future….. Simon Ball’s work on the Mediterranean has added something of immediate importance to the literature, and provided an object lesson in historical research and writing.’
English Historical Review

‘For those who fought there, the Mediterranean was full of misery. Fighting was tenacious on both land and sea. Ball’s account of it is shrewdly observant.’
The Journal of Modern History

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