on November 22, 2011
Having read just about every book on the Crusades,Thomas Asbridge's 2 works on the First Crusade and The Crusades are the best of the lot. His scholarship is current and he throws out many of the oft-repeated assumptions, presenting new, credible interpretations of the original sources. An example of this is the timeline during the taking of Antioch in the First Crusade. Virtually every other author has the Crusaders find the Holy Lance, be immediately rejuvenated and rushing out to attack Kerbogha. Asbridge presents a far more nuanced timeline and shows how the suicidal confrontation was the only option left to the besieged Christians after all other options had failed.
My only quibble is with the conclusions Asbridge draws on Richard Cour de Lion's leadership. Despite telling us that Richard brought "the might Saladin to his knees"; that he bought Outremer another 100 years; that he rightfully realized that besieging and attacking Jerusalem was a recipe for failure; that his failure to convince the French of this fact was impossible because of the intransigence of the French leaders; that the nature of Holy War & the beliefs of the rank and file that Jerusalem was the only acceptable goal made the Crusaders "impossible to control" (p. 662) - he still claims that Richard's leadership was "shockingly ineffective." I can't agree with that conclusion and think Sharon Penman in "Lionheart" drew a better picture of the rock and hard place Richard Cour de Lion found himself between.
Other than that, a highly recommended book.
on December 19, 2011
I very much enjoyed this book. I found it well written, and learned a great deal, although I cannot comment on its merit as a scholarly work of history.
A quote from the introduction which might be of help to prospective readers:
"This book explores the history of the crusades from both the Christian and Muslim perspectives- focusing...upon the contest for ...the Holy Land- and examines how medieval contemporaries experienced and remembered the crusades."
For me, it succeeds very well in its stated purpose.
The Crusades lasted for nearly 200 years (by most measurings) and therefore a one-volume work on their history is a difficult matter, requiring ignoring some details in order to more effectively explore others. This book provides a good balance, focusing on the Crusades that actually involved the Holy Lands rather than the sideshows with the Cathars etc. Also this book gives a full Muslim perspective on the crusades, which helps greatly to understand why events unfolded as they did. At all points the narrative is clear - I had no trouble following events and understanding the explanation of why they happened. For a narrative involving so much conflict, there is no excuse to be boring, and this book is not boring. Much better than Tyerman's "God's War" which is analytical and needlessly dense.
Really the only way to really top this would be a multi-volume account - this is really the best you can do in a single volume.
on August 16, 2010
This book is very well written and easy to read. Anyone looking to better understand what triggered the crusades, who the key players were, and how both sides fought for that part of the world, must read this book. It is full of interesting details. It is the best thing next to being there in person, but who would want to, after having read what the crusaders went through in order to reach Jerusalem. I highly recommend this book.