With subtlety and exceptional sensitivity, Oldenbourg analyzes the complicated tangle of currents and ideas that motivated the Crusades. As Oldenbourg describes them, the Crusades were not simply a religious phenomenon, nor were they motivated by pure aggression. They were the result of a religious climate that led people of all walks of life to leave their homes and follow the unattainable ideal of heaven on earth. Oldenbourg evokes the entire structure of feudal society and reveals the ingenuity of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. The story is peopled with such great personalities as Bohemond, Tancred, Peter the Hermit, Godfrey of Bouillon, Saladin, and Richard the Lionheart.
©1966 Random House; (P)1997 Blackstone Audio Inc.
A true classic of history, this great work by Oldenbourg seems a lasting treasure. She seems to have a familiarity with the mindset of the 11th century crusading Norman, the Byzantine, the Syrian Jacobite, the Armenian, the Turkoman, and the Moslem, from the peasant to Saladin himself. She takes us on a whirlwind tour of Syria in these fascinating decades of back-and-forth struggle, elucidating the motivations of the struggle, whether chivalrous, religious, or barbaric. This book is just as important for understanding the East as a history of the middle ages is for understanding the west.
I must say, this is a lovely and detailed book as well as insightful and descriptive. However detailed description in this case is a double edged sword. I found it enjoyable, but I believe it could be too monotonous, in my opinion, the content of the book could be wrapped up in 14 hours, but because of the descriptive narrative, it was dragged on for 24 hours. This volume is overall, very enjoyable and accurate as far as the social condition of the 11-13 century Europe and Middle East.
It took me a couple of tries to get through Oldenbourg's history of the Crusades. She begins and ends her account with several chapters of social history and analysis; when I first tried to listen, I found myself wanting her to ditch the peasant farmers of France and get ON with it.
The second time around, I was less hurried and was able to listen to these chapters with pleasure. And she does, eventually, get on with it, providing a vigorous, anecdote-rich history of the first three Crusades. The military action develops clearly and vividly, and the background chapters are useful in understanding how Europe and the East came to blows in the way they did. It's a good overview.
Oldenbourg chooses to focus almost entirely on the rise and fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the other crusader kingdoms - "Outremer," or "Over the Sea," as they were known. This focus helps to explain, in two crucial areas, the choices she made, choices that I think weaken the book.
First, why only three Crusades? I would have preferred to see the story continued at least through the fourth Crusade, when the Western Europeans sacked their former ally, Constantinople; but that Crusade has little to do with Jerusalem. It's a reasonable approach, but it leaves out one of the more interesting campaigns (not to mention a generous helping of irony).
Second, while the main action was happening in Palestine, there were auxiliary conflicts in other areas, especially during the Second Crusade. There were campaigns against Muslims in Spain, against pagan tribes in Northern Germany, against fellow Christians - "heretics" - in southern France. Oldenbourg covers almost none of this.
Another aspect of the book that troubled me is a curious anti-feminist slant to some of the narrative. For example, Melisende, one of the queens of Jerusalem, gets especially negative treatment for trying to meddle in politics. The picture of her given by Oldenbourg is 180 degrees from that given by Jonathan Phillips in his excellent one-volume history, Holy Warriors. Phillips devotes a whole chapter to Melisende, titled “A Woman of Unusual Wisdom and Discretion.”
Those reservations aside, it is, as I said, a good overview. And Nadia May is, as always, an energetic reader, someone who is able to bring a lightness of tone to her narration that in some mysterious way, probably known only to her, complements the seriousness of the narrative.
This is a well written book on the first three crusades that is in audio format. It is a good book to learn about the origins of the great clash, between the Islamic east and the Christian west, that is once again raging in the middle east. It is very informative and covers the subject quite well. I thoroughly enjoyed this audio book and recommend it to others as well.
I grew up on Golden Age Radio, and while I love to read, I typically consume more books via audio thanks to a job that lets me listen while I work. As an aspiring writer, I try to read a great deal of non-fiction in addition to a variety of fictional genres. I especially love history, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and old-style gothic horror.
This book covers the first three (and most infamous) Crusades. I would suggest that it's a little more in-depth than a review for beginners, but it's certainly not on the expert level. With a basic understanding of who the players are and perhaps a period map at your side, you'll have little trouble following along. As with most history, it's going to come down to your level of interest. The more interested you are, the more you'll get out of it. The good thing there is that, as any history buff can attest, any good story can be made that much better with the right telling. This one is a quality spin and makes the characters and their personalities stand out so as to keep you hooked.
Nadia May is perfectly chosen as the narrator for this sort of thing. She brings both a conversational quality and an authority to the text, bringing it to life. I've heard her work on other Medieval histories, and just as elsewhere, her pronounciation of international names, places, and phrases lends to that credibility that you just can't get from a narrator that might otherwise butcher the linguistics. Such liguistic dexterity gives the book that extra nudge.
Depending on the subject matter
Most of my friends aren't interested in history the way I am, but assuming I had some who were I would probably do so, but make sure to tell them that most of the book is very dry.
Yeah, I guess.
The book is very long which is good. It's very detailed. The descriptions of the battles are great. It could have been better. Maybe better imagery and a bit shorter. The last chapter went back over everything which isn't a bad idea, but just seemed to drag on. I'm glad I got it. It taught me a lot but for those who aren't really interested in this time, this isn't the book for you at all.
I wanted to learn and understand what in our history makes world so very angry with other religions and why so many people have such hatred for people who have a different religion then you do. This book is a little hard to follow as far as who the narrator is currently talking about, but it does give me great insight in to why the three main religions of the world fight so much over the holy land. I personally do not feel the hatred of the other religions that are different them mind. As I feel we should all LOVE everyone, but this book makes me understand why the angry is so very strong after 2000 years of fight over the holy land. It is hard to understand how so many kings fought wars believing that GOD wanted them to do so. Great book to understand the history of the holy land and the Crusades that have control this land for so very long. I can only pray for PEACE in the world & the holy land as I love all religion and respect them very much.
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