It's a little heavy on "this guy's 2nd cousin (once removed) fought the Earl of Satchmo after defeating the cousin of the 4th Duke of Ellington in 1102 and subsequently was routed in battle by Achmed Hazim at Tartuffe..." But between all the battle descriptions and complex relations and motives the are sections of wonderful interpretation of it all. I recommend it to anyone who wants a thorough background in the Crusades.
Beautiful vocabulary that engages one's attention and helps to truly capture the essence of the time.... this particular copy of the book s beautiful, with a velvet tint on the top surface of the pages, and the side pages are cut to characterize as if it was an antique.... the copy is from 1967, and I got mine in pristine condition.
Zoe Oldenbourg's treatment of the Crusades is, I suspect, the most readable and enjoyable extant in English. Several things make this five star history. Most scholars of this period are men. Ms. Oldenbourg writes brilliantly with feminine insights others have missed. She seems to understand the warrior cast better than other historians and she is not totally unsympathetic. What makes her especially notable is that she understands historical context. Her treatment of the First and Third Crusades is very strong. I do wish she had extended this book into Innocent III's the Fourth Crusade because I would love to have read her take on the sack of Constantinoble. Her treatment of Saladin is especially refreshing. Rather than fawning with politically correctness, she views the Sultan with the historian's critical eye. She reminds the reader how close the great Islamic Warrior came to losing it all several times and that what set Saladin apart perhaps more than anything was "luck." Bushels of luck. This should not be the first book one reads on the Crusades, but it is certainly a must read. For the material covered, it is the "best in its class" in English.
This is as comprehensive a work as you can find on the early Crusades era. It seems to have been edited from earlier editions, in which Oldenbourg excoriated Richard the Lionhearted as petulant, murderous and egotistical. Now he is merely wrongheaded.
For an extraordinary overview of the First, Second and Third Crusades, the Frankish states and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, this is a penetrating book. The Crusaders don't frequently come off as heroes, in fact the greater part of them went to the Holy Land not for the glory of God but for their own enrichment. Neither were they above injudicious massacres wherever they went, not only of Muslims but Christians of eastern sects. The author paints a well-rounded protrait of Saladin, the Muslin ruler who eventually retook Jerusalem (and most of Frankish Syria) only to have his empire dissolve amongst his squabbling relatives immediately after his death.
This volume, first published almost thirty years ago, gives an account of the first three crusades along with the history of Jerusalem up to its conquering by Saladin. The author does not view the Crusades as primarily a war of conquest or as a search for new colonies and trade routes. In addition, she wants to contrast the Crusades with the Islamic expansion of four centuries earlier, the goal of the latter in her opinion being the total conquest of the world. The goal of the Crusades was primarily to retake Jerusalem, and this viewpoint makes the author definitely at odds with many contemporary assessments of the origins and reasons for the Crusades. Readers who thirst for an in-depth knowledge of the Crusades will find a book that is well written and easy to read. Whether or not the book constitutes sound history can only be decided by a lifetime of intense study of the historical documents and sources. The general reader will thus have to remain in a state of suspended judgment on the accuracy of the book. Other books, especially those written in the last decade, should be consulted to gain further insight and alternative points of view.
The author wants to emphasize the human aspects of the Crusades, she asks readers to remove themselves from their modern context and try to understand (however difficult this might be) what life was like in medieval times. She gives a highly interesting account of the conditions of life in those times, referring to it as "simple" because of the state of technology at the time. Whether the technology of today makes life more complex is perhaps a matter for debate, but to claim life was more difficult back then is a credible proposition. The expenditure of human energy needed to obtain the basic life necessities was certainly a lot greater than what is required today. But the author reminds the reader that mental abilities were not necessarily diminished, pointing to the "better memories' that were developed in those times, due to general lack of writing skills. But she definitely wants to emphasize that society at that time was based exclusively on masculine ideals, and that the Catholic Church was "resolutely antifeminist." Her evidence for this is somewhat weak, and this position has been criticized vociferously in more contemporary accounts of the Crusades and the history of the Catholic Church.
There are many places in the book where the discussions are particularly interesting or surprising. Some of these include: 1. That "popular opinion" held that Peter the Hermit was the real instigator of the Crusades, having received a "letter" from Jesus Christ that he was commanded to deliver to Pope Urban II. The author reminds the reader that there is no evidence that Peter ever met the Pope. 2. That after the fall of Antioch, the Crusaders, with the assistance of native Christians murdered all the Turks that they could find in the city and believed that the this massacre was "pleasing to God." The author though does not offer the reader any evidence for this view. How does she know that the Crusaders against Antioch really believed this? 3. The author believes that the number of women and children that were murdered in the "Great Massacre" was exaggerated by chroniclers of the time (especially Islamic historians). But she is quick to point out that putting the real number aside, that most of the population in Jerusalem was completely exterminated, with most of these being unarmed civilians. 4. That the Muslims of Palestine did not anticipate the religious intolerance of the Christians. Interestingly, the author states that the Muslims who conquered the area centuries earlier did not attempt to force the conquered peoples to convert to Islam (Mohammed though murdered nearly all of the Jewish peasants in southern Palestine). 5. The author mentions that Baldwin, in the process of conquering the coastal cities, permitted various massacres in some of these cities in order to "terrorize" the defenders of the others. 6. The origin of "Sunnism" and "Shiism" is discussed, where Sunnism represents the "official orthodoxy" and Shiism is the "breakaway sect." At the time of the Crusades, the Sunnites (as the author refers to them) were represented by the Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad and the Shiites were represented by the Fatimid caliphate of Cairo. The extreme hatred between these two sects survives to this day. 7. That Bohemond blamed the failure of the Crusades on Alexius Comnenus, the Byzantine emperor of Constantinople, and tried to convince the Pope to launch a Crusade against Alexius. 8. The author contends that the concept of a holy war, or "jihad" was alien to Muslim leaders at the time of the Crusades, but that they acquiesced to public opinion and so were not willing to speak out against launching a jihad against the Franks. The thinking of the Muslim chroniclers gradually changed though, and by the time of the battle of Hattin, jihad became part of the consciousness of Muslims, and soldiers became "soldiers of God." Victory in war was the direct cause of God's favor to those who were faithful. 9. That religion at the time was "inseparable from politics" and consequently that any action taken by a statesman had to have a religious motive and must be justified by a religious point of view. The author describes predilection towards religion as a "universally recognized moral necessity." 10. That with the exception of Anna Comnena, the history of the first three Crusades was of minor interest to the historians of Constantinople. The author describes Anna Comnena as being only marginally interested in the events of the first three Crusades. The Fourth Crusade, which is not discussed in the book, was of course of great importance to the Greek Christians.