• The Race for Paradise

  • An Islamic History of the Crusades
  • By: Paul M. Cobb
  • Narrated by: Paul M. Cobb
  • Length: 12 hrs and 30 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (68 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In 1099, when the first Frankish invaders arrived before the walls of Jerusalem, they had carved out a Christian European presence in the Islamic world that endured for centuries, bolstered by subsequent waves of new crusaders and pilgrims. The story of how this group of warriors, driven by faith, greed, and wanderlust, created new Christian-ruled states in parts of the Middle East is one of the best-known in history. Yet it offers not even half of the story, for it is based almost exclusively on Western sources and overlooks entirely the perspective of the crusaded. How did medieval Muslims perceive what happened?

In The Race for Paradise, Paul M. Cobb offers a new history of the confrontations between Muslims and Franks we now call the "Crusades", one that emphasizes the diversity of Muslim experiences of the European holy war. There is more to the story than Jerusalem, the Templars, Saladin, and the Assassins. Cobb considers the Arab perspective on all shores of the Muslim Mediterranean, from Spain to Syria. In the process, he shows that this is not a straightforward story of warriors and kings clashing in the Holy Land, but a more complicated tale of border-crossers and turncoats; of embassies and merchants; of scholars and spies, all of them seeking to manage a new threat from the barbarian fringes of their ordered world. When seen from the perspective of medieval Muslims, the Crusades emerge as something altogether different from the high-flying rhetoric of the European chronicles: as a cultural encounter to ponder, a diplomatic chess-game to be mastered, a commercial opportunity to be seized, and as so often happened, a political challenge to be exploited by ambitious rulers making canny use of the language of jihad.

The Race for Paradise fills a significant historical gap, considering in a new light the events that distinctively shaped Muslim experiences of Europeans until the close of the Middle Ages.

©2014 Paul M. Cobb (P)2014 Audible Inc.
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

What listeners say about The Race for Paradise

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A heady piece of history and a romp.

Always good to go back in time, and Cobb puts us squarely into an era so often read from a one sided, Western/Christian point of reference. Here instead, you get a Western read of the Islamic POV of the Crusades and you find that these centuries of rampage and pillage were part of a long litany of expansionist endeavors by both sides, a constant ebb and flow of hegemony hard won throughout the medieval Levant and lands around the Mediterranean. Hard not to draw references to today's constant turmoil in the Islamic Near East. Much food for thought as Cobb clarifies the nomenclature of Muslim Jihad, especially in reference to the body of preconceptions that surround the historical notions of the Crusades. And Cobb's reading is terrific and sometimes a bit hypnotic. He really takes you into the era, as scholar and as poet. I look forward to what he writes, and reads, next.

2 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Great overview and framing of situation, but strong emphasis on military and political history

I listened to this jam-packed history of the Crusades that starts from the Muslim sources and perspectives, translated more fully and carefully than previous histories written by English speaking scholars-- Paul M. Cobb, a Byzantine and Arabic professor at University of Pennsylvania, synthesizes a vast array of sources, whole libraries of ancient histories that have rarely been used by "western " scholars because they can't read Arabic. The audio version is actually read by the author himself, so no weird mispronunciations or gaffes, and correct Arabic pronunciations are maintained throughout. Thank you!!

I loved the introductory and concluding chapters of this book. I am not really a lover of tactical military or even political history per se, so I did find myself a bit phasing out during long chapters describing blow-by-blows of how one series of battles between the Franks (the Arabic word for the Christian invaders was of course "Ferengi"!) and the Muslims in one area played out. The range from Sicily to Spain to Italy and even northern and Slavic Europe to the Middle East and beyond was breathtaking and fascinating.

The framing of the book was important: Cobb wants not just to complete the record of medieval history, and "tell the other side" of that history, but to encourage broadening our historical view generally to include more of the actual big world debates during this time, and especially to demote the Crusades from their current status in the West (in particular) as some sort of "Culture Clash Origin" event - and to this end he points out how specific each of the arguments, meetings, battles really were, and how wrapped up in things other than religion of culture on both sides. This is of course really useful, since it ramps down modern rhetorical stances and gives us a chance to stop abusing history. I personally would have liked more of a focus on social history, trade, diplomacy writ small, and the network of connections of interdependence between the "Franks" and the "Muslims." So I will be following up hints of this in other books.

For someone who enjoys battle histories, and wants a bigger picture of the Crusades that is trying to avoid political slant while taking into account the modern world and its connection (or not) to medieval clashes and the empires and caliphates embroiled in them, this is a really good account. The relevance to current mideastern conversation and rhetoric around the significance of leaders like Saladin, Roger, and many other prominent figures on both sides who should be better known, is addressed frequently, and Cobb is interested in showing how modern clashes are extremely different from the clashes at the time, and how incorrect modern western interpretations of concepts like "jihad" and "caliph" and so forth really are. Overall a good read, but I want more social, literary, and science history personally. I feel like the actual sources have only been brushed upon--especially when I got to the Epilogue and Cobb started talking about an exemplary person in 1492 or do who was Muslim but had lived under Frankish rule and was well educated on both sides... why can't more of this be included and less battle strategy? Lol . Anyway, good read. Looking for more.

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chronology not a history

this is a chronology of events, no history, no observation of the motivation and effects!

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Great Book

Excellent, awesome, superb, perfect, great, dobra, fina, plaha, beton, predobra, odlicna..... svi komentari su suvisni. Enjoy/Uzivajte.

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Entertaining

What made the experience of listening to The Race for Paradise the most enjoyable?

The reading of the book was done exquisitely. Proper tone and voice inflection made this an interesting book to listen to.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Sulamid was my favorite character as he was a great and fair ruler as depicted by the book.

Have you listened to any of Paul M. Cobb’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

Yes I have. This performance compares superb.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

I was moved to hear the vanquishing of the Muslim religion in Sicily.

Any additional comments?

Very informative.

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An interesting prespective

If you could sum up The Race for Paradise in three words, what would they be?

Objective and thoroughly researched.

If you’ve listened to books by Paul M. Cobb before, how does this one compare?

Unfortunately, I have no basis for comparison.

What three words best describe Paul M. Cobb’s voice?

I don't like this question. He was a competent narrator and was certainly more than capable of holding the listeners attention...but he's no Morgan Freeman. That's not a slight, it's just the truth. Unfortunately Morgan Freeman can't just read every audio book for us. This guy did the best job he could given that he isn't Morgan Freeman.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No

Any additional comments?

The author seeks to recount the story of the Crusades from the prospective of the Muslim world. He does a good job of distinguishing the differences between the two perspectives for the less knowledgeable reader. It was well written, well researched and easy to understand. The author was very objective and did not seek to demonize either side which makes the material understandably dry. The book simply recounts the actions of both sides based on the source documents which makes it a great listen for students or for those seeking personal knowledge on the topic but not ideal for those looking for an interesting weekend read.

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Interesting well-supported thesis and viewpoint

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

Yes. I learned a lot about the crusades from a perspective that's not usually discussed in this much details

Would you recommend The Race for Paradise to your friends? Why or why not?

Yes. Again, I think it offers a great new perspective.

Which scene was your favorite?

The one where everyone kills each other.

Did The Race for Paradise inspire you to do anything?

No