on 18 October 2013
Eddé's biography, now in a very readable English translation, initially appeared in French in 2008 - the first French work on Saladin in half a century. The hiatus is ironic given that the French, or Franks, dominated the Crusades and could safely be called Saladin's greatest concern, indeed greatest nemesis. As the author notes, in 1920, as French troops entered Damascus, a French general stood before Saladin's tomb in the Umayyad Mosque and declared, "Mr. Sultan, we've returned to the Orient!"
This book is hundreds of pages thicker than Peter Gubser's biography of Saladin, which appeared in 2010. The extra chapters focus on Saladin's image, indeed his "brand," during his lifetime and in subsequent centuries. He was viewed as a man of faith and as a hero, and both portraits were inextricably linked with his military leadership and his role as a statesman.
Saladin sometimes consciously acted in a way that would bolster his image. He did this with Frankish foes as well as with his own people. Where Gubser would sometimes see piety, Eddé sees shrewd public relations. Saladin's image did not produce a wealth of medieval Middle Eastern literature, as did the later Mamluk Sultan Baibars. One reason was that Saladin's Ayyubid dynasty, which could have influenced public perceptions of him, lasted only 86 years, while the Mamluks held sway for two and a half centuries.
(A version of this review appeared in the Sep/Oct 2012 issue of Saudi Aramco World.)