I've read a lot of books on the various Crusades, and their aspects, including Steven Runciman's magisterial volumes, and works by Jonathan Riley-Smith, Hans Eberhard Mayer, Jonathan Phillips and many others. I'd have to say that I think that all writing on aspects of the Crusades is inclined to be fairly subjective, based on the views and theories that the writer wishes to highlight in their writing. So, any one book on the Crusades, or on any one Crusade, is not likely to be `definitive' for every reader. Rather, it is the reader's right to read as many books on a Crusade as they can find, based on all aspects (Islam, Christian, societal, economic, political, religious) and weigh up the evidence for themselves, much as the authors of those books have done.
This book has clearly polarised opinion, as books on the Crusades often do. I approached it from the perspective that it would offer a lively narrative on the First Crusade, with some interpretation of the events. Not all of these would I agree with, nor should I expect to. Thomas Asbridge is Senior Lecturer in Early Medieval History at Queen Mary, University of London, and has specialised in the Crusades and their associated territories, including a book on the creation of the Principality of Antioch. This gives him an authoritative ability to offer his own views on the source material and interpretations of the First Crusade, and this book offers that synthesis.
I'm extremely impressed with the way that the author has `cut to the chase' on some very complex matters, some of which would fill books all on their own, such as what constitutes a just war, what Pope Urban's intentions were, what Alexius Comnenus was intending to achieve, what motivated crusaders (military and non-military) and many more issues. In doing so, the author has put forward very reasonable explanations and written in a very concise and succinct way to present a very clear and extremely readable narrative history of the First Crusade; what it was, what it meant, how it unfolded, what its impact was. The book brings to life the men (and women) who lived the First Crusade, and the story builds to a crescendo as the Crusade reaches Jerusalem. The pace of the book, and the humanity portrayed, keeps the reader fully engaged and interested in the story, which never feels like a history lesson.
This is a book which would serve a newcomer to the Crusades well, as well as offering a `hardened' Crusade reader such as myself a new perspective and a totally enthralling read on the First Crusade - concise, clear, very well researched and thought out, empathetic - this is great stuff. There is a good mix of source material, good and clear maps, and a very worthwhile bibliography included as well. Totally recommended for anyone interested in learning more about the First Crusade and those who took part in it.