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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Crusade
This book is a detailed account of the beginning of the Crusading movement, giving you a well researched and interesting description of the events and characters of the First Crusade, like the infamous Tancred and the quixotic Walter Sans-Avoir.
The first section of the book gives you an overview of the wars between Islam and the Byzantine Empire. It also deals with...
Published on 23 Feb 2004

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars SUPERB NARRATIVE
This is fantastic narrative history; but a word of warning is in order.

When Sir Steven Runciman wrote his three-volume history of the Crusades in the 1950s, his focus and his point of view was narrow, for all his learning and urbanity. The narrowness was both temporal and geographical. He thought the Crusades began in 1095 with the great First Crusade...
Published on 9 Jun 2011 by Stephen Cooper


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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Crusade, 23 Feb 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: A History of the Crusades: Volume 1 - The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Penguin History): The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem v. 1 (Paperback)
This book is a detailed account of the beginning of the Crusading movement, giving you a well researched and interesting description of the events and characters of the First Crusade, like the infamous Tancred and the quixotic Walter Sans-Avoir.
The first section of the book gives you an overview of the wars between Islam and the Byzantine Empire. It also deals with the origin of pilgrimages, which can be difficult to follow considering the constant flow of events, names and dates. Yet when it comes to describe the First Crusade, Runciman's book becomes an adventure. This (and its two follow-ups) are must reads for anyone interested in the Crusades.
Runciman actually intended this series as a three volume set for other historians and academics, but his prose is so brilliant and lucid it can be easily read by the layman, give or take a few words.

All in all this is definately worth getting, and very rewarding if you stick too it. Highly recommended.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Rewarding Read, 21 Oct 2003
By 
Brian Moore "BHM" (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A History of the Crusades: Volume 1 - The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Penguin History): The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem v. 1 (Paperback)
Like the other reviewers, I didn't find this entirely painless as, particularly at the beginning, the names and places come thick and fast and can be a little overwhelming. But it was definitely worth persevering with. Runciman's style may be academic but it's a far cry from the 1950's history books most of us were subjected to at school - local colour and asides keep you interested, quite apart from the epic scale of the story he tells. Although I'll probably wait a few months before starting the second volume, I definitely intend to read on.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Challenging, but ultimately worth the effort., 27 July 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: A History of the Crusades: Volume 1 - The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Penguin History): The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem v. 1 (Paperback)
As an earlier reviewer has noted, this is a book essentially intended for genuine historians, and is thus a little dry for interested laymen like myself. However, if you're willing to make the effort, what you get is definitely worthwhile. The first part of the book is an attempt to summarise the road to the crusades from the early history of Europe and the Middle East and the founding of Islam. Whilst this is interesting, it is also, of necessity, somewhat rushed, which is the book's major weakness. Thereafter, we are treated to a meticulously sourced and detailed history that occasionally gets a little arch, but isn't afraid to make a few speculations about the character and state of mind of the various protagonists. A difficult and academic read, then, but if you're interested in the Crusades, this classic should be a first port of call.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unsurpassable, 12 May 2009
By 
E. L. Wisty "World Domination League" (Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A History of the Crusades: Volume 1 - The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Penguin History): The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem v. 1 (Paperback)
Unsurpassable as a history of the crusades. Sir Steven Runciman, possibly one of the greatest historians we have ever seen, learnt to read a huge number of languages - not just Greek plus Latin and its later derivatives, but also Arabic, Syriac, Hebrew, Turkish, Persian, Bulgarian, Russian, Armenian, Georgian and probably others too - we may never see his like again. This wide ranging linguistic skill enabled him to go straight to the original sources in his research. For this reason, it's unfair and totally unwarranted, as at least one reviewer here has done, to accuse Runciman of displaying a biased viewpoint from the Christian side only.

In the modern age, political correctness demands that the Christian side must always be seen as murderous bloodthirsty savages to a man whilst the Muslims must be seen as invariably cultured and peaceful and unable to do wrong. In a pre-PC age Runciman is quite objective in his treatment of all sides - no-one was incapable of great atrocities, it was the nature of the age, even if the Franks were worse. His sympathies however, as a Byzantinist and admirer of Byzantine culture, do lean towards the Byzantines; he sees the era as being in effect the last act in the long history of barbarian invasions of the Roman empire - the uncouth destructive barbarian Frankish hordes overrunning the cultured Byzantium and the Middle East, the nadir being the Crusaders' capture of Constantinople in 1204.

Certainly it's hard going, but such a thoroughly researched work covers the full complexities of the history of a period often envisaged simplistically in the popular imagination as one of Christian versus Muslim, but which is more correctly one of a constantly shifting power game of rivalries and alliances - by turns Frank against Frank, Frank against Norman, Norman against Byzantine, Frank against Byzantine, Byzantine against Turk, Turk against Arab, Arab against Arab, Sunni against Shia, Catholic against Orthodox and so on.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars magisterial, 18 Dec 2007
By 
Meph (Cambridge, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A History of the Crusades: Volume 1 - The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Penguin History): The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem v. 1 (Paperback)
First off, it is important to note that Runciman's work (now over 50 years old) has by and large been superseded by more recent scholarship - in particular that of Jonathan Riley-Smith. Runciman views the Crusades as the last of the 'Barbarian Invasions' and his work often reads more like a threnody for the declining Byzantine Empire than a self-consciously 'objective' account of events. For a more up-to-date (though drier) general history, you would be better off reading Christopher Tyerman's new 'God's War.'

However, it is still more than possible to read and enjoy 'A History of the Crusades' for what it is - an epic account of three hundred years of history, and an energetic demolition of the view (sadly still prevalent in some circles) that the Crusades were bold and heroic, or somehow 'defensive' in nature. Although some of the analytical material is somewhat dated, the book is eminently readable and exciting, and is in my opinion still the best general introduction to the subject. Enormously influential in its day and still of relevance.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Read (All Three Volumes), 3 Jan 2007
By 
demdike (Lancaster, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A History of the Crusades: Volume 1 - The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Penguin History): The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem v. 1 (Paperback)
I have read all three volumes of Runciman's History of the Crusades. I highly recommend these to anyone interested in the subject. He cites his sources clearly leaving plenty of room to dig deeper into the subject matter. The writing is factual (as others have commented) but this leaves the reader the opportunity to make up his/her mind on the issues and personalities involved and not be influenced by the opinion of the author.

It takes a while to get through the three books but I could not put them down until I had read till the last page of the third volume (The Kingdom of Acre). I would also recommend to pay for a hard copy as the books can serve as a great reference to other works relating to the Crusades. Most notably I would recommend reading the writings of William of Tyre (which Runciman makes extensive use of) as well as the Alexiad of the princess Anna Comnena. If you are willing do get hold of a copy of the Gesta Francorum as well as it is worth reading just for the sake of viewing the events through a pilgrim's eyes. I got a great bargain on a second hand copy. A reprint order is around [...] so unless you are seriously into the subject best borrow that one off a library.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard work - but worth it, 4 April 2001
By 
This review is from: A History of the Crusades: Volume 1 - The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Penguin History): The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem v. 1 (Paperback)
This is not an easy book to read - the style is academic and somewhat old fashioned and the names take a while to sink in. Once you get into it however, the detail is remarkable and the story Runciman tells is fascinating.
This was a real revelation which has left me wanting to read more about the Crusades.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding and still peerless, 28 Dec 2009
By 
M. Berenblut (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A History of the Crusades: Volume 1 - The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Penguin History): The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem v. 1 (Paperback)
This is an exquisitely written book (or set of books). I strongly disagree with the reviewers who have said that the books are difficult to read for a layman. The prose is alive and thoroughly readable, full of incident and alive to what a reader will find interesting.

His account of the royal wedding at Krak in Moab is truly memorable, and the description of the wipeout at Hattin, and the conquests of Jerusalem by Crusaders and by Saladin read like the material from novels.

He seems to me to have had biases - the foolishness of much of the Crusader leadership, the nobility of the Byzantines (especially in the earlier periods), disgust at Reynald, the chivalry of Saladin, but it's hard not feel these emotions - they are mostly well deserved and natural from all but the most robotic of historians.

One suggestion from me, especially for the less learned reader, is to have Wikipedia or Google open to check on some of the terms, especially for geographical areas with which you may be unfamiliar. I personally found the maps helpfully bound with the volumes to be only partially useful, especially when revving up from absolute ignoramus status ("where is Anatolia?" I remember thinking about 20 times) and the online resources exist today to make your read far easier, especially as you navigate the early chapters.

I definitely recommend this set of books for all readers, scholars and laymen. You'll find yourself in an unusual and wonderful world of fact that reads like fiction.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read, 8 Aug 2006
By 
A. P. Story (London, UK United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A History of the Crusades: Volume 1 - The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Penguin History): The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem v. 1 (Paperback)
Steve Runciman's first volume is a good read. It stays very factual. Rarely does his own opinion obscure the facts. It is a surpringly quick read once the reader becomes used the plethora of names and foreign places. The lack of maps migth cause problems for those, who, like me, do not have thorough knowledge of the area. However, this does not distract from the overall quality of the history.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars SUPERB NARRATIVE, 9 Jun 2011
By 
Stephen Cooper (South Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A History of the Crusades: Volume 1 - The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Penguin History): The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem v. 1 (Paperback)
This is fantastic narrative history; but a word of warning is in order.

When Sir Steven Runciman wrote his three-volume history of the Crusades in the 1950s, his focus and his point of view was narrow, for all his learning and urbanity. The narrowness was both temporal and geographical. He thought the Crusades began in 1095 with the great First Crusade launched by Pope Urban II and ended in 1291, with the fall of Acre. To count as a `proper' one, a crusade had to be directed at the Holy Land. There were many holy wars which were not proper Crusades, including the Fourth (against Constantinople), the Albigensian (against the Cathars) and the absurd Bishop of Norwich's Crusade, launched by the English against the `schismatic' French.

Norman Housley, Jonathan Riley-Smith and others have widened the debate considerably over the last 50 years. The First Crusade is still of central importance; but it is now respectable to think that the Crusades as a whole did not end until the Reformation of the sixteenth century, although the idea and the project took considerable knocks in 1204, in 1396 and above all during the Papal Schism of 1378-1417. Moreover, there is a strong case for arguing that the Holy Land was not regarded at the time as the sole legitimate destination: there were Crusades against Egypt, against the Prussians and the Lithuanians, and in Spain; and the perceived danger to Christendom changed, as the Saracens gave way to the Turks and Islam swung round on its axis, from Spain to the Balkans.

Nowadays, we need to pay as much attention to much attention to Pius II as to Urban II and Innocent III (though he must have a good claim to have been the most important of the three); and we should not lightly condemn the whole idea as `medieval'. Pius II was a notable humanist, yet he threw himself into the Crusade with all the verve of St Bernard of Clairvaux.

Yet Runciman's account remains the most exciting; and possibly the most accessible for the general reader.

Stephen Cooper
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