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3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 18 August 2010
With "God's War" Christopher Tyerman delivered a detailed, general history of 500 years of Christian, religious warfare, referred to as the crusades. The result is best compared to such different milestones as Sir Steven Runciman's epic "A History of the Crusades" or Riley-Smith's far more concise "Crusades: A History". In my opinion, Tyerman's work falls in between these two books. Far more scholarly than Runciman, it might be lacking the thrill of great battles and flawed, but fascinating characters that bind the reader of the more traditional work. Instead, it provides a deeper insight into the events, the politics and economics of Outremer and Latin Europe. It's greatest accomplishment, from the view of an amateur historian, however, is the detailed discussion of cause and effect, and the multitude of different interpretations offered. Where Runciman is correctly criticized for his strong pro-Byzantine, pro-Muslim bias so common in many of the post-imperialist historians, Tyerman avoids the pitfall of becoming an apologist for the Latins. Instead, he presents all views and leaves it to the reader to make up his own mind. However, in all fairness, he does neglect to provide the same level of detail about the Muslim side (which Runciman did), focusing more on the different Christian factions involved.
Compared to Riley-Smith's far more concise work, he offers little new in terms of broad fact, but a lot in terms of interpretation and detail. Overall, this makes Tyerman's work appear a bit long-winded and lumbering, often making you wonder why the book had to be three times as long. But as in the comparison to Runciman, it is choices of interpretation offered that add in value and make Tyerman's book the most balanced of the three.
In conclusion, this book is not for the impatient or those looking for a first insight into the phenomenon of the crusades, unless their interest is of a very scholarly nature. I refer the casual student of history to Riley-Smith's work instead. But if it is detail and balance you are looking for, something I found hard to find in so controversial a topic of history, Tyerman's "God's War" is a good choice.

PS: In reference to other reviews I would like to point out that Tyerman's writing is NOT hard to follow. Yes, he loves the word fissiparous and uses it often, but that is about the only thing you will have to look up in a dictionary. I am not even a native english-speaker and I had no problem understanding his writing.
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on 7 March 2013
This book represents an immense achievement in scholarship and research. It charts the history of the crusades with particular emphasis on the political and religious context within which the concept of crusading entered the consciousness of Western Europe and became a constant pre-occupation for several centuries. For the general reader (rather than the specialist), it can be heavy going. The writing is dense at times and Tylerman's scant use of commas within long sentences does not help. Obscure words (e.g. "afforced", "encomiasts", "ripuarian", "thalassocracy") are thrown in now and then to keep you concentrated. Despite these reservations, the breadth of information you will acquire makes it worth persevering to the end.
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on 20 June 2007
Read the other reviews and you will see people either find this essential or annoyingly flawed. They are both right. No book has attempted to encompass not only the Eastern Crusades but also the crusading efforts in Northern Europe, Spain and looking at the later crusades too. Never has so much info covering so many cultures been crammed into 1 volume.

But, and it is a big but, there is an old literary saying "if you have a complex tale to tell then tell it simply" and this is where the book falls down. The language is dry and uses words such as fissiparous which means not only do you have to keep a plethora of characters, dates and events in your mind but you have to keep reaching for the dictionary too. It is also curiously unemotional when it comes to key/epic moments of the Crusades. I think Tyreman has confused being unbiased (which is appropriate given the topic)with being bland.

Also while the research is exhaustive and exhausting I do think the balance is a little odd, do we really need an exact itinerary of the preaching of the Second Crusade, Third Crusade and so on on to skim over things like what were the weapons and tactics of East versus West (this is hardly ever mentioned and never in any depth). Don't get me wrong the preaching is vital to the story but what made the crusades the crusades was the fighting and this does not get the same scrutiny as the liturgies going on in the Rhineland.

Saying that even an expert on the Crusades will find something new here, it's a very big mountain to climb (it took me months to get through and nobody can absorb it all after reading it just once) but the views from the top are spectacular.

If you liked this there's more historical debate and fun at @HistoryGems on Facebook and Twitter
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on 2 November 2006
Suddenly Runciman's 50 year old grand narrative of the crusades is surpassed. Tyerman does not write quite as sweetly, but he has a strong narrative drive, and an eye for character, and he is alive to the complexity of the cataclysmic encounter between East and West. There are no simplistic goodies and baddies, and the crusaders in particular are shown acting with rapacity and cruelty as well as courage and piety. The results good and bad live with us to this day. Tyerman helps to show up the misinterpetations which feed much discord between the once-Christian West and Islam.
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on 6 July 2010
An incredible look into the entire crusading era all the way from clermont in 1095 to Acre in 1291.

I have recently taken an interest in the crusades and this book has proven and excellent starting point. it not only go's through the history of the crusades in the holy land, Baltic and Spain but also the evolution of crusades through the years after the loss of the holy land and how it still remained an obsession throughout Europe for many years. be warned this book is not for the faint hearted and can be hard getting through the details at go's through the whole history of each crusade, the Latin states and the impact of crusades on peoples lives. if you are truly interested in learning about the crusades then you cant go wrong with this book.
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on 4 February 2009
This is not a light or easy read, but given the complexity and scale of the events covered that is not to be expected.
What we do have here, provided by an authority on the subject, is a work of enormous scope and detail which no student of the Crusades can afford to ignore. Time has moved on from Runciman's great work and in this volume is a modern assessment of these most momentous of medieval events. Tactical details of even the more famous battles (Hattin, Arsuf etc.) are minimal but are more than adequately provided elsewhere and would add little to the value of this work.
For me, the real strength of God's War is in the background provided to the build up and conduct of each crusade which enables the reader to follow their evolution over the centuries, during a time when the crusading ideal was at the forefront of medieval thinking, and I can think of nowhere else that such an understanding of each is offered within the confines of a single volume.
It is an objective work, as is to be expected from such a notable academic, and Tyerman allows us to draw own conclusions rather than use his own immense understanding of the subject to force home his personal judgements.
God's War may take some time to read but for any wishing to learn about the Crusade's it is time that is well worth investing - and time which could not be better spent reading anything else.
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on 2 November 2010
I must confess at the start that I haven't read Runciman, but what I really liked about this book was its inclusive approach to history: Tyerman's's scope encompasses religious, political, social, economic and military dimensions and it's a pretty fine achievement to neither be too general nor to get lost in the specifics and this is (I thought) really well done.

Although I am a keen reader of history, the crusades is new territory for me and I thought the narrative and perspectives were very good. I also felt that Tyerman's narrative was pretty free from bias or entrenched views without being bland, not always easy to achieve.

What I DIDN'T like, however, was the effect caused by the author's writing style in combination with the layout of the paperback version. Paragraphs are so long there are very often less than two to a page. In combination with Tyerman's lengthy sentences and not always consistent construction (sentences of seven or eight lines are common, some with lots of comma separation, some with little), I found I had to re-read many sections to get the gist of everything contained in the sentence. The overall effect is of massive blocks of text with little or no relief and made for very heavy and slow going.

I thought the second half of the book was slightly better in this regard, but that may just have been the result of perseverance and familiarity by then! I also agree with other reviewers that some words seem to be used to show off a bit: I also had to reach for the dictionary more than a few times.

I suspect that if one wants a less intense general read on the crusades or, alternatively, more focus on the military or political aspects, etc., there may be several decent alternatives on this topic. Having said that, it's definitely one of the better history books I've read this year and I'd give it 5 stars for scope, insight and narrative, but would deduct 2 stars for layout and writing style, hence my final rating of 4 stars.
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on 7 August 2015
A very detailed and thorough overview of the history of the crusades - and can be used as an encyclopedia on the subject. Very good in explaining the development in Western Europe, that preceded and led up to the crusades, but rather unclear when it comes to giving the reader an understanding of the wider background and the way in which 400 years of muslim expansion and the saracen invasion of the 11th century form a part of that background
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on 4 September 2006
When Christian fervour met Islamic resistance, the centuries of crusading and warfare that followed were to shape the modern world like nothing before or since, and an indelible mark was left on the consciences of both religions. Told with passion and academic flair, Tyerman's definitive and engrossing chronicle of the Crusades reads like a centuries-old epic of war, arrogance and the clash of cultures. Its place should be assured on the bookshelves of all politicians.
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on 17 July 2010
The crusades relied on the "skilful manipulation of aural, intellectual, emotional and visual perceptions". Tyerman's book is an epic story, detailed and extensive to be sure but also moving and challenging and a heck of a (long) read. So, ok, it's not a pretty story, it's not a novel and it isn't supposed to make you chuckle. It's history and gruesome history like that of the hungarian rebel Dozsa who when captured was sat on a burning throne with a red hot iron crown placed on his head and his former followers forced to eat his flesh. I said it wasn't pretty. And this was the sort of thing practiced by good christians with the blessing of the church.

While I agree there might be too much here for the casual reader there is enough for the serious reader. What you get from God's War is a firm grasp of the extent of society's rank and filers involvement in the crazy endeavour of trying to win the "holy land" in a far off place most crusaders will never settle in. How is the place going to be defended long term? So yes, there are a lot of characters but you don't have to remember the whole sorry cast of crackpot popes, bastard kings, dishonourable knights, rapacious soldiers, ambitious arms dealers, religious phonies and deluded believers. Tyerman's description of the bullying, bribery, "hypocrisy, mendacity and cruelty" does an immense service to humanity in the pursuit of humaneness, justice and truth.
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