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An in depth study of the phenomenom of the crusades
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.