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This is a popular introduction to the Crusades that strikes a perfect balance between academic rigor and the expectations of a lay audience. It offers solid narrative and some analysis, while avoiding excessive proofs and obscure controversies. Best of all, it is simply fun to read and never unacceptably heavy.

The Crusades began as a kind of idealistic call to arms. When you look at it, the entire enterprise looks insanely impossible: a bunch of aristocrats, knights and their support infantries decide to travel to nearly the end of the world, to dislodge the far more numerous Muslims from Christian holy sites (Jerusalem, etc.) Against all odds, the first Crusade essentially lives up to its ideals, conquering a huge swath of territories and establishing independent kingdoms and Duchies in the mid east (largely in the territories of modern Syria and Israel). It is simply amazing that, virtually without supply support and lacking coherent leadership, they charged into battle with little plans and won. Many said it was God's will.

In a way it was colonial, but the author is at pains to prove that it was their ideals that drove them. He demonstrates the changes in theology required, including "just war" by Christians, but also promises of salvation from sin to varying degrees and under more or less clarified obligations. The twists of logic and the hypocrisy of land-hungry princes, I was convinced, were outweighed by their religious purpose. After all, what they wanted to do was far too ambitious, though to be fair they lacked clear and practical knowledge about the areas they were attacking; besides, God and the talisman of the "true cross" supported them. Their faith offered them an inarguable rationale to plunge head first into hopeless battle for glory and to fulfill their vows. For a short time, they were triumphant. The second Crusade was a catastrophic bust: exhausted from the logistics of arriving in the mid east, it imploded upon arrival in spite of the presence of Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Of course, the muslim side had begun a decline that has proceeded more or less until the present day. They were not unified when the first crusade arrived and so were easy to divide and pick off kingdoms one by one. After being beaten, they did begin a long process of unification, eating away at Christian gains, but the process took more than a century. A series of great leaders did emerge, most notably Saladin, who strove to appear just and equitable, but had an instinct for amassing political power through military conquest. Nonetheless, the original dynamism of Islam was never regained. His duel with Richard Coeur de Lion is the centerpiece of the book: their portraits are wonderfully informative and psychologically deep. Both come off well, though Richard ultimately fails - Richard exerted extraordinary leadership, but it slipped from his grasp as over-zealous knights squandered the gains he had so painstakingly put together over a decade away from home and constantly worried about the machinations of his rivals back in Europe.

The fourth Crusade never gets beyond the shameful sack of Constantinople and the remaining ones blur together as desperate attempts to reclaim lost territories with the aid of enhanced theological clarity, i.e. what knightly vows consisted of and what precisely had to be done for salvation to be achieved. At this point, the Mamluks - Turkic slave warriors who took over Egypt and then the entire mid east - took over Saladin's empire and eventually triumphed over the Christian forces decisively. Europe then abandoned the enterprise without much thought and the Renaissance blossomed.

The entire process covered a span of approximately 200 years, a daunting tableau to paint. I often regret getting big fat history books because the degenerate into the driest of academic exercises. This one never does. Recommended with enthusiasm.
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on 29 March 2013
I have been interested in 'The Crusades' since I did a general studies course on the subject 40+ years ago (during my Physics degree, of all things!).

I don't propose saying anything more about the excellence of this book - the other 29 reviewers (so far) have said it all - absolutely excellent book about the Crusades!

What I would like to draw out is the fact that this book falls very neatly (and nicely!) between such relatively short introductory texts such as 'The Cross and the Crescent' by Malcolm Billings(*), and 'The Crusades' by Anthony Bridge(*) and more academic studies such as 'A History of the Crusades' by Steven Runcieman. It's a perfect general, but detailed introduction to the Crusades with a nice balance between academic rigour and entertaining anecdote. Wonderful!

(*) Both of these books are excellent in their own right.
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on 14 April 2011
This is the first book I have read on the crusades and I have to say I was a little intimidated by it's length. As it turns out, there was no need to worry. Somehow Asbridge manages to pack in a remarkeable amount of detail spanning several centuries, without overwhelming the reader. The book is packed full of memorable details, - such as Saladin's troops sneaking supply ships into besieged Acre by placing pigs on deck, thereby tricking the crusaders into thinking that they were Christian ships - thrilling accounts of bloody battles, and fascinating big picture analysis of the religious and political motivations of the key players on both sides. The author has managed something that few other historians do: a comprehensive account of a complex period, which is still a joy and easy to read.

An excellent introduction. My only fear is that I may now struggle to find other books on the subject which match up.
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on 16 June 2010
Thomas Asbridge's book on the crusades was an absolutely incrediable read. I must tell you that since Ashbridge was an academic, I was afraid that this book would be unreadble; just a list of facts on top of another.

I was entirely mistaken. Asbridge wrote with such drama that it was hard to put the book down. I took it everywhere, and when i was determined to finish a chapter, and put the book down, I often found myself halfway through the new chapter and instead of doing my work. A superb book.

The best part was the character of the participants: pious Godrey, greedy Baldwin, sickly King Baldwin IV, awe-inspiring Saladin, courageous Richard the Lionheart, and decitiful Fredrick II. Great men, a great story, and a great storyteller. What more could be asked of a book? Asbridge deserves 5 stars all the way.
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on 2 January 2014
I've read a good deal about the Crusades and have visited the Middle East where most of the action took place. I started out reading what many regard as the standard work by Runciman and went on from there. This is clearly a well researched book, easy to read and which covers the subject in a concise yet informative manner.I thought it stood well in comparison to other similar works. Very enjoyable read.
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on 5 December 2010
I have to admit having had this book a while and I kept putting off reading it. Reasons: By an 'academic', quite a heavy read by the looks, and just a general worry that it would be too much to end the day with. But that was swiftly dispelled on getting into the first chapter.

Asbridge literally not only takes you on the crusades he then turns the tables and shows you the Islamic face of it all. You do see the two sides of the fight.

No spoilers here in this review, but certainly it opens up so many questions. Was it the desperation of an 11th Century Pope that really opened up the wound that today we face, that shows itself in so much terrorism and hate?

Just the fact that Jerusalem was a sacred place to Muslims as well as Christians was something new to me. The contrast of the slaughter carried out by the First Crusaders that was not repeated by the jihad leader, Saladin, many years later speaks volumes.

There is enough background into the politics, geography, battles and, yes, some gory details to make this an actually entertaining as well as educating and informative read.
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on 11 April 2014
Whether you come to this mammoth volume having already read Asbridge's account of the First Crusade, or as a stand-alone, this book is compelling. If you've read the First Crusade don't worry too much; he rattles through it in a couple of chapters and while there is inevitaby some repetition, there is in fact some material in this volume which doesn't appear in the other.

Overall, though, it's comprehensive. Asbridge concentrates on taking a pan-European perspective, always setting the scene of the Crusades in the context of European politics and religion which were inevitably closely associated and by no means simple. Crammed with quotes from primary sources, mostly European but occasionally Muslim (he explains why there is an imbalance), Asbridge is not afraid to challenge accepted contemporary opinions, but at the same time this doesn't have the feel of a willfully provocative account. It's not all about battles, either: he goes into great detail about the foundation of the Crusader states - the struggle to get Western society established in the Near East in the decades following the First Crusade, and all the associated problems.

With lots of detailed character development, well-informed comment and just the right pacing, this is an excellent summary for someone who wants a bit more than just a brief introduction but can't handle anything too heavy.
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on 17 May 2015
A brilliant book. This book is an enthralling account of a critical period in history that reads as well as any novel whilst still providing good historical analysis. This book is suitable for anyone interested in the crusades, whether you have never read about the crusades or if you know quite a lot already. It has helped me out a lot during the course of my degree and I'm sure it will in the future.

Cannot recommend highly enough. a thoroughly enjoyable and informative book
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History, as they say is written by the victors and with recent event's being compared to the Crusades the modern man can perhaps learn from what has gone before in order to prevent repeated the errors of the past.

That said, events have to be looked at in mind of the time, place as well as the setting and to get an objective view, accounts need to be available from both sides of the conflict. This is what Thomas Asbridge has done within this title. Beautifully written, this look at the many crusades, their leaders and outcomes is meticulously researched, especially when the author does his best to tread the middle ground, almost as if he were reporting from the front line of a modern war.

It's detail is staggering, the writing authoritive and to my mind perhaps the most comprehensive account of the crusades to date. For lovers of history this title is going to be a must have title especially when backed with the research to become a prize of capture itself.
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on 6 February 2013
While many history books focus on The Crusades from just one view point, the Christians or the Muslims, Thomas Asbridge has decided to convey the epic tale of The Crusades from both perspectives. This is a fantastic way to educate your audience as you avoid a large proportion of bias. It also allows the reader to assess the situation from both sides and then make an informed opinion on why something happened. While the book is rather brief towards the end, compared to the vast detail on the First, Second and Third crusades, I believe that the book serves as a great gateway to explore the various other crusades as well as those undertaken in the Baltic and modern-day Spain. If you want to educate yourself about The Crusades then I thoroughly recommend you buy this book, it fills you in on the necessary basics and allows you to explore other areas in greater depth. Great book.
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