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4.3 out of 5 stars
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4.3 out of 5 stars
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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.
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on 31 October 2015
A readable account of the First Crusade. Other reviewers have explained the synopsis and contents of the book. I will add that I found this to be a readable, easy-to-understand account of the First Crusade. The horrors of Medieval war are made clear, as well as the motivation of the crusaders and why they succeeded, often against impossible odds. Some of the problems were of their own self-doing. I found the beginning of the book particularly useful, such as explaining the concept of a 'Just War', the right of conquest and just how real hell and sin were to the medieval mind. The maps are clear and concise and the photographs are in colour and add to the experience of reading the book. Recommended.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 May 2015
There are dozens of books on the First Crusade. There are dozens more of various aspects of it, in particular in “the Idea of Crusading” and on who were “the First Crusaders”, just to mention two titles from Jonathan Riley-Smith, or on the military aspects of it (see “Victory in the East” by John France). There are also quite a few biographies on various prominent characters that took part in it (for instance biographies of Raymond Count of Toulouse, Bohemond of Tarento, Robert “Courtheuse”, pope Urbain II, to mention just these). I should probably also mention R. J. Lilie (Byzantium and the Crusader States), Jonathan Philips, Steven Runciman and Peter Frankopan on the Byzantine connection and could go on, and on listing pages and pages of titles…

…And then, there is this one, which is an excellent overview and introduction to the subject, regardless of whether you happen to agree with the author’s conclusions or not, because it brings most of the elements and titles mentioned above together. It also presents a clear, well-laid out and comprehensive narrative of what happened, and why. This book’s subtitle - ”A New History” - might sound a bit overblown, if only because so much of its contents is NOT new but is made up of bits and pieces drawn and summarised from most of the authors mentioned above (and a number of others, as well).

However, this book is not simply a compilation and a skilful and easy to read summary about the First Crusade and the current historical consensus among (western) historians. It also includes elements drawn from the author’s own works and in particular from his own (excellent) thesis on the creation of the Principality of Antioch. The most interesting contribution here is the author’s presentation and his interpretation about what happened during the period following the Crusaders’ victory at Antioch and why it took so long for them to reach Jerusalem. In a nutshell, the leaders were divided and their personal ambitions compromised almost fatally the Crusade.

A related feature upon which the author dwells quite a bit, as a few other authors have also done, is the complexity and paradoxes of what it meant to be one of the Crusaders at the time. One of the most interesting features of this book is the attempt to present the medieval mind set, and that of the Frankish warrior class in particular, and show to what extent it differed from ours and was dominated by violence, by the fear of committing unforgivable and by greed and ambition. As the author shows well, this does not at all imply that the Crusaders were not religiously motivated. They very much were, but these motivations and beliefs were quite different and should not be confounded with modern views.

Another worthy feature of this book is to show how the “idea of crusading” developed and, in particular, how popes, and Gregory VII and Urbain II in particular, shifted and distorted Christian thought to further elaborate on the Augustinian concept of “Just War”. Also well shown are the ways in which this doctrine was made compatible with the warrior ethos of what would become the ideals of “chivalry” a century or two later.
A further excellent point is to show the Byzantine perspective, and how, after hordes of armed pilgrims crossed into his Empire and threatened to go on a rampage, the byzantine Emperor Alexis I deployed his considerable diplomatic skills to harness them and use them as tools to further his own objectives. An additional point shows how and why the relations largely soured between the Crusaders and the Emperor after Antioch was captured by the former against all expectations.

There is one weak element, however. The author does not really show that the deteriorating relations between the Emperor and the Crusaders were encouraged by Bohemond”s ambitions. His military genius, upon which Thomas Asbridge insists so much and quite correctly, was matched by his devious and quite unscrupulous diplomatic skills, which the author barely mentions. In all fairness, however, the break with the Emperor took place after August 1099 and the victory at Ascalon, which is where the book stops. Nevertheless, since this is the choice made by the author, his claim that the Crusaders’ conquest had been made secure by this victory is somewhat shaky. Over the next six years, the Fatimids would attempt several times to reconquer Palestine and Baldwin I, starved of soldiers as he initially was, would have fight some more desperate battles to ensure the survival of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

This relative weakness is largely made up by the multiple strongpoints which I have already mentioned and also by the presentation of the somewhat shifty behaviours of Count Raymond of Toulouse. By showing that the latter’s actions were just as much driven by ambition and self-interest as those of Bohemond (and some of the younger leaders, in particular Tancred and Baldwin himself), Thomas Asbridge’s narrative does somewhat help to set the record straight. Bohemond, sometimes presented as “one of the villains” in this story, was certainly driven by personnel ambition. He was not an isolated case, although some of the leaders were clearly not driven by ambition at all. In military terms, however, his contribution to the success of the First Crusade up to and including the capture of Antioch was simply considerable and exceeded that of any of the other leaders by far. This included that of Raymond of Toulouse, whose leadership and political skills are shown by the author as being less than impressive.

Five stars for a very good overview and introduction which is well supported by excellent maps and schematics of the main sieges and a comprehensive bibliography for anyone wanting to go further.
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on 5 June 2004
Avarice. Prejudice. Betrayal. Murder. The spirit of the First Crusade often appears as an antidote to modern Christian values. The author correctly identifies how the historical antagonism between Islamic and Western Worlds owes much to the remarkable band of opportunists who crossed into Byzantium nine hundred years ago. Certainly, you would not have wanted to be an Emir in their path.
It is clear that the author has a passionate appreciation of this remarkable story, resulting in a book that now sits on my shelves alongside Meyer's classic crusade history. The book is well illustrated with relevant pictures and photographs. Those showing Antioch today are particularly worthwhile.
I had forgotten how many bizarre and colourful individuals contributed to this remarkable and savage endeavour. The various sub-plots and motives are carefully presented against a political and religious context that is presented with great clarity. The subsequent combination of fanaticism and hypocrisy results in a compelling narrative, rich in both battle and sometimes comedy. Who could not fail to be amused by the likes of Peter Bartholemew?
I highly recommend this excellent book, which is a superb addition to what is currently available in this area.
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on 29 May 2016
Bought to do my dissertation but loved it so much that I read it cover to cover. It's very accessible and easy to follow. He get's straight to the point and offers some interesting opinions on the more debated elements within the Crusade story.
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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.
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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.
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on 24 April 2004
A first class example of a professional historian writing for theintelligent general reader. The book wears its learning lightly butAsbridge is obviously the master of his subject, and the book reallybenefits from the fact that the author has himself covered a lot of thecrusade route on foot. The sieges and battles are well described but thereal achievement here is bringing the characters to life and explaininghow this amazing event set the tone for so much of what informs our worldtoday. Recommended!
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on 23 March 2010
As a history buff for some fifty years, I am well aware of how selective ommission and tactful use of minor incidents by a clever author, can alter the perception given of any historical event. Even so, I found Thomas Asbridge's implication that the First Crusade was an act of fanatical Christian aggression, so blatently at odds with historical reality that I feel driven to speak out. To understand the root causes of the First Crusade however, one must first understand the origin and growth of the Islamic faith; so I give a bare outline below.

Born in 570AD, Muhammed's early life included periods as a merchant and diplomat. By 622AD having established the Islamic faith; he was the war-lord of Medina, leading a force of several thousand warriors in the conquest/conversion of the Arabian Peninsula; a 10yr campaign which included the massacre of the Bany Qurayza Jews in 627AD, and which culminated in the capture of Mecca in 632AD. Within months of this victory he died.

Made invincible however, by the Heaven sent commands of a now revered Prophet, and believing Paradise awaited the fallen; between the years 622AD and 750AD, Islamic armies attacked and took Palestine, Egypt, Syria, North Africa, Armenia, Sicily and Southern Italy from the Byzantine Romans; conquered the Visigoths of the Iberian Peninsula; took Iraq, Persia, Afganistan and the Indus Valley from the Sassanid Persian Empire; attacked Constantinople, fought their way up into France, and even took a large slice of central Asia from the Chinese. The result of this Jihad/Holy War was the sacking of innumerable towns/cities, the utter destruction of the earlier cultures, and the death of possibly millions of the predominantly Christian previous inhabitants. This steel tipped religious whirlwind terrified but also weakened the neighbouring Christian cultures; and response was both muted and fragmented. In 718AD the Spanish Reconquesta began an 800yr struggle which finally ended only in 1492AD; the year Columbus discovered America! while Islamic navies dominated the Mediterranean until the battle of Lepanto 1571AD.

On 26'th August 1071 the Byzantine Emperor Romanos IV deployed his army near the city of Manzikert, intent on preventing the conquest/invasion of his Anatolian provinces by the Seljuk Turks. It was a crushing Christian defeat from which neither the Byzantine Army or Empire ever recovered. Within a decade, the thousand year old Christian Anatolian culture had been given it's deathblow as the victorious hosts of Sultan Alp Arslan slaughtered their way to the walls of Constantinople. Behind their scimitars, a mass migration by the Children of the Prophet established the Islamic Sultanate now known as Turkey.

Byzantium lost 20,000 dead, with another 40,000 wounded/captured at the battle of Manzikert alone, after which came 10/20 years of 'ethnic cleansing'; during which the Byzantine population/culture of Anatolia was erradicated. The fate of the 40,000 Christian captives was particularly grim. Most had their right hand and left foot cut off as per Koranic doctrine; while huge numbers of the general Anatolian population were blinded. Thus mutilated, hundreds of thousands of these unfortunates were driven toward Constantinople, to beg or starve.

This wave of human misery spread steadily north and west across Europe, begging at roadsides and church gates for a generation, rousing Europe's people to fury as they did so. Two pub names 'The Blind Beggar' and the 'Saracen's Head' still recall memories of this time; the first is self explanatory, the second remembers the places where Christendom's warrior class, outraged by the wanton cruelty; swore on oath to 'cut off a saracen's head' as they answered the Pope's call to "avenge the bleeding frontier crimes!", in what became known as The First Crusade. That call to arms came at Clermont, in November 1095AD when Pope Urban II, fearing the loss of Constantinople and the Islamic invasion/conquest of Europe, launched Christendom's belated response to more than 350yrs of Islamic Jihad. A 'Crusade' with the aim of liberating Jerusalem, which prior to it's capture by Muslim armies in 638AD had been the Christian city of Aelia since Roman times.

Bearing these historic realities in mind, how Mr Asbridge can suggest the First Crusade was anything other than a fully justified counter-attack against a mortal threat to European/Christian civilization and culture both amazes and saddens me. I shall conclude this comment with a modern parable; I ask you to imagine a 'New History of WWII' being published which failed to mention the rise of the Nazi Party, the Nazi occupation of the Rheinland, Austria and Czechoslovakia or even the invasion of Poland; but began with the declaration of war by Britain upon Germany at ten'o'clock on 3'rd September 1939. If this 'New History of WWII' then proceeded rapidly to Hitler's televised 'appeals to reason' and Rudolph Hess's flight Scotland, lovingly describing these as genuine efforts to end a needless conflict, being instigated by a war-mongering clique at the heart of Britain's Government; would it not be fair to suggest the book's historical inpartiality might be suspect?
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on 3 January 2016
If you have an interest in medieval battles and warfare in particular, this is compulsive reading. If you just have an interest in the medieval period and political intrigue of the time, this is a quality read.
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