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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The First Crusade: An Essential Read, 15 Oct. 2012
By 
BB (Lucca, Tuscany) - See all my reviews
In this début book by Peter Frankopan, the author seeks to correct the skewed version of history that we learnt at school by providing us with the big picture of what was happening in Europe at the time. We not only learn of how the First Crusade came to be, but also gain insight into the crumbling Byzantine Empire under Alexander Komnene. This book contains all the ingredients of an exciting story: manipulation, plots and scandal. Instead of a dry re-telling of a historical event, Peter Frankopan brings this story alive with his eloquent and witty style. I really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it.The First Crusade: The Call from the East
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the first crusade, 7 Jun. 2012
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my knowledge of the Crusades is more on the 'lay' than 'scholarly' side but I found Peter Frankopans book very readable and informative - his depth of knowledge was very impressive but was also delivered in an enjoyable way.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The First Crusade: The Call, 15 July 2013
By 
Keen Reader "lhendry4" (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
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This book casts an interesting perspective on the First Crusade, repositioning the focus on Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire under Emperor Alexios I Komnenos. As the author points out, many stories of the First Crusade begin with the call of Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont. What led to the pope being motivated to make that call? The author puts the case that Alexios was driven to ask for help only after a number of circumstances threatened the security of the Byzantine Empire. The death of Suleyman, his ally in the Eastern Byzantine area, with the threats of Abu'l-Kasim to Nikomedia and the region of Asia Minor and the Aegean, the incursions of the Pechenegs from the north and the death of Malik-Shah and the fragmentation of the Seljuq Turks meant that Alexios' carefully maintained diplomatic threads were stretched to the utmost. Coupled with internal discord and criticism from within the Empire, Alexios needed to search for new remedies for old troubles.

This is a most interesting book; while the story of the First Crusade from the perspective of the West is known to many, and the progress of the Crusade once the Crusaders started moving towards the East is a familiar story as well, the importance of the background of the Byzantine Empire to the initial call for assistance from the West is perhaps not so well known. The author does a very good job in pulling together Byzantine history with Western (crusade and religious) history to offer a combined synopsis of the reasons for, and progress of the First Crusade. Very interesting, and thoroughly enjoyable book and one which is recommended for anyone seeking to understand further about the First Crusade.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The crusades from the Byzantine perspective, 29 Feb. 2012
By 
Daniel Park "danielpark99" (West Yorkshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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Peter Frankopan is a research fellow who translated a document 3 years ago, which had been written in the defence of the Emperor Alexios Komnenos, Emperor of the Byzantine Empire by his eldest daughter nearly 50 year after the events of the First Crusade at the turn of the 11th Century. By the time this account had been written, Alexios had been thoroughly villified beyond redemption by Western Crusaders who needed "someone to blame" for the calamaties of subsequent excursions into the Holy Land.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that Frankopan uses the detailed knowledge he has drawn from this translation exercise into his book - essentially a defence of the Eastern Empire and its policies at the time of Alexios. It is also unsuprising that this defence could be seen by some readers as partial, bearing in mind Frankopan's detailed knowledge and unabashed passion for the topic.

I don't think that this potential partiality makes this interesting reflection on the First Crusade any less interesting, but - as the previous reviewer has indicated - it could lessen its impact for some.

To me, I found the author's arguments well written, cogent and fresh. I'm very much in favour of a new take on an old subject. If you're prepared to see this book as what it is - a very well written attempt to redress the balance of previous histories - then you will find Frankopan's contribution a welcome addition to the accumulated knowledge on the First Crusade.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great Book, 18 Oct. 2012
A great account of events, a real page-turner for history lovers. I highly recommend for those interested in the era and like to read about history in a way that doesn't feel dry.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Scholarship, 29 Aug. 2012
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Dr Frankopan must be congratulated. An extremely readable fascinating glimpse into one of History's great old story, but from a very refreshing and new perspective. Brilliant scholarship, well written, perspicacious and a ripping yarn. A must for all.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the first crusade : a new history, 5 Mar. 2012
This book tells the story of the first crusade from the perspective of the roman empire . The roman and western sources of the period are not taken at face value but are reinterpreted through the critical prism of the author. This book is a must read for anyone wanting to understand how the crusades came to be and I highly recommend it .
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5.0 out of 5 stars Reason for purchase, 9 Jun. 2013
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this book is a new slant on this period of the crusades, The aspect was from the eastern view and illustrated the attitude of the eastern rulers.It opened up a different world portrayed in western commentary.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Byzantine Connection: A fascinating but controversial read, 12 Feb. 2012
By 
JPS - See all my reviews
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This book, draw from the author's PHD thesis, aims to show that the First Crusade was initiated by the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnene. It puts him squarely on the center of the stage as the one who put in motion the chain of events that led to the First Crusade. The reason for the Emperor to do this is that, according to Frankopan, the Empire was on the brink of disaster by 1095 and Alexios' rule had become unstable for he was blamed for this situation. Frankopan explains why the Emperor's role has not been recognized in all its importance up to now largely because both his daughter Anna in her Alexiad and most of the latter sources for the First Crusade, those written after 1107, have either minimized his importance or denigrated him.

This thesis is extremely interesting and, at times, fascinating. Frankopan is at his best when presenting the situation in Asia Minor between 1071 and 1096. In particular, he shows that Asia Minor was NOT almost entirely lost in 1081, when Alexios came to power. He also assumes that Alexios used Suleyman, a turkish chieftain, and then his good relations with the Seldjuk Sultan to control what was left of Asia Minor or even to recover ground and towns. This strategy, however, failed after the death of the Sultan, in 1092, as the Seldjuk Sultanate became torn by civil war and the various Turkish chieftains in Asia Minor each went their own way and tried to extend their territory.

There are, however, numerous problems with this book, or rather, with the methods that Frankopan uses to make his case. He often and repeatedly states a point without always providing any evidence to back it up. One glaring example is his statement - repeated three times across the book - that the Normans' conquest of Byzantine Italy and Arab Sicily were swift and easy. They were neither swift - each took about 30 years - nor easy. The Normans in Italy and Sicily were relatively few and both the Byzantines and the Arabs of Sicily and modern Tunisia put up a long and though fight before both territories were finally conquered. One example is the statement that "Southern Italy was left to its devices (by the Emperor's) and fell swiftly to the Normans". This, at best, is both a simplification and a gross exageration because the Empire in fact counter-attacked several times when Normans had become overstretched over several decades, sending troops when these could be spared elsewhere, including Varangian shock troops. So Apulia was certainly NOT left to its own devices, although Calabria probably was, simply because the two provinces did not have the same strategic value for Byzantium.

The book even contains some factual mistakes, which is rather astonishing coming from a historian that has studied at both Cambridge and Oxford. For instance (page 35), the news that a major norman attack had begun could simply NOT have reached Constantinople before the Komnene brothers carried out their military coup (early April 1081) simply because Robert Guiscard had not yet left the coast of Italy at that time, although, as Frankopan correctly stresses in his comment below, Bohémond had left sometime in March with the vanguard. However, the preparations of the Normans had been known by the Byzantines and had been going on for at least a year, if not more. Moreover, a Norman embassy had been sent to Constantinople to negociate and using the threat of an invasion as leverage. All this is ALSO in the Alexiad, but Frankopan does not mention it...

There are also omissions, or at least elements that are minimized. While Frankopan correctly stresses the importance of the battle of Levounion where the Petchenegues were decisely defeated, he fails to mention that this was largely thanks to Alexios' timely alliance with the Cumans. Alexios and his armies had been previously defeated at least three times by the Petchenegues. He had also been defeated three times by the Normans and all these defeats meant that new soldiers had to be recruited and equipped and money had to be raised through extra taxation, confiscations and extorsion, including from the Church. So Frankopan's statement that Alexios' "first decade in power thus appears to have been remarkably successful" is VERY strange, to say the least. A more accurate assessment would be to say that Alexios finally overcome these two ennemies DESPITE multiple defeats. So, Peter Frankopan does seem to have a rather unpleasant tendency to twist the facts anf "forget" about those that do not reinforce the points he is trying to make.

Interestingly, I couldn't help wondering whether Frankopan wasn't in fact doing exactly what he criticizes when it comes from Anna Komnena: being over dramatic and exagerating a situation about which we know essentially little so as to make his point. Anna does this both when presenting the situation of the Empire in 1081 and in 1091, just before Levounion. Frankopan does the same, but for the period 1092-1096. One element seems clear, however. In all three cases, there still was a fairly numerous Byzantine army in 1081, with which Alexios was defeated by the Normans, mostly by his own fault, regardless of all the excuses that Anna tries to make for him. He also had a significant army that was more than enough to take on the German contingent gathered around Godefroy the Bouillon and his brother Baudoin de Boulogne (and not "de Bouillon"!), even if was certainly smaller than the Crusader contingents when all of these were added up. Another element on which we can be rely are the lavish gifts and the considerable costs encurred by the Emperor to provision and pay the Crusaders that were camping outside the city. To be able to afford this kind of expense, the Imperial Treasury was obviously not entirely empty and the situation not as catastrophic that Frankopan would want us to believe...

One last example of some questionable statements made by the author relates to the sources. Frankopan claims that Ferdinand Chalendon's book (published in 1900) "is still the last major monograph on Alexios' rule". The last, to my knowledge at least, is a book published in 2007 by Elisabeth Malamut and also in French (Alexis Ier Comnène, Edition Ellipses, 2007). So, either Peter Frankopan wasn't aware of this, which is surprising, or he deliberatly omitted to mention this in his section on "further reading". In either case, his statement is incorrect.

So, this is a very interesting read on the First Crusade, but it is probably not for "beginners" on Byzantium and it is rather controversial. Some bits and pieces of the story have been skipped over rather quickly - in particular the reigns of Michal VII (1071-1078) and Nicephore III (1078-1081) - despite their importance for assessing the state of the Empire when Alexios came to power. The book has to be read with a critical eye. It requires quite a lot of background and knowledge of the sources to be able to check to what extent the portraits being painted by the author are plausible, or even accurate, and to identify the places where they are, at best, exagerated to make the author's point more "convincing"...
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5.0 out of 5 stars a very pleasant byproduct..., 25 July 2014
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This review is from: The First Crusade: The Call from the East (Kindle Edition)
Peter Frankopan first cam to my attention when I was researching aspects of the "golden thread" of innocent until proven guilty that he identified with Theodora (500-548)'s thinking... this was a very pleasant byproduct of that process
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