Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades Paperback – 2 Sep 2010
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"Holy Warriors is not only very readable. Its skilful and detailed use of source material serves as a showcase of what is being done in this, the most intensively studied area of medieval historiography" (Robert Irwin Literary Review)
"Elegant storytelling... Phillips delivers an excellent, compelling, flamboyant and refreshing history of the crusades and wonderful character sketches" (Simon Sebag Montefiore Financial Times)
"Totally absorbing and magnificent history" (Mail on Sunday, Boris Johnson)
"[An] engaging and sprightly book... Each chapter is telegenic, tele-visual even. We get vivid re-creations of places, personalities and events" (CJ Tyerman Times Literary Supplement)
"He [Phillips] has a real gift for highlighting the picturesque and for bringing the past alive." "With its crisp management, accessible style and deft characterisation, this book stakes a strong claim to be the most appealing narrative account of the Crusades for a general audience." (BBC History Magazine)
A vivid and original history of the Crusades - from the middle ages to the present day.See all Product description
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Measured against these objectives, the book does indeed deliver the goods. All of the pivotal, almost larger-than-life protagonists of the crusades (Saladin, Richard the Lionheart, Louis IX, ...) get their share of attention too of course, but there are indeed insightful and interesting chapters on less-well known figures such as Queen Melisende, or Frederick II. Furthermore, Phillips does indeed make ample use of both Christian and Islamic contemporary (and later) sources, giving a balanced view of the crusades/jihad and how both concepts evolved over time. Also, the scope is not limited to those crusades launched to liberate Jerusalem but there are chapters on the Albigensian crusade, the Spanish Reconquista and crusading in the Baltic too, and the book ends with a very interesting chapter on 'modern' crusades and crusaders (from Walter Scott to George W. Bush).
To sum up: if you are looking for a detailed, chronological history of the crusades The Crusades: The War for the Holy Land or A History of the Crusades: Volume One - The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Penguin History): The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem v. 1 is perhaps a better choice, but if you're already familiar with those this book sheds (additional) light on some very interesting figures and events in the fascinating history of the crusades, 'a cause in which to conquer is glorious and for which to die is gain' (to quote Bernard of Clairvaux). The book's title 'Holy Warriors' is entirely appropriate, the subtitle 'a modern history of the crusades' a bit misleading.
Unlike a lot of academic works this is not dry and tedious for the most part, though sometimes the author does decide to spend many pages giving detailed accounts of sieges.
On the simplest level the book is not just an account of an endless round of battles, it introduces key figures, explores their lives and careers, and examines how and why they contributed to the crusades. Taken as a whole, it is an engaging and readable human narrative of the entire crusading period from the Late Eleventh to the Sixteenth Centuries.
On a personal level, I found the some of the information very surprising. Admittedly I had a very limited knowledge of the Crusades as a whole, but I found that this book caused me to re-examine by opinion of the era.
It is difficult to maintain objectivity when recounting such a controversial period, yet Phillips largely manages to do so. In doing so he reveals many facts and incidents that do not seem to make it into television documentaries, which can be rather one-sided.
Phillips demonstrates, for instance, there were many atrocities committed on both sides. The sack of Jerusalem in 1099 by the Crusaders, resulting in the massacre of thousands of Muslims and Jews is well known. The sacking of Acre in 1291 by Muslim forces in which thousands of Christian innocents including Monks and Nuns were slaughtered is not so widely publicised, yet was no less devastating.
It is also shown that Muslims were as much driven by religious fervour and fanaticism, and sometimes simple blind hatred as the Crusaders, and also that the idea of offensive Holy War pre-existed the Crusades.
On the downside 'Holy Warriors' sometimes lacks depth, for example in places the author states that battles were lost or offensives failed but does not always give adequate explanation for the reasons behind such failures.
Still an excellent introduction and a great starting point for further study.
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