Malcolm Lambert's reputation as one of the most thorough and erudite of medieval historians is only confirmed by his work in "The Cathars". As in his seminal work, "Medieval Heresy", he successfully combines scholarly investigation with lucid, careful narrative. His emphasis is clearly on context, both societal and religious - why did Catharism flourish in spite of (or because of) the medieval Church, and how did the mediaeval Church respond? The Domincan Order, the Albigensian Crusade and the Inquisition are all examined in response to these questions. The geographical and chronological breadth of his investigation is applaudable, effectively embracing the 12th - 15th century, from the north of France to Bosnia. Several important chapters summarise difficult debates, including the role of Eastern Bogolmilism in the development of the heresy, the Italian schism and Le Roy Laudarie's somewhat controversial work on Montaillou. Above all else, Lambert is a narrative historian - he excels at summary and explanation, rather than innovation. Yet that is easily excused given that his research is wide and impeccable, covering both a wealth of primary and secondary material in both English and French. As such, "The Cathars" is no doubt destined to become a somewhat definitive account of its kind.
I would not hesitate to call this book pivotal in Cathar studies. I read it as part of my research on the Cathars and found it extremely well documented and researched, an accomplished book. Malcolm Lambert also wrote 'Medieval Heresy', in which gives a detailed but wide history of heresy around Europe, essential and fascinating background for anyone interested in the Cathars. It has been described as 'the best general book on the subject in any language'. 'The Cathars', more recent, places particular influence on this sect, while containing the thourough understanding of other heresies neccessary to give it depth and authoritative analysis. Lambert has worked with Walter Wakefield, previously England's leading historian on the Cathars. His book is rather dated now, but was so thouroughly researched, containing translations of medieval manuscripts that we can be sure that Lambert discussed his topic with an authority. Furthermore, Lambert has also read and analysed French historiography, again, rare for a British historian of this period. Therefore, 'The Cathars' draws up on a large amount of research, both old and new, and constantly questions previously conducted research and established ideas. What is so unique about this book is that unlike many on the period in English, it recognises the fact that Catharism was not unique to France, and contains innovative research and findings on their actions in Italy and on the Bosnian Church, for example. It is important to realise, however, that 'The Cathars' will not provide 'easy reading', it is a highly analytical historical text and therefore not really aimed at the beginner, to whom I would recommended a more general history. I found the book hard to read myself, although very rewarding. I highly recommend it to anyone studying the Cathars -- do not be daunted! I would recommend anyone reading about the Cathars for the first time to try 'The Albigensian Crusade' by Jonathan Sumption, or 'The Perfect Heresy' by Stephen O'Shea, which, while they too are analytical, are more accessible to the general reader as they do contain some general narrative . They do not assume familiarity with the period, nor do they emploty the jargon terms associated to it. Nevertheless, 'The Cathars' is an accomplished and interesting book, the best out of all I consulted for my assignment. I cannot but reinstate what has already been said by Lambert's reviewer, Andrew Murray, of the University of Oxford. 'The Cathars' is a masterpiece.
Given that the theme of the book is the persecution of a large group of people in the most barbaric ways possible I found some of the author's opinions about the punishments meted out to them very offensive! I think perhaps he should try a little of his own medicine first before making such comments. The only trouble being he wouldn't be around to tell us of the result!
I've been disappointed not to be able to find anything detailed about the Cathars without such strong and offensive 'Orthodox' Bias. Their persecution it seems has not ended yet?