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Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse Hardcover – November 1, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (November 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465019293
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465019298
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #249,156 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Jonathan Phillips, Professor of Crusading History, Royal Holloway, University of London, and author of Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades
“Impressive storytelling—Rubenstein carries the reader through this epic with real panache, lucidly conveying the giddying ebb and flow of faith, emotion, politics and brutality that so characterized the First Crusade. A powerfully argued contribution to our understanding of the people and the times of this landmark event.”

Terry Jones, director of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, and author of Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives and Who Murdered Chaucer: A Medieval History
“The most fascinating and readable book about the Crusades I have read.  Jay Rubenstein gets into the heads of the Crusaders in a way no other book has.  And it’s a page-turner.”
 
Tom Bissell, author of The Father of All Things and Extra Lives
“Jay Rubenstein is a MacArthur Fellow, brilliant scholar, and genuine writer, and he knows this material inside and out. What this means is that the First Crusade—the weirdest and most historically contested crusade—has the chronicler it has long deserved. This is a story about how some adventure-seeking, religiously sincere human beings managed to create a catastrophe of hitherto unknown proportions. No book so sad should be so fascinating, and no book so serious should be such fun to read.”
 
Mark Gregory Pegg, author of A Most Holy War: The Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christendom.
“In 1099 a ragtag Christian army captured the city of Jerusalem from its Muslim rulers.  These warriors were the surviving remnant of thousands of other Europeans who four years earlier began an extraordinary pilgrimage to the Holy Land now known as the First Crusade.  Jay Rubenstein evocatively tells the story of this apocalyptic journey in a narrative bristling with sharp erudition and exhilarating prose.  Armies of Heaven is the most intelligent, thought-provoking, and enthralling history of the First Crusade written in the last fifty years.  A marvelous achievement.”
 
Kirkus Reviews
“An engaging, cautionary account emphasizing the consequences of untrammeled irrationalism.”
 
Christopher MacEvitt, author of Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance
“Rubenstein’s book is a thrill to the casual reader and to the scholar alike. His prose carries the reader along with the extraordinary events of the First Crusade, effortlessly integrating the bloody realities of the battlefield, astute portraits of the leaders, and a convincing historical argument about the nature of the First Crusade. Armies of Heaven shows how easily piety, violence, and political scheming intermesh, but also warns against facile comparisons of medieval crusades to contemporary conflicts, the rhetoric of al-Qaeda notwithstanding. Steven Runciman’s account of the First Crusade provided a standard of eloquence for the last fifty years; Jay Rubenstein’s matches Runciman for style, and surpasses with a discerning eye and a sly but scathing wit.”
 
Robert Chazan, New York University
“The First Crusade has been a source of fascination from the late eleventh century down to the present.  Recent historians have analyzed this epochal event in terms of demography, economics, secular politics, ecclesiastical politics, and ecclesiastical theory.  Jay Rubenstein asks a refreshing question:  How did the thousands and tens of thousands who joined the sacred undertaking view it?  His fascinating answer is that most of these crusaders were convinced that they were living at the cusp of the end of days, at the point in time when the world order would change dramatically.  Rubenstein’s insights will profoundly enrich our understanding of the First Crusade, its glories, and its horrors.”
 
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“[A] rich harvest of legends and writings from the period, often apocalyptic in nature, that give us a keener insight into the minds of those who lived these tumultuous years. Rubenstein offers up a heady mix of soldiers and prophets, militants and supplicants, weaving it all into a wonderfully readable account that puts flesh on the story. A satisfying and highly recommended read in every respect.”

James Reston Jr., BookForum
“Jay Rubenstein’s Armies of Heaven is a beautifully researched, well written, and highly accessible account of the first Holy Crusade, recounting it through the lens of eschatological theory…. In unflinching detail, Armies of Heaven walks us step by step through the process of ‘taking the cross’: the preliminary pogroms against Jews, the mobilization of the armies, and their ever more violent and uncontrolled adventure to Constantinople and beyond.”

San Francisco Book Review
“The book is about as raw as the stories beginning told. Rubenstein found a great way to tell an exciting story built on an extensive historical foundation…. This work is a perfect blend of military and religious history, with some great inner politics on the side. It is a brilliant piece of work and would be the shining jewel to a historian’s shelf.”

Booklist
“[A] well-written account that relies on primary sources to describe one of the seminal episodes in world history.”
 
The Daily Beast
“A vivid writer, Rubenstein describes the apocalyptic mythologies, supernatural beliefs, and religious fervor that led tens of thousands of Christian zealots into what was arguably the world’s first holy war—a war so gory and brutal that even after Jesus failed to appear as predicted many people wondered whether they had in fact witnessed the apocalypse.”
 
Catholic News Service
Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse is a surprise delight, rich in firsthand narrative and detail that will inform and charm both the casual and the demanding reader. . . . [An] accomplished medieval historian has done all the hard work so anyone can enjoy the narrative. And what a narrative it is!”

About the Author

Jay Rubenstein is an Associate Professor of Medieval History at the University of Tennessee. A former Rhodes Scholar and MacArthur Fellow, he lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.

More About the Author

Jay Rubenstein is an American historian of the Middle Ages, a Rhodes Scholar, and a MacArthur Fellow. He grew up in Cushing, Oklahoma and attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota where he graduated with a B.A. in 1989. From 1989-1991 he studied at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. In recognition of this achievement, his hometown of Cushing named a street after him. In 1991 he completed an M.Phil. from Oxford, writing a thesis on the veneration of saints' relics in England after the Norman Conquest. In 1997 he received a Ph.D. in history from the University of California, Berkeley, working under the supervision of Professor Gerard Caspary. After leaving Berkeley he taught one year at Dickinson College, one year at Syracuse University, and seven years at University of New Mexico. Since 2006 he has been based at the University of Tennessee where he is now the Alvin and Sally Beaman Professor of History. His published scholarship has focused on medieval intellectual history, monastic life, and the early crusade movement. "Guibert of Nogent: Portrait of a Medieval Mind" is based on his doctoral dissertation. His more recently published book, "Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse," is his first book aimed at both popular and scholarly audiences and received the 2012 Phi Beta Kappa Ralph Waldo Emerson Award, aimed at recognizing books that have made a significant contribution to understanding the intellectual and cultural condition of humanity.

Customer Reviews

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114-115), as well as a vast number of large-scale reinterpretations.
Cecilia
Even if you have no background knowledge regarding the Crusades, the book is still a great read.
Chase
The back of the book is filled with notes from each chapter citing sources.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a superb, utterly entertaining, thought-provoking, at times (rightly) disturbing, and thoroughly illuminating account of the First Crusade. It is written by an eminent historian, who has gone back to the primary sources and re-narrated the events of 1095 to 1099, when something on the order of 100,000 Christians marched across Europe, through Byzantium, Anatolia, and down to Palestine to retake the holy city of Jerusalem from Muslim control. Though eminently scholarly, it is pitched to a non-academic audience. Rubenstein tells a wonderful story and, although specialists will be able to identify his arguments and his engagement with historiographical disputes, his narrative is free of the kind of inside-baseball argumentation that can sometimes muddy the overall picture. And for those of us who already knew the story going in, the book shares wonderful individual interpretive insights (see for instance the story of the nun who sought pardon after having married a Muslim, pp. 114-115), as well as a vast number of large-scale reinterpretations. Among these are the solid focus on the importance of the crusaders' own apocalyptic thinking, the relative evaluation of the types of violence the crusaders deployed, and the competing visions of crusade ideology that animated the events of, especially, 1098 and 1099. This is a masterpiece.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The crusades were some of the most violent causes ever fought. This pilgrimage to the Holy Land became a bloody siege that nearly brought forth its own apocalyptic consequences.
Armies of Heaven by Jay Rubenstein breaks down the ins and outs of the first crusade and the four gory years that followed. The book starts with a short introduction to sum up the events that lead to the 1095AD quest to Jerusalem. Rubenstein applies all of the legends, myths and truths from this time period and uses them to create a clear story of those events.
The book is about as raw as the stories beginning told. Rubenstein found a great way to tell an exciting story built on an extensive historical foundation. The back of the book is filled with notes from each chapter citing sources.
The story is fast paced and this reviewer was surprised by how quickly the book was finished. This work is a perfect blend of military and religious history, with some great inner politics on the side. It is a brilliant piece of work and would be the shining jewel to a historian's shelf.

*Originally published for San Francisco/Sacramento Book Review*
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Gary Albaugh on February 23, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If you know nothing about the Crusades, I would recommend this book. I was very impressed how Rubenstein was able to outline the historical aspects of the events of the Crusade, as well as explain in details the reasoning behind each event. The book was easy to read and I did not find myself bored with the content or the way the author presented the material. This book has opened my eyes to a great period in time and I hope to continue to read more about the First Crusades, as well as the Crusades that followed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By vab on May 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This is the First Crusade from an entirely new perspective. It's easy and enjoyable to read - well-written and fast-paced. With a very light touch of humor Rubenstein makes fresh a subject that has been written about countless times over the centuries. Recommended for anyone who has read other accounts, this one focuses more on the personalities involved and the part religion actually played - or was manipulated.
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Format: Hardcover
Reconstructing the mental world of remote times can be very difficult. Given limited and intractable evidence, Rubenstein delineates well the psychology of the First Crusaders & how they understood the crusade's extraordinary events. There's little new evidence, instead a fresh perspective on familiar sources. He demonstrates that the supernatural -- miracles, prophecy, dreams, apparitions, signs (comets, earthquakes, storms), divine and saintly intervention, millennial expectations -- was central to the worldview of 11-12C Europe and Outremer. He is less successful in arguing that apocalytpic concerns were the prime motivation for their mass pilgrimage. Rubenstein perhaps places too much interpretive weight on his sources. Nevertheless, "AOH" clearly shows that, after the Crusaders took Antioch, miracles and signs were just the outward manifestations of their increasingly apocalyptic view of the whole endeavor, sustaining them on the journey. This also affirms the crucial role of ordinary crusaders, who seemingly disappear from view after the annihilation of the Peoples' Crusade, as the princes' armies become the focus. These "followers" led quite often, notably in forcing Raymond of Toulouse back on the road to Jerusalem. I would have liked more on witchcraft and magic, also core supernatural beliefs. Did crusaders never accuse witches of causing misfortune or harm? Still, despite some overly glib passages, Rubenstain's book has a convincing "feel" to it, because he grasps key elements of the story less appreciated by other historians. 4.5 stars.
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By DENNIS MCCARTHY on September 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Jay Rubenstein has written an extraordinary, beautiful book about the First Crusade. I asked him to talk about the Crusades and their impact on the world today.
Q: "You once said that after the Crusades, everything was different. What did you mean by that?"
Rubenstein: "The First Crusade is like the end of the Cold War or the French Revolution. It's one of those moments in history that is truly transformative. After the Crusades, warfare became a large-scale enterprise and it was much more brutal. Atrocities happen in a territorial war, but in ideological warfare, atrocities happen as a matter of principle. In an ironic way, the Crusade also created a sense of shared achievement among the people back home. When the First Crusade was celebrated back home, people said, Look what we've done! The Crusade also helped to define Europe as a common people, a common culture--Christendom--in opposition to everything that was Eastern. Christendom would spread out and take over the world, in a Fukuyama-like sense, bringing an end to history. The Crusade was also an apocalyptic event. Before the First Crusade, the standard interpretation of the Apocalypse was that it would come and there was nothing anyone could do to affect it. God would work his will. The Crusade, however, created among contemporary historians and theologians the notion that humans could activate God's plan. History was no longer just one event following another. Instead, history was leading to the Apocalypse, and we had the capacity to bring it about."
Q: "What impact did the Crusades have on the Muslim world?"
Rubenstein: "Initially, I don't think Muslims took a lot of notice. To them, the Crusaders were just another frontier army, one more piece on the Middle East game board.
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