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God's War: A New History of the Crusades Paperback – October 6, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This is likely to replace Steven Runciman's 50-year-old History of the Crusades as the standard work. Tyerman (England and the Crusades), lecturer in medieval history at Oxford University, demolishes our simplistic misconceptions about that series of ferocious campaigns in the Middle East, Muslim Spain and the pagan Baltic between 1096 and 1500. Abjuring sentimentality and avoiding clichés about a rapacious West and an innocent East, Tyerman focuses on the crusades' very human paradoxes: "the inspirational idealism; utopianism armed with myopia; the elaborate, sincere intolerance; the diversity and complexity of motive and performance." The reader marvels at the crusaders' inextinguishable devotion to Christ even while shuddering at their delight in massacring those who did not share that devotion. In the end, Tyerman says, what killed crusading was neither a lack of soldierly enthusiasm nor its failure to retain control of Jerusalem, but the loss of Church control over civil societies at home and secular authorities who felt that religion was not sufficient cause for war and that diplomacy was a more rational method of deciding international relations. God's War is that very rare thing: a readable and vivid history written with the support of a formidable scholarly background, and it deserves to reach a wide audience. 16 color illus. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Christopher Tyerman has crafted a superb book whose majestic architecture compares with Runciman's classic study of the Crusades…He is an entertaining as well as reliable guide to the bizarre centuries-long episode in which Western Christianity willfully ignored its Master's principles of love and forgiveness. (Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of Thomas Cranmer: a Life)

This is a magisterial work. In God's War, the Crusades are not just emblematic episodes in a troubled history of Europe's encounter with Islam. Tyerman shows that they are, with all their contradictions―tragedy and tomfoolery, idealism and cynicism, piety and savagery―fundamentally and inescapably human. (Paul M. Cobb, Associate Professor of Islamic History, Fellow of the Medieval Institute, University of Notre Dame)

Tyerman's wonderful book is contemporary medieval history-writing at the top of its game. It is also the finest history of the Crusades that anyone has ever written, fully informed by its predecessors and by the excellent scholarship of the past half century. Trenchantly written on the grand scale and full of vivid detail, clear argument, and sharp judgment, God's War shows how the entire apparatus of crusade became tightly woven into European institutional and social life and consciousness, offering a highly original perspective on all of early European history and on European relations with non-Europeans. It shows no patience with ignorant mythologizing, modern condescension, or cultural instrumentalism.. In short, it constitutes a crusade history for the twenty-first century―and just in time. (Edward M. Peters, Henry Charles Lea Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania)

At a time when interest in the Middle East and the Crusades has reached a new height, Christopher Tyerman has made a significant contribution to the ever-growing shelves of books devoted to this subject. Tyerman's well-written book focuses heavily on the development of ideas about holy war from antiquity onward and on the crusade to the East from the eleventh to the sixteenth century. It is based on a careful reading of both primary and secondary sources and will prove an important resource for a broad audience of scholars, students, and general readers. The comparison with Runciman's history leaps out from the pages of this large volume and the temptation to address it will no doubt seduce others, but this volume is Tyerman through and through. (James M. Powell, Professor Emeritus of Medieval History, Syracuse University)

This is likely to replace Steven Runciman's 50-year-old History of the Crusades as the standard work. Tyerman, lecturer in medieval history at Oxford University, demolishes our simplistic misconceptions about that series of ferocious campaigns in the Middle East, Muslim Spain and the pagan Baltic between 1096 and 1500...God's War is that very rare thing: a readable and vivid history written with the support of a formidable scholarly background, and it deserves to reach a wide audience. (Publishers Weekly (starred review 2006-07-24)

Challenging traditional conceptions of the Crusades, e.g., the failure to retain Jerusalem, Tyerman believes that it was the weakening of papal power and the rise of secular governments in Europe that finally doomed the crusading impulse. This is a marvelously conceived, written, and supported book. (Robert J. Andrews Library Journal 2006-09-15)

Christopher Tyerman, who teaches medieval history in Oxford, offers in his new and massive study of the Crusades as a whole a welcome synthesis for the general reader...Full of fascinating detail...God's War is a first-rate, scholarly, up-to-date, and highly readable survey of the entire crusading movement...In the gullible age of The Da Vinci Code, Tyerman offers a sane, informed, and gripping account of one of the most characteristic and most extraordinary manifestations of the Christian Middle Ages. (Eamon Duffy New York Review of Books 2006-10-19)

Tyerman, an Oxford scholar, combines vigorous argument and nuanced analysis in this deeply learned chronicle of the Crusades...It's the best single-volume treatment of this still-controversial and fraught subject. (Benjamin Healy and Benjamin Schwarz The Atlantic 2006-11-01)

A magisterial is a shoo-in to become this generation's definitive history of the original Crusades, a series of military expeditions that temporarily returned the Holy Land to Christian rule in the Middle Ages. Hefty, encyclopedic and a darn good read, Tyerman's book has the rarest of virtues among myriad treatments of the subject: It doesn't bend history to preconceptions. (Ron Grossman Chicago Tribune 2006-10-29)

Anyone who likes knights, castles and battles as much as I do will enjoy Christopher Tyerman's masterpiece God's War, a history of the Crusades written with great breadth, clarity and human sympathy: one of the achievements of the year. (Dominic Sandbrook Daily Telegraph 2006-12-09)

With rekindled controversy about Western invasions of the Middle East, the Crusades of the late Middle Ages take on unanticipated relevance. It is thus a real boon for this strikingly effective book to appear at this time. The key to Tyerman's signal success is his ability to explain both the vicious brutality and the serious Christian altruism that were so intimately intertwined in the crusading experience and that have left such a tangled legacy for Muslim-Christian relations to this day. (Mark A. Noll Christian Century 2006-10-17)

God's War is a long but highly readable account of this extensive back-and-forth struggle. It is an impressive achievement, a work that manages to tie together an extraordinary number of threads across nearly half a millennium of European history. Although it can be taken as a response to Pope Benedict XVI's comments at Regensburg, it is more properly read as an extended rejoinder to Steven Runciman's classic three-volume History of the Crusades, published in the early 1950s, a long and colorful account that is nonetheless studded with judgments that now seem prejudiced and amateurish. Tyerman, by contrast, is never amateurish. His knowledge of the period is encyclopedic, and his judgments are sharp, astute, and fair--which is to say unsparing--to both camps. He neither vilifies Islam nor engages in the easy Euro-bashing that is the obverse of Islamophobia. With so many people succumbing to subjectivism these days, it is bracing to come across a historian who remains resolutely above the fray, who insists on viewing the conflict as a whole and who always has the broader context in mind. (Daniel Lazare The Nation 2006-12-11)

Christopher Tyerman's God's War is comprehensive, fascinating, and timely. It deflates comparisons of current U.S. strategies with the Crusades. True, the participation of religious in battle (like Odo on the Bayeux Tapestry) is noteworthy, but so is Tyerman's questioning of the cliché 'Age of Faith.' Indeed, while these books make the Middle Ages seem real, they also make it seem different, and our capacity to entertain the differences is morally crucial. (Tom D'Evelyn Providence Journal)

Christopher Tyerman's God's War: A New History of the Crusades is a doorstop of a book, a mammoth effort to retell, based on modern scholarship, the story of how Western Christendom made war to wrest the Holy Lands from Muslim hands. As we all know, this isn't considered ancient history in the Middle East. (Fritz Lanham Houston Chronicle)

This thick book compares favorably to Sir Steven Runciman's three-volume A History of the Crusades (1951-54), but where Runciman, writing a half century ago, saw the Crusades as Christianity's moral failure, Tyerman sees a violent era: neither Christians nor Moslems were peaceful, and both faced dangerous enemies...In addition to persuasive revisionist interpretations of individual crusades, Tyerman treats the broader scope of crusading, including Spain, the Balkans, and the Baltic. Most importantly for historians, the author sees nothing in the Crusades than can inform modem politics. (W. L. Urban Choice 2007-03-01)

God's War is the new standard in the field...Adjectives for [it] almost fail. "Comprehensive," "monumental," and "epic" come to mind, and they are appropriate but scarcely adequate. In brief, this is a work by a master historian. (Alfred J. Andrea CT Review 2007-07-01)

Christopher Tyerman...has written a tome that...draws on the most recent scholarship and offers fresh insights, demolishing myths galore. (A. G. Noorani Frontline 2007-05-04)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 1040 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (February 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674030702
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674030701
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #164,729 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

161 of 170 people found the following review helpful By Loren Rosson III on November 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
With the insights of Jonathan Riley-Smith and ambition of Steven Runciman, Christopher Tyerman has written the definitive study of the crusades needed for a long time now. It's heavy reading at times, but well worth it and fun, a fascinating account of an alien era. I agree with the forecast that this will replace Runciman's hostile and misleading (if elegant) classic from the 50s.

Tyerman draws on corrective scholarship, demolishing myths about crusading motives, which had nothing to do with colonialism. Most crusaders expected to return home, and they knew they would take heavy financial losses. Nor was the papacy driven by economic interests: Urban II exploited the Byzantine request for military aid by working a new idea of holy war into his reformist agenda. Alongside the pacifist movement, the abolishment of simony, concubinage, and lay investiture, the crusades represented an attempt to secure papal leadership and power over secular authorities. "The crusade is impossible to understand outside of this wider context of church reform." So while it's true that the First Crusade was a defensive war only in a superficial sense -- Catholic territory wasn't threatened, and the Latins were hardly motivated to help the Greeks out of altruism -- there was no materialist agenda on the part of the papacy.

As oxymoronic as it sounds, the crusades were part of the reform movement stemming from puritan-radicals who took over the papacy in the 1040s. The Peace of God movement at home and holy wars abroad went in tandem, the former playing right into the inception of the latter. Christian knights had been living in contradiction, taught that violence was intrinsically evil even when necessary.
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117 of 127 people found the following review helpful By Maker of Images on December 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Christopher Tyerman writes "It would be folly and hubris to pretend to compete, to match, as it were, my clunking computer keyboard with his [Runciman's] pen, at once a rapier and a paintbrush; to pit one volume however substantial, with the breadth, scope and elegance of his three." This volume is a tremendous work of historical criticism, commenting on the entirety of the Crusades from the solid vantage of an accomplished and admired scholarship. But caveat emptor: it is commentary and criticism, not historical narrative in the style of Runciman. In Runciman's volumes, the people, times and places spring vibrantly to life. In Tyerman's, they are vehicles for making various points. Many of his points are perspicacious, but this is a specialist's book, meant for those already well-acquainted with the Crusades. You will want to have read a work like Runciman's _History of the Crusades_ first, before you read a commentary like this book.
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59 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Daniel B. Clendenin on January 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Magisterial in scope, meticulous in detail, cautious in its conclusions, breathtaking in its bibliographic command of the original sources, and sparkling with literary style, the Oxford historian Christopher Tyerman has written what many medievalists have hailed as the single best book on the Crusades, one that is sure to supplant if not surpass Steven Runciman's three volume A History of the Crusades (1951-1954) as the new gold standard on the subject. Along the way he debunks numerous "glorious misconceptions," both scholarly and popular (eg, that an intolerant and hostile Christendom that was ignorant of the Middle East corrupted a tolerant Islam), about these iconic events of history where like no others "the past is captured in abiding cultural myths of inheritance, self-image, and destiny."

Tyerman cautions against two common responses to our historical past. One is "condescending historical snobbery"--to caricature the past as "comfortingly different" from the present, and to dismiss our forbears as less sophisticated, more cruel, credulous, and hypocritical than we are today. Two hundred million deaths to war in the last century belie that error. Another mistake is to use the past as a "mirror to the present," as if the atrocities of the Crusades presaged today's massacres. Tyerman does not exonerate Christendom from its sanctification of slaughter, but he reminds us that Christians did no more than what many religions have done in demonizing its enemies, taxing its citizens to kill them, redrawing maps to conquer and dominate sacred space (cf. Israel in 1948, he suggests), and even allowing those whom they conquered to live in peaceful co-existence under their new rule.

Until the time of Constantine, many Christians rejected the notion of war.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Seth J. Frantzman HALL OF FAME on January 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In this book, which should surely be the standard history of the Crusades for some time, the full history of Crusading, its theology and ideology, as well as its force of arms and great extant is fully explained, analyzed and told. This is not popular history and the depth of study and great breadth of research covered surely dispels any thoughts that this is 'fun' history. It is not the story of slashing swords and knights and men. Instead this volume seeks to fill a great gap in the history of the Crusades by giving us a revised and new understanding of them.

The books central thesis is that the Crusades deserve to be understood as they were from the period they occurred in, rather than be viewed by present day analogies such as through the prism of 'racism', 'Colonialism' or 9/11. In one of the more poignant paragraphs the study states "One of the odder myths concerning the middle ages is of intolerant Christendom corrupting tolerant Islam". This book finally dares to go against the last 40 years of interpretation of the Crusades and challenge myths that claim the Crusades were all about profit or that they were precursors to colonialism and racism. Instead the Crusaders mostly lost money and lives and in fact there was much more nuance in the Crusader states, much more tolerance, than previously thought. In addition there was no difference between the Crusades and the Muslim Jihad that had been practiced since the 7th century and which had colonized part of Europe, in a similar manner of the Crusaders.

The book finally fills a great gap in Crusade history by examining the role of the Crusades in the 'reconquista' of Spain and in the Baltic region as well as crusades against Southern France and elsewhere.
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