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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2003
« The Oxford History of� » could suggest some grey bearded professors laboriously writing history nobody but them would understand, but far from it, Jonathan Riley-Smith has managed to edit the erudite contributions to this book into a pleasant and interesting format. Some pages, very few actually, are a little heavy going but most chapters are fascinating. They assume a reasonably smart reader � nobody buys a history of the Crusades if he or she is exclusively into hard rock or soccer � but for the average person with an interest in history and a probably bad recollection of the Crusades as they were taught to teenagers some decades ago, this a perfect book. It requires no more than a general idea of the who�s who at the time and even that is made very clear chapter after chapter. I particularly enjoyed the sections describing the Crusades from the point of view of the people who were at the receiving end. Yet the book is balanced and does not fall into the stereotype of picturing the crusaders as greedy bad guys, turned loose on the local populace by manipulative popes and clerics promising them that past and future sins would be forgiven, although there was quite a bit of that. The chapters on the military orders are great and the final chapter describes the later perception of the Crusades throughout history with plenty of surprises: who knows that Voltaire was scathingly contemptuous of the crusaders? Think of it, though, it fits the great man�s view of the world neatly. The illustrations are very good and abundant. Anyone with an interest in the Crusades should read this book.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on December 18, 2000
This is a great general history of the Crusades, edited by one of the most prominent living crusading historians. It covers all the important battles, but is also heavy on social history, the "East meets West" aspect of the Crusades, and it's rather good on the Crusader kingdoms as well. If you crave the details of the Mamluks' machinations or the rise and fall of Shagarrat al-Durr, it might be best to eke out Riley-Smith's history with a book by a historian who knows the Arabic sources. This volume also contains a lot of lovely illustrations, some of which are actually helpful.
You will find that this book encompasses the traditional Crusading period, but doesn't stop there. This is because there is some debate when the Crusades actually ENDED. Are fifteenth-century pogroms against European 'infidels' to be considered Crusades? What about the Albigensian Crusade? There are two scholarly armed camps on this issue: Riley-Smith and his students on the one hand, and, well, nearly everyone else on the other. Just be aware that it's a contentious issue.
For that quasi-mythical animal, the interested layperson, I would also recommend Maalouf's The Crusades through Arab Eyes, and almost anything by Steven Runciman.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 6, 2002
Heavy historian buffs may rate this book as a 5, because it is packed with all kinds of information one might never imagine about the Crusades. It certainly deserves credit for all the research that had to go into compiling the essays in this book which cover such areas as the music, poetry, art, architecture of the times, as well as the prevailing thought of the times, both Christian and Muslim.
I gave it a 4 because it didn't meet my own personal expectations. I wanted to know more about the Crusades, but delineated in a different way to make it easier to digest, perhaps in more readable chapters explaining succeeding Crusades: their journeys, missions, and results. I did glean useful information and insight, primarily that the Crusades were much more involved than what we generally perceive today as a simple-minded holy war against the infidel Muslims. I was surprised that the Crusades were also against heretics within Europe, and that there were some critics of the time who opposed killing for the sake of God. However, this book was overwhelming in its details about people, places, dates, and yet I am still left wanting to know...what exactly happened?
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2004
By:Jonathan Riley-Smith
Reviewed by:D. Wang
P.5
The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades is a book about you want and don't want to know about the crusades. The book's opening chapters aren't about the actual military action at all. It's about the minds of the crusaders, the songs of the time, the Latin East. It's not until chapter nine that military orders, movements, and actions are mentioned. The book concludes with a comparison of modern day events and the crusades.
I liked this book because of the sheer amount of information. on page 86 it says "Men and women, including elderly crusaders, came to Jerusalem to end their days. The charnel chambers in the Hospitallers' ruined twelfth-century cemetry-church at Alcheldamach, just outside Jersalem, are still filled with the bones of pious Christians." It is extremely doubtful you will find this variety of information in a textbook.
This book really took the effort to find all the information possible. An entire chapter of the book is devoted to songs about the crusade. There are not many books about a series of wars where an entire chapter is devouted to songs. The book puts a lot a information and visual material in 436 pages. It is very easy to be overwhelmed, and the authors should have made it easier to comprehend.
My favorite part of the book is the last chapter. "In a surprising development, however, the theology of force that underpinned crusading has been revived, especially in Latin America, by a militant wing of Christian Liberation." It is amzing how we humans fall from the same things over and over again, and this chapter previews of what might come. I like to compare our present to our past because it makes you realize how many times we've made the same mistake over and over again. Sometimes we just fail to take the past into consideration.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon March 13, 2004
This is a series of fifteen articles by various authorities on aspects of the various wars refer to collectively as the Crusades. The include the origins of the Crusades, Songs, Architecture, Islam, later Crusade Movements, Military Orders, and how they Crusades have impacted art in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as how they live on into our time. The articles are of a very high quality. While they are written for the general reader, they don't pander. They are well written and the more attention you give the articles the more you will take away.
As the title indicates, this book is richly illustrated with black and white images, maps, and many color plates. There is also a chronology of the Crusades (they really aren't a single event), a very nice list for further study, and a good index.
In light of the events of our time, this is one of the books you can turn to in order to get some background of how Europe and the Middle East have interacted for the past millennium in order to get some background on the cultural baggage weighing on what is happening today. Today never flows directly out of the past; it is a confluence of various streams from the past with different currents, flow, and debris. Unless you are already a specialist, you will learn many helpful things from these essays.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2006
This is a very important book for people who want to know the facts without stories of romance and chivalry. It is very well organized with chapters dedicated to all the aspects of life from the time of the Crusades, aspects ranging from the military orders in various periods of time to the evolution of crusading literature. I recommend this book for people who need an overview of the period of the Crusades. It is also advisable, in order to comprehend the whole picture of the Crusades, to read opinions from the Muslim side. A very good book in this region is "Arab Historians of the Crusades" (The Islamic World Series) by Francesco Gabrieli.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2006
This is an intro book to the Crusades.

What I liked about The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades was it's very 'neat' look at history. It is a clean-cut array of events in prose form, with several pictures and illustrations, without moral position taken. This way, the reader can use the information given and put it into a context of discussion and a wider analysis of the time period covered. The only down-side was probably that, having used it in a classroom setting, I felt almost as if it were too 'story-book', too illustrative. The information, however, is substantial.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2011
This is not a narrative history, but a collection of essays about aspects of the crusades.
In many stories, the reader only sees the top 10% of the iceberg. The other 90% remains beneath the surface. Similarly, many histories about the Crusades only present the popular narrative. These essays represent (a portion of) the other 90%.

For a person just beginning, this book is most likely not for you. Asbridge or Runciman would be better starting points. It would be like a Tolkien reader starting in the Appendices, the Unfinished Tales, and Histories of Middle Earth before actually reading the trilogy itself. As long as the prospective reader understands what this book is about, they will be happy with it.

Those doing in-depth studies about who participated, why, and how - the financing, the motivations, the social consequences on the families and local and regional economies (both on the home front and front lines), the impact on social classes, how they transformed Europe and the ME, the military orders - would do well to look here. There are discussions about how the crusades have been reflected over time by historians, literature, art, and architecture.

While each essay has a clearly distinct topic written by a distinct author, the essays are cohesive and show an awareness of each other, perhaps due to excellent editing by Riley-Smith. Some essays are more interesting than others, but I believe each is equally important to a more complete understanding of the crusades.

The paper quality is good, the illustrations superb, and I found no typos or odd grammar throughout the text.

One thing I found particularly interesting was the illustration of Richard the Lionheart's effigy. Just as Yosemite gives set designers THE image of paradise and Sedona and Monument Valley are THE images of the Wild West, that effigy is THE stereotypical image of a vibrant medieval king from Errol Flynn movies to Shrek.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades introduced me to several aspects of the military campaigns and enduring influences they had which I had never been exposed. I have read other books on this topic and have learned a great deal, however, additional topics such as poetry, song and architecture were items which up until my reading of this book I had not even considered. After reading this book you will realize as perhaps as I that one has merely scratched the surface of Crusade history. I highly recommend this source if you would be interested in getting a bigger and better picture of this often misunderstood and oft-maligned period of history in western civilization.
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16 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2000
The attention to detail by the author is almost nauseating. If you are looking for detailed information on the crusades, this is a good reference. (This guy relates everything(not just fighting) that happened "in the day" and the affect it had on the crusade). The content is good, but a bit hard to read in some areas due to verbage. I certainly would have rated this as a three star, but the photographs, charts, and other graphics are absolutely oustanding. The photos of the castles(especially the castles on the island of Crete(Greece)) are exceptional. The chronology in the rear is a good reference, and would certainly be valuable for writing college papers.
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