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The First Crusade: A New History Hardcover – October 1, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1095, Pope Urban II preached a fiery sermon that changed the course of Western history: he urged Christian warriors to take up the sword and defend their brothers in the East who had been defeated by the Muslims, and to retake the holy city of Jerusalem, then under Islamic control. Asbridge, a British authority on the Crusades, brilliantly re-creates the three-year history of the First Crusade, chronicling its difficulties and victories, not downplaying its brutality but emphasizing its genuinely religious impulse. He vividly recounts the terrible winter of 1096 in Antioch, which reduced the Christian armies from 100,000 to 30,000. Focusing on the warriors' beliefs, Asbridge astutely points out that the warriors interpreted this as God's cleansing of the weaker and less committed fighters and concluded that victory was ordained for the survivors in the final, bloody battles. Asbridge also observes that the Christian forces acted less out of an inborn hatred of Islam than out of a desire for a place in heaven if they died in battle. While relations between Christianity and Islam did not break down immediately as a result of the crusaders' triumph, later pro-war propaganda on both sides drove a wedge between the two religions. Asbridge combines fast-paced history writing, evocative prose and lucid research for a first-rate history of the First Crusade. B&w illus., 9 maps.
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From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–This concise, fascinating account begins with a brief discussion of the events and individuals who influenced Pope Urban II's call for a holy war in 1095. Blending recent research with 11th- and 12th-century writings, Asbridge describes the extraordinary circumstances that introduced the pacifist Christian church to militarism and launched tens of thousands of men and women on a journey they could scarcely comprehend. The number of significant participants of the First Crusade was huge, but the author keeps the telling manageable by focusing on two dozen of the most famous. Readers learn about their appearance, backgrounds, and beliefs before setting out with them for Jerusalem. Vivid eyewitness accounts are quoted, with corrections made for obvious errors, such as estimates of numbers of fighters. The frenetic preparations for departure, the horrors of the journey, and the savage battles are described with compelling realism. The bloody sack of Jerusalem concludes the main narrative, but an aftermath covers the subsequent lives of the major participants, and a conclusion evaluates the crusade's long-term impact. Several useful features include 9 maps, 16 pages of black-and-white photographs of medieval art and fortifications, an annotated cast of characters, and a glossary.–Kathy Tewell, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (October 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195178238
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195178234
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 1.5 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #465,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Thomas Asbridge is Reader in Medieval History at Queen Mary, University of London, and the author of 'The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones' (2014), 'The Crusades: The War for the Holy Land' (2010) and 'The First Crusade: A New History' (2004). He studied for a BA in Ancient and Medieval History at Cardiff University, and then gained his PhD in Medieval History at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Thomas wrote and presented a BBC documentary, 'The Greatest Knight: William Marshal', and a landmark three-part documentary series 'The Crusades' for the BBC, filmed on location across the Near East and Europe. He has also appeared in many other internationally broadcast television documentaries and radio programs, and has worked as a historical consultant for HBO and Company Pictures. He now lives in southern England.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Scott Schiefelbein VINE VOICE on July 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Thomas Asbridge's excellent "new history," "The First Crusade," accomplishes the complex task of demonstrating both the truth and the lie of the (currently popular) statement, "the Crusades were when Christians attacked Muslims for money." By combining both serious scholarship (considerable critical attention is paid to original sources, with long passages quoted) with a hefty dose of common sense (Asbridge does not accept anything from the original sources blindly) and a gift for clear concise writing, Asbridge has produced a work that is sure to become a standard for the study of the First Crusade. For the first time, I feel I have read a balanced account of the Christian campaign to retake Jerusalem in the late 11th century.

Asbridge probably hits his highest marks when he analyzes the complex motives of the Crusaders. It's not always easy to explain a complex situation, and the Crusades, Asbridge reminds us, were incredibly complex undertakings. He starts with an excellent exposition of the political and religious events that brought Pope Urban II to the papacy, which goes a long way towards demonstrating Urban's motives for initiating the Crusade. But Urban was no warrior-pope -- he had to inspire others to take up the quest, and the disparate, competitive leaders of the Crusades each had their own agendas. Sure, there was some demonization of the Muslims and there was a considerable amount of religious fervor involved (Asbridge makes a convincing case that a sinful knight would eagerly look at the spiritual salvation offered by the Crusades), but there were also several folks who went along on the Crusades for less noble purposes.
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66 of 75 people found the following review helpful By E. Evans on October 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the best history books I have read in a long time. It is incredibly well-written and contains a fascinating account about the first crusade. It will keep you riveted until the end.

Asbridge doesn't merely give a blow-by-blow of the action - although action is certainly not lacking. He explores how the crusade got started and the varied motivations of the participants. Characters like Bohemond, Godfrey of Boullion and Peter the Hermit come to life and fascinate.

One of the great strengths of this book is Asbridge's discussion of the history of crusade scholarship - the ideas scholars both modern and medieval had about why the crusade happened and how it played out. I also found that some of the things I learned in college (and I didn't graduate that long ago!) about the crusades have been disproved by further scholarship.

I always have found it ironic that, in a later crusade, western knights pillaged Constantinople when they were supposedly Christians united against a common foe. The roots of breakdown of the relationship between the crusaders and the Byzantine empire are explored, answering my questions.

Asbridge is remarkably balanced and objective when discussing the sensitive area of Christian and Muslim relations. My only complaint is that a couple of times in the beginning of the book that the author includes some snide comments about Christianity.

Kudos to Thomas Asbridge! I hope he decides to write another book about the other, less "successful" crusades.
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123 of 144 people found the following review helpful By Donald J. Keck on September 29, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The problem is with the sub-title: "The Roots of Conflict Between Christianity and Islam." Unfortunately far too many writers, teachers, students and even scholars share this misconception today. The Crusades were not the beginning of a millennia long antagonism between Christianity and Islam. Nor were the Crusades the cause of that hostility. To find the roots of the conflict one must go back another 461 years to the Islamic conquest of Christian Palestine and Syria (beginning in 634 CE). By the time Pope Urban II called upon the nobility of Europe (in 1095 CE) to undertake a Crusade for the liberation of the Holy Land from Muslim domination, Christendom had been continuously on the defensive against Islamic Jihadists for well over four centuries.

All the ancient sites of early Christianity from Antioch to Jerusalem to Alexandria had been conquered. All the Christian peoples of the Levant and North Africa as far west as the Iberian Peninsula had been subjugated and reduced to Dhimmitude - a third class status closely resembling the condition of the Jews in Germany during the 1930s. The Sassanian Persian Empire had likewise been overthrown and the ancient Zoroastrian religion all but eradicated. Later the Indian subcontinent would be conquered and the Hindu peoples subjugated and reduced to Dhimmitude. Buddhism was virtually wiped out in India by its Muslim conquerors. It survives today only in Tibet, China, Japan and Southeast Asia.

The simple fact is that Islam was by no means a peaceful or tolerant religion. On the contrary, as far as non Muslims were concerned, it was a militant, imperialist and tyrannical faith.

The Crusades were the first attempt on the part of Christian Europe since the Battle of Tours in 732 to push back the frontiers of Islamic conquest.
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