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58 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars unsurpassed, the new gold standard, January 17, 2007
This review is from: God's War: A New History of the Crusades (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. Tyerman traces the subsequent changing attitudes from reluctance, to accomodation, to a "gospel of indiscriminate hate," and finally to the "irreconcilable paradox" whereby followers of the prince of peace who taught the Sermon on the Mount unleashed a fury of carefully orchestrated butchery, barbarism, and bigotry. The scale, scope and complexities of the Crusades are almost unimaginable--the recruitment, military logistics, preaching tours, propaganda campaigns, technologies of warfare, financing, sea-faring, international trade, treaty-making, etc. For 500 years, from Urban II's preaching campaign in 1095-1096 to "the last crusader" Pope Pius II (1405-1464), from Greenland to Iberia and from England to Iraq, the church not only justified organzied violence but sacralized it and declared it meritorious. Nordic pagans, European Jews, Muslims in Spain and the Middle East, and fellow Christians in Constantinople or France (the heretical Cathars) were all exterminated at various times. When the slaughters ended, Tyerman shows how the crusader mentality had permeated public consciousness so broadly and deeply that it expressed itself in literature, liturgy, art, architecture, and even in wills that left inheritances to fund crusades.

"External manifestations" of the Crusades, writes Tyerman at the end of a thousand pages, "can be observed. Yet the internal, personal decision to follow the cross, to inflict harm on others at great personal risk, at the cost of enormous privations, at the service of a consuming cause, cannot be explained, excused or dismissed either as virtue or sin. Rather, its very contradictions spelt its humanity." For a shorter and more popular version of the same material see Tyerman's Fighting for Christendom; Holy War and the Crusades (Oxford, 2004, 264 pages), [...]
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 20, 2007 10:31:28 PM PST
Orianna says:
This review completely omits any consideration of what preceded the Crusades and by doing so does a gross injustice. There is ample literature documenting the incredible ferocity and savagery of the new Muslim military power sweeping out of the Arabian peninsula and across the rich lands of the Levant sweeping the Byzantine Empire before it. Crusaders joined the fight for many reasons but it is documented historical fact that non-Muslims were enslaved and slaughtered by Mohammed's war lord successors. The Crusades were a response to Muslim imperialism.

To describe the entire Crusading enterprise as a mystery is nonsense and a form of jihad-denial common in the West.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 22, 2007 5:19:39 AM PDT
Prysson says:
Here Here...couldnt have stated it better.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 1, 2007 12:56:20 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 1, 2007 12:57:20 PM PDT
Troubadour says:
Nonesense.

Go read a book before mouthing off like that.

"is ample literature documenting the incredible ferocity and savagery of the new Muslim military power..."--What "ample literature" is that?

"but it is documented historical fact that non-Muslims were enslaved and slaughtered by Mohammed's war lord successors."--Really? That would sure come as a suprise to most historians I've read! But then, maybe that's my mistake, I've actually read.

"The Crusades were a response to Muslim imperialism."--Interesting, attacking Muslim imperialism, when just the pervious paragraph you were bemoaning their invading the Byzantine EMPIRE's domain. So apparently Byzantine imperialism is okay.

Finally, only a clueless twit believe that the Crusades had any direct connection to events of four and a half centuries earlier.

Again, if you've ever done any actual reading, then you'd know that the Crusades started as a result of the Byzantine Emperor wating military aid against invading Turks. Nothing about the Holy Land or Arabian conquests.

"jihad-denial common in the West."--Yes, we're all in denial, only you are smart enough and brave enough to tell the truth!

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 23, 2007 5:38:35 AM PDT
Toby says:
but it is documented historical fact that non-Muslims were enslaved and slaughtered by Mohammed's war lord successors."--Really? That would sure come as a suprise to most historians I've read! But then, maybe that's my mistake, I've actually read.

Have you read of the conquest of India by muslims around the year 900AD? The Crusaders were more than happy to invade Byzantium whom they considered to be fallen Christians. Also, Arab (Muslim raiders) frequently attacked and acquired slaves in the upper Med! (Italy and Greece)..The first Crusade may have been a response to free the East from Turkish rule but its primary focus was the Holy Land.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 20, 2008 7:54:24 PM PDT
Tom Munro says:
That was about 400 years before was it not. Possibly one could suggest that Mexico had a right to claim back California as the US mounted a war of conquest 140 years ago
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