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The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (Saqi Essentials)

4.5 out of 5 stars 155 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0805208986
ISBN-10: 0805208984
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Editorial Reviews


"The Crusades Through Arab Eyes may be warmly recommended to lay-readers and students alike."
The Times Literary Supplement (London)

Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Saqi Essentials
  • Paperback: 293 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken (April 29, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805208984
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805208986
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (155 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,926 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
What can one say about a book that has the chief fault of leaving one wanting more? The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (hereafter, "Arab Eyes") is a beautifully composed book that draws almost exclusively from Arabic primary sources to tell the tale of the Western conquest, 1100-1300 AD. Unfortunately, whenever Maalouf isn't talking about military or political intrigue, he seems to loose interest. The book raises many fascinating topics -- the influence of Arab society on the Holy Roman Empire, the rise of a slave class to become the masters of all Islam -- without going into detail on any of them.
The first encounter between Muslim and Crusader is told from the perspective of Kilij Arslan, a seventeen-year-old sultan who would go on to become a legendary name in the struggle of the Islamic people. The "Franj", as the invaders were called, were pouring into his country by the tens of thousands. A skilled military leader, Arslan carefully withdrew his forces into a defensive position, only to be startled by his first glimpse of this "army": ragged, untrained peasants with strips of cloth pinned to their tunics in the shape of the cross. Reluctantly forced into battle, Arslan easily smashed the Crusader legion into bits, considering the matter settled. He had no way of knowing that what he had seen was only the rumor of war, not the war itself.
What may be most surprising to Western readers, such as myself, was that the majority of the Islamic struggle during the Crusader period, 1100-1300 AD, was not against Europeans, but against other Muslim leaders. The "empire" of Islam was sharply divided, and the question of rule was always at issue.
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Format: Paperback
A friend loaned me this book years ago, but for whatever reason I didn't get around to it until recently. I finally picked it up the other day, partly for the obvious motivation of gaining a better understanding of Islamic cultures. It's a riveting book, and an authentic learning experience. The subject is pretty much spelled out by the title: Maalouf draws on various writings by Arab historians and diarists from the time of the Crusades and shortly thereafter -- from 1096 to 1291 (AD) -- to re-tell that story from their point of view. It's a tribute to Maalouf's skill that the resulting, novel-like narrative is so crisp and engaging, and the details are often astonishing and unforgettable. (On occasion there are too many names to keep track of on a given page, but that happens only rarely.) Maybe it's not surprising that the Arab perspective on the Crusades would paint that exercise as a barbaric invasion, but the book (written in the 1980s) is evenhanded, not an anti-Western polemic. We learn about barbarity, and duplicity, on all sides. We also learn how often one side's victory was really the result of internecine squabbling among its foes. Plus, there is illumination of the jihad idea; an examination of the birth and actions of the Assassins sect; interesting anecdotes about the relationship between religion and regional power, and much else that resonate with current Middle East politics. Finally, the book's brief but very sharp epilogue examines how the Crusades may have affected Islamic attitudes toward the Western vision of modernity. For understanding that reaches deeper than many more-current titles on the Middle East and Islam, this is an excellent place to begin. Very readable, and even more informative.
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Format: Paperback
This is really a terrific idea. Before this book, you probably would have needed to be a graduate student in history before you even realized that the Arab point of view of the Crusades had ever even been recorded, let alone preserved. This book strikes a beautiful balance between being a purely popular edition, and being something that people who study stuff like this for a living might read... It's the kind of book that Barbara Tuchman might have been proud to write.
Amin Maalouf specifically disavows any intention to write a "history book" in his preface. His background is in journalism, and sure enough, he shows evidence of a journalist's ear and eye for the great story... for the gripping and/or galvanizing detail... for the telling gesture that provides the key to a character's persona. Furthermore, he makes it plain that he is not out to write a balanced account, any more than Western authors have historically been interested in providing balanced accounts of the Crusades. This really is presented from the Arab point of view... That said, it might be worth balancing your reading of this book with a concurrent reading of a western account, or you might get a little lost. It isn't easy to read a long book with so few familiar points of reference. Admit it -- unless you are a major history buff, you probably don't know much about this period even from the Western point of view! I think especially as Americans, there is a tendency to feel that this period in history is not very relevant to our country's history. After all, the events of this book took place long before nationalism, before (clearly) freedom of religion or of speech, mostly even before the Magna Carta was a glimmer in anyone's eye.
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