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on August 4, 2017
While the book starts off in a well balanced manner, shattering the laughable modern myths regarding the "unprovoked" nature of the crusade, the West's so called "backwardness" in the Middle Ages and highlights the fact that the Islamic progress was due largely to partially assimilated cultures, many of which were ultimately destroyed, I feel that it really does abandon its objectivity towards the end.

The first crusade is presented well, the background, the warriors, the journey, the battles and the outcome are all well documented and the fact that the crusaders basically applied the standard policy of the age at Jerusalem ( just like Saladin did a few years later) really sheds some objective light on this fascinating period. The book presents some other little known facts like the admiration of certain Muslim writers towards the way justice was served in a fair manner in the crusader kingdoms, the military superiority of the West alongside the agricultural advancements of the so called "Dark Ages" that ensured that westerners ate better food than any other group of people at that time.

The highlight of the book, ironically, is not the presentation of the crusades but the background and the causes. For some reason, the downright cretinous claims of Voltaire and others who said that Islam was received with enthusiasm in the conquered areas are still popular in the West today. While the Balkan countries, Poland, Hungary still have plenty of reminders of hundreds of years of oppression, raids, child slaves and sex slaves at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, the moronic claims of certain 17th-18th century writers which were living in the most rich and advanced societies in the history of mankind and were surrounded by flourishing arts and sciences but for some reason wanted to ridicule those very societies by raising Islam on a pedestal...these claims still have traction today, and for this reason, books like this one are very healthy.

Towards the end, as mentioned above, the book unfortunately abandons its myth shattering purpose and objective attitude and becomes fully apologetic.

The 4th crusade in particular is presented as some sort of an accident where the crusaders were placed in an impossible situation and, despite the fact that they didn't want to, they 'had' to sack the most advanced and rich city of the time...no mention of the fact the Venetians basically had been waiting for any excuse to raid Constantinople for a long time. The book mentions the low body count but conveniently ignores the fact that it was the greatest robbery of the age if we consider the total amount of loot that was carried away and ended up in Venice and other places. The book also fails to mention that the Church excommunicated a lot of people after this crusade...

No mention of the dubious Northern Crusades or any of the subsequent degenerations of the original idea behind the crusading, the corruption of certain Knight Orders and of the fact that basically that very 4th crusade alongside the Zara fiasco basically ended the age of the knight wars and the beginning of the mercenary age in Europe. This made me drop a few stars off the score...but as mentioned above, it's still a healthy read.
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on January 7, 2016
Point: “The Crusades were not unprovoked. They were not the first round of European colonialism. They were not conducted for land, loot, or converts. The crusaders were not barbarians who victimized the cultivated Muslims. They sincerely believed that they served in God’s battalions” (kindle 3371).

Path: Stark walks the other side of the fence. He reveals what is on the flip side of the coin which no one talks about anymore. I am sure that the author got tired of hearing undocumented and illogical arguments surrounding the Crusades and finally sat down and compiled arguments from the actually sources left to us.

Sources: Stark pulls from sources during the Crusades until today. He sites all the popular authors on the Crusades, both from the West and Muslim world. He does so thoroughly and coherently. (I think I actually found a sentence without a footnote somewhere in there!)

Agreement: I greatly appreciated reading this alternate view of the Crusades. The truth is that the Crusades were not bloodless, gentle, nor fair - on either side. But that does not mean that they were colonialistic, one-sided, brutal offensive on a peace-loving Muslim populace.

Personal App: When people bring to the conversation arguments about the Crusades and why ISIS cannot be blamed for their horrific violence, I can now say, “Yes, about those Crusades…””

Favorite Quote: “To sum up the prevailing wisdom: during the Crusades, an expansionist, imperialistic Christendom brutalized, looted, and colonized a tolerant and peaceful Islam. Not so. As will be seen, the Crusades were precipitated by Islamic provocations: by centuries of bloody attempts to colonize the West and by sudden new attacks on Christian pilgrims and holy places (kindle 139).

It would be worth another read and I would recommend it to someone who:
Is interested in history
Is interested in the Muslim world
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on October 10, 2014
This well-researched book with its profuse bibliography and copious notes is not a history of the crusades. Nor is it, as some reviewers suggest, an apology for the crusades. Rather this is an extended essay which refutes a number of common myths or outdated theories about the crusades and the crusader states. Stark is not a polemicist, but a professor at Baylor University, who has published extensively on religion and sociology. In short, he is a scholar intent on paring away legend and prejudice to enable academic and popular discourse shaped by fact not fiction. Any serious scholar of the crusades and the crusader states should start with this book — and then get on with their actual research unencumbered with false notions. Even more important, this ought to be required reading in all classes that touch on the topic of the crusades.

Stark systematically dissects and destroys the following notions about the crusades that still dominate public perceptions and debate.

1. The idea that the crusaders were aggressors, who fell upon peace-loving and tolerant Muslim states without provocation.
2. The equally anachronistic idea that the crusades were an early form of European colonialism.
3. The claim that Jerusalem was particularly “holy” to Muslims in the period before the Crusades.
4. The thesis that crusaders were primarily motivated by greed.
5. The portrayal of crusaders as uncultivated barbarians fighting a “higher” civilization in the Muslim east.
6. The assertion that the Christians conducted warfare in ways that were more brutal and cruel than their enemies.
7. The myth that the Muslim rulers were more tolerant of other religions — and their own heretics — than Christian rulers.
8. The thesis that Western/Latin crusaders fell upon Constantinople without provocation and “destroyed” the city without cause.
9. The notion that bitterness over the crusades persisted (despite the Muslim’s complete and utter victory over the Crusader States in the second half of the 13th century) to the present day.

Stark starts by cataloguing the long list of Muslim conquests against Christian states and peoples from Syria and North Africa to Armenia, Spain and Southern France, but he also provides a chilling list of mass murders of Christian monks and pilgrims — each with dates and numbers: 70 Christian pilgrims executed in Caesura for refusing to convert to Islam and 60 crucified in Jerusalem in the early eighth century, the sack and slaughter of the monastery near Bethlehem in the later eighth century, the destruction of two nearby churches gradually escalating to multiple attacks on churches, convents and monasteries in and around Jerusalem including mass rapes in 808 and 813, a new wave of atrocities in 923, the destruction of an estimated 30,000 (yes, thirty-thousand) Christian churches including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in 1009. So much for Muslim “tolerance.”

Stark also brings considerable evidence that the alleged “superiority” of Muslim/Arab culture was largely based on accomplishments of Persian, Jewish, Indian and, indeed, Christian scholars living under Muslim rule. Thus the alleged mathematical superiority of the Arabs came from the Hindus, the great libraries and legacy of learning came from the Greeks, Arab medicine was, Stark argues, “Nestorian Christian” in origin and so on. He then contends that the Christian west was anything but “backward” and the so-called “Dark Ages” is a misnomer that says more about the ignorance of historians than the state of civilization in the period between the fall of Rome and the First Crusade. Stark points out that the military technology of the crusaders — from stirrups, horseshoes and crossbows to the devastatingly effective “Greek Fire” — was markedly superior to the military technology of their opponents. But it wasn’t just in military matters that the crusaders were ahead of the Saracens. In the fields of agricultural, land-transportation and nautical technology, Western technology also significantly out-stripped that of the Middle East.

Stark is perhaps at his best in documenting the many times that Muslim victors slaughtered the garrisons and inhabitants of conquered cities — long before the first crusaders even set out from Europe. He points out the hyperbole in popular accounts of the fall of Jerusalem in the First Crusade as well. But he is most effective in countering the myth of Muslim chivalry is his account of the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the second half of the 13th Century, where time and again the Mamluk leaders broke their word and enslaved or massacred those to whom they had promised freedom and life. One quote from a primary, Muslim source about the sack of the great Roman city of Antioch should suffice to make this point. The source is a letter to the Prince of Antioch (who had not be present in his city to defend it) by none other than the Muslim Sultan himself. Sultan Baibars gloated: “You would have seen your Muslim enemy trampling on the place where you celebrate Mass, cutting the throats of monks, priests and deacons upon the altars, bringing sudden death to the Patriarchs and slavery to the royal princes. You would have seen fire running through your palaces, your dead burned in this world before going down to the fires of the next.” Ah, yes, Saracen “chivalry” at its best indeed.

The book does have its weaknesses, of course. Stark is covering far too great a canvas to provide any analysis or detail. His book is structured as a rebuttal to unfounded allegations and theses, but for the most part he does not provide alternative theses. Certainly, he does not describe personalities and their impact on events except in some rare instances. His explanations of developments are often facile, and occasionally he falls into outright errors. (For example, he claims plate armor was so heavy a knight needed a crane to mount his horse; in reality it was much lighter than chainmail and a knight in his prime could vault onto his horse without use of a stirrup much less a crane. ) But the bottom line is that this book does what it sets out to do: it destroys a whole series of insidious myths that turn the crusades into an excuse for all subsequent barbarity; it clears the way for a more productive debate based on fact rather than falsehood.
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on March 14, 2016
This book is a good beginning history of why Christians first went to fight in the Crusades.

On November 27, 1095, Pope Urban II gave a speech graphically detailing the torture, rape, and murder of Christian pilgrims and the defilement of churches and holy places committed by the Turks. “They destroy the altars, after having defiled them with their uncleanness. They circumcise the Christians, and the blood of the circumcision they pour into the vases of the baptismal font...They torture people...by perforating their navels, and dragging forth the extremity of the intestines, bind it to a stake; then with flogging they lead the victim around until the viscera having gushed forth the victim falls prostrate on the ground...What shall I say about the abominable rape of women? To speak of it is worse than to be silent. On whom therefore is the labor of avenging these wrongs and recovering this territory incumbent, if not upon you?”

This is the traditional explanation of how and why the First Crusade begun. Alexius Comnenus, the emperor of Byzantium, had written from his embattled capital of Constantinople to the Count of Flanders, requesting that he and his fellow Christians send forces to help the Byzantines repel the Seljuk Turks. These were recent converts to Islam who had invaded the Middle East, ambushed Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land, captured Jerusalem, and driven to within one hundred miles of Constantinople.

This book counters more recent criticism that the long-ago crusades are helping to fuel modern Islamic fury. Not true. The author shows how Muslim antagonism about the Crusades did not appear until about 1900, when there was a reaction against the decline of the Ottoman Empire and against European colonialism in the Middle East. Anti-crusader feelings did not become intense until after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.

A very well-written and highly researched book.
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on December 19, 2014
This has been a much (superficially) discussed topic lately. You are sure to hear anybody (from highly illiterate TV commentators and "experts") to Ivy League professors alluding to the Crusades. As is the case with most historical events, most of them are very uninformed about the actual events that took place. This book offers a starkly different account than what you're likely to hear from other sources, and given how much common sense it makes, I tend to to believe the author to be correct. That being said, this is a very short account and is intended only to raise awareness around gross misunderstandings about the Crusades, not to teach history to people unfamiliar to the events. It would be worth somebody picking up the pen and going much deeper to support the ideas in this book with a detailed historical account of the facts. Highly recommended.
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on November 12, 2015
This well-researched, well-reasoned and well-written history brings much needed balance to the politicized history that sees all actions in history by Muslims as benign and all actions by Jews and Christians as evil. Stark starts his history of the Crusades not with the First Crusade from Europe to the Holy Land, but with the long Muslim conquest or attempted conquest of Christian lands. On page 12 he says, "In 570, when Muhammad was born, Christendom stretched from the Middle East all along North Africa and embraced much of Europe. But only eighty years after Muhammad death in 632, a new Muslim empire had displaced Christians from most of the Middle East, all of North Africa, Cyprus, and most of Spain. In another century Sicily, Sardinia, Crete, and southern Italy also came under Muslim rule." He doesn't miss evil acts by the Crusaders, common to all warfare at the time, but juxtaposes them with equally evil slaughter by Muslims and puts both in their historical context. My only quibble is that he ends the book too soon, before the Muslim conquest of the Eastern Roman Empire and Constantinople, parts of the Balkans and attempts twice on Vienna, not to mention the long Muslim effort to subdue Europe by control of the Mediterranean including the Siege of the Knights of St. John in Malta and the defeat of the Muslim fleet at Lepanto, all part of the Islamic jihad "crusade" if you will to destroy Christianity and conquer Europe. The Crusades were Europe's reaction to aggressive Muslim empire building at the point of a sword. They have become politicized talking points to rally the recruits for the next wave of terrorism and suicide bombing, aided by intellectuals and the media who loath the civilization that nurtures them. This book is a must-read for history buffs, and for those who wish to see this put in a more balance historical context.

Robert A. Hall
Author: The Coming Collapse of the American Republic
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on December 7, 2014
I love this book. It's one of the very very few publications out there that gives an alternate take on the Crusades. The author is extremely knowledgeable. I know some people will disagree with the book's premise, but you can't deny that the author knows his stuff.

So, even if you disagree with this author's opinion, this book might still be helpful in that it gives you information you may not have known. It probably will definitely give you information you've never known because a lot of the information is not PC to talk about, let alone form opinions about.

If you're interested in what ACTUALLY happened during the Crusades, then you really need to buy this book to get as full of a picture of what actually happened. Most of the books about the Crusades only discuss the acceptable versions and interpretations of the Crusades.
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on May 14, 2015
An absolutely must read for anyone who wants to hear the real truth about the Crusades. Stark is a recognized scholar and he puts the history of the Crusades in a relatively short, organized and understandable book. I have lent this out to many people who all agreed that it was a must read. The Crusades have never ended, read this book and you will understand. I have purchased many copies now to give away.
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on March 5, 2016
Fabulous short history of the Crusades that clears up all of the misinformation about the causes and purposes of the Crusades set forth by the Left/Progressives and Muslims who would like to perpetuate the myth that the Christian Crusades were about colonization, land grabs and suppression of Muslims.
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on December 2, 2015
This thurough history of the story of the Crusades documents the real trials, failures and few success of this centuries long attempt to reverse the Muslim Crusades.Excesses and vainalities of the Crusades are put into context without excusing them. A must and easy read for anyone who wants to know the full story of why the Crusades were NOT an evil Roman Christian war against the innocent Palestinian Muslims. A bit more of the pre-crusade history of the region would have been helpful.
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