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In this collection of essays, the story of the Crusades is told as never before in an engrossing and comprehensive history that ranges from the preaching of the First Crusade in 1095 to the legacy of crusading ideals and imagery that continues today. Here are the ideas of apologists, propagandists, and poets about the Crusades, as well as the perceptions and motives of the In this collection of essays, the story of the Crusades is told as never before in an engrossing and comprehensive history that ranges from the preaching of the First Crusade in 1095 to the legacy of crusading ideals and imagery that continues today. Here are the ideas of apologists, propagandists, and poets about the Crusades, as well as the perceptions and motives of the crusaders themselves and the means by which they joined the movement.The book's coverage ranges from the elaborate social and civic systems that arose to support the Crusades to in-depth and vivid descriptions of the battles themselves. The contributors provide keen and insightful commentary on the reactions of the Muslims to a Christian holy war. Also included are studies of crusades outside the eastern Mediterranean region as well as post-medieval crusades.By describing the combat and homefront conditions, by evaluating the clash (and coalescence) of many cultures, by tracing a legacy that continues in our conflict-ridden present, and by documenting the enduring artistic and social changes that the Crusades wrought, A History of the Crusades offers an unsurpassed panorama of one of the great movements in western history. All students of medieval culture, religion, politics, and/or history will find in these pages a highly useful, thorough, and contemporary account of that movement.


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In this collection of essays, the story of the Crusades is told as never before in an engrossing and comprehensive history that ranges from the preaching of the First Crusade in 1095 to the legacy of crusading ideals and imagery that continues today. Here are the ideas of apologists, propagandists, and poets about the Crusades, as well as the perceptions and motives of the In this collection of essays, the story of the Crusades is told as never before in an engrossing and comprehensive history that ranges from the preaching of the First Crusade in 1095 to the legacy of crusading ideals and imagery that continues today. Here are the ideas of apologists, propagandists, and poets about the Crusades, as well as the perceptions and motives of the crusaders themselves and the means by which they joined the movement.The book's coverage ranges from the elaborate social and civic systems that arose to support the Crusades to in-depth and vivid descriptions of the battles themselves. The contributors provide keen and insightful commentary on the reactions of the Muslims to a Christian holy war. Also included are studies of crusades outside the eastern Mediterranean region as well as post-medieval crusades.By describing the combat and homefront conditions, by evaluating the clash (and coalescence) of many cultures, by tracing a legacy that continues in our conflict-ridden present, and by documenting the enduring artistic and social changes that the Crusades wrought, A History of the Crusades offers an unsurpassed panorama of one of the great movements in western history. All students of medieval culture, religion, politics, and/or history will find in these pages a highly useful, thorough, and contemporary account of that movement.

30 review for A History of the Crusades

  1. 5 out of 5

    John

    I read this around the time that "Kingdom of Heaven" was released to theaters. This is an excellent short history of the crusades, detailing the political, religious, and social factors of the crusades. Riley-Smith starts with the build up to the first crusade, and as a result lets off the Muslims a bit easy - he mentions the pillaging and destruction of the First Crusade, but skims over the slaughter when Jerusalem was captured in the 7th Century. Still, Saladin rightly gets credit for sparing t I read this around the time that "Kingdom of Heaven" was released to theaters. This is an excellent short history of the crusades, detailing the political, religious, and social factors of the crusades. Riley-Smith starts with the build up to the first crusade, and as a result lets off the Muslims a bit easy - he mentions the pillaging and destruction of the First Crusade, but skims over the slaughter when Jerusalem was captured in the 7th Century. Still, Saladin rightly gets credit for sparing the lives of the inhabitants, unlike the First Crusaders, who killed all Muslims and Jews in the city (and a few Christians). Riley-Smith includes crusades in Europe, against French heretics and Baltic pagans. He also makes the argument that the crusades did not end until the defeat of the Hospitaler Knights in the early 19th Century. Good stuff, if a little depressing.

  2. 4 out of 5

    John Roberson

    This guy literally wrote the book on modern Crusades scholarship. This is no mere revisionist apology, but he upturns the popular conception of the Crusades: Could they have had to do with something more than greed and hate, West plundering East, violent religionists in need of enlightened humanism? Read this book and learn more about the Crusades than you thought there was to know. Read this book and cringe the next time you see a movie set during the Crusades.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Morgan

    Heavy on the purple prose and hyperbole, but light on the details. The details thing is to be expected in book covering a thousand years or so. The love-letter to Richard I of England was pretty spectacular, though. You could do worse for Baby's First Crusade Overview. Zero excuses for the lack of referencing, though, even on directly quoted material. Be an academic textbook, or be a short introduction. Don't try and fail at both. Heavy on the purple prose and hyperbole, but light on the details. The details thing is to be expected in book covering a thousand years or so. The love-letter to Richard I of England was pretty spectacular, though. You could do worse for Baby's First Crusade Overview. Zero excuses for the lack of referencing, though, even on directly quoted material. Be an academic textbook, or be a short introduction. Don't try and fail at both.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dietrich

    The Crusades: A History, by Jonathan Riley-Smith, is a thoughtful, well-articulated, broadly conceived and highly informative account of the crusading movement. The author also provides the reader with a perspective on many of the basic historiographical issues/controversies concerning the crusades, and includes a useful, well-organized bibliography. This is quite a lot to pack into one little book. As a historian of the crusades, Riley-Smith writes as a self-described pluralist. Pluralists, unli The Crusades: A History, by Jonathan Riley-Smith, is a thoughtful, well-articulated, broadly conceived and highly informative account of the crusading movement. The author also provides the reader with a perspective on many of the basic historiographical issues/controversies concerning the crusades, and includes a useful, well-organized bibliography. This is quite a lot to pack into one little book. As a historian of the crusades, Riley-Smith writes as a self-described pluralist. Pluralists, unlike their interpretive rivals, the traditionalists, do not define the crusades in terms of hostility to Islam. As their name indicates, the pluralists view the crusades as legitimately comprising a wide variety of activities. These certainly included struggles against Islam in various locations (including, though it is often forgotten, Spain), but also involved struggles against heretics, papal political opponents, and pagans in the North. As Riley-Smith puts it, "A crusade was fought against those perceived to be the external or internal foes of Christendom for the recovery of Christian property or in defence of the Church or Christian people." (p.xxxi) Though Riley-Smith interprets crusading broadly, he still distinguishes it from other kinds of Christian holy warfare. "Every crusader took a vow, which he or she was committed to fulfill as a penance; that is an act, often of self-punishment, which constituted an attempt to repay the debt owed to God on account of sin. It was for this reason that each was also granted an indulgence. This privilege, fully developed from c. 1200, and the guarantee of remission of sins which preceded it, distinguished crusading from most other forms of Christian holy war." (p.xxx) Riley-Smith thinks that the crusading vow was not mere formality. Crusading really was largely a penitential activity in its early days, says Riley-Smith, and even later on the movement never ceased to be animated to a significant extent by a concern for self-sanctification. In a time of widespread and deepening piety, crusading allowed laymen their own sort of religious vocation, and the energy unleashed by the crusades is impossible to explain without taking seriously the religious/ideological assumptions and preoccupations of medieval Europe. In fact, Riley-Smith thinks pluralists, by casting their interpretive nets far and wide, have done a great service to historical understanding by uncovering much evidence that supports an ideological interpretation of crusading motivations at the expense of materialistic interpretations. These materialistic explanations were, to Riley-Smith, never particularly strong to begin with. I can see how one might view Riley-Smith's interpretive stance with some skepticism. His pluralism validates as legitimate crusades many activities that others have viewed as corruptions and perversions of the crusading phenomenon. And his stress on self-sanctification as a crusading motivation might appear to mask other motives. However, I did not get the sense when reading this book that Riley-Smith is attempting to whitewash the crusades. Riley-Smith is not promoting an agenda; his book is intended as an act of recovery. He insists on trying to understand crusaders as they understood themselves. In a united, Catholic Christendom, a pluralistic understanding of the crusades, as articulated by the popes, made much sense. Heretics were just as big a threat to Christendom as were Muslims. Political opponents of papal power threatened the right ordering of society. And so on. One need not admire particular manifestations of crusading pluralism to recognize that these manifestations were largely the work of a society trying to live up to its self-understanding. Also, Riley-Smith does a credible job of making clear the penitential dimension of crusading. He not only alludes to and makes use of copious amounts of written evidence, he also makes strong arguments against understanding the appeal of the crusades as motivated by colonial designs, an impulse to pillage, or the convenient alleviation of surplus population. Idealism seems to have been the real motive force. In addition, Riley-Smith illuminates how the ideological motivations of medieval people have often been buried under layers of modern historiographical assumptions. In general, Riley-Smith seems to stand on solid interpretive ground, though I certainly would like to read other accounts of the crusades so as to more fully understand differing perspectives as well. A noteworthy feature of this book is that it traces different contributions to the crusading movement. I will mention some highlights. The earlier "peace of God" movement helped make clear to churchmen the potential value of channeling military power to serve Christ's ends. The notion that violence could be a spiritually purifying, penitential activity seems to have been first articulated by Gregory VII in his struggle with the German Emperor, though this notion met with plenty of skepticism. Urban II, who called for the first crusade, made the all-important link between purifying violence and a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This link enabled the crusades by making the idea of penitential violence broadly acceptable. Innocent III proved more important than anyone with the exception of Urban II for developing the crusading movement. With Innocent, the intellectual articulations of crusading reached maturity. In particular, Innocent guaranteed remission of sins through an indulgence. Although this position already existed in the writings of others like Bernard of Clairvaux, Innocent gave it definitive formulation. This position was different than an earlier view, as exemplified by Urban II, which did not guarantee that the penitential nature of crusading would result in the full remission of sins in particular instances. Innocent's position proved extraordinarily popular. Innocent also was the first Pope to exploit redemptions (which would in later times lead to real problems for the church), the first to build up a complex system for preaching crusades, the first to tax the church for crusades, and the first to launch a large-scale crusade against heretics. Other general contributions to crusading included the creation of military orders and military order states, the notion of a permanent crusade, made real in the Baltic region through the Teutonic Knights, and the creation of passagium particulare and league crusading. The passagium particulare was a crusade involving a limited but important tactical strike. League crusading involved alliances of independent Christian powers. Riley-Smith points out that those in the military orders were not technically crusaders, nor were the league crusades technically crusades, but that it is impossible to discuss the crusading movement without talking about such phenomena. Another commendable feature of this book is Riley-Smith's fascinating treatment of the crusades, especially the main ones. Whether reading about the triumphs of the 1st and 3rd Crusades and the military prowess of Bohemond and Richard I, or reading about the serene resignation of Otto of Friesing and Bernard of Clairvaux after the debacle of the 2nd Crusade, Riley-Smith manages to make this history come alive. It was also bizarrely interesting to read of the strange course of events in the 4th Crusade that eventuated in the sack of Constantinople. Perhaps most bizarre was the story of Fredrick II, excommunicated from the church, who in the aftermath of the unsuccessful 5th crusade in Egypt managed to reoccupy Jerusalem as the Pope waged a crusade against Fredrick's own holdings. It is hard not to feel a little awe and sadness at the crusading career of Louis IX, whose open handed, creative, vigorous, self-sacrificing and successful efforts to raise money for his 2 crusades ultimately resulted in so little by way of accomplishment. Riley-Smith has much to say about many other crusades as well. Something interesting he is able to accomplish is to make plain to the lay reader how various crusades were interrelated. For instance, many so called "political" crusades against papal opponents were actually of great strategic importance to crusading goals in the East. Crusades in the Baltic region served as a training ground for Palestine. Multiple crusading commitments often interfered with each other, as for instance when the Albigensian crusade dragged on for probably a decade longer than it needed to because the Pope Innocent III decided to shift his crusading focus elsewhere. And the permanent crusade in the Baltic and crusades in Spain often drained resources that might have been employed in the East. The author also provides an informative account of the Latin settlements in Syria, Palestine, Asia Minor, and Greece, though sometimes trying to follow along with the dynastic intrigue proved tedious. Prior to reading this book, I had no idea how economically important culturally vibrant Acre became between the late 12th and mid 13th century. The reasons behind the Latin collapse in the East are clearly explained. I found it useful to learn that the Mamluk ruler Baybars was an even more effective general than was Saladin. This book also provides a look at the 3 main military orders: the Hospitallers, the Templars, and the Teutonic Knights. The early history of these three orders is quite remarkable, as was the way that the Hospitallers and the Teutonic Knights were able to successfully reinvent themselves after the loss of Latin Palestine in 1291 and the destruction in the early 14th century of the Templars. Riley-Smith thinks that Crusading was a protean and adaptable phenomenon, able to survive such developments as the Reformation and the rise of the Nation State, albeit in a weakened condition. It ultimately died a lingering death because of profound intellectual shifts occurring over centuries. "The moral theology on which it rested passed out of currency in two stages. In the sixteenth century Christ's authority for the use of force came to be challenged...Just-war arguments moved quickly from the field of moral theology to that of international law...The next stage in the evolution of modern justifications of violence was reached in the 19th century and was probably an achievement of the peace movement which swept Europe and America after the Napoleonic wars...The conviction that violence was intrinsically evil, unrecognized by earlier war theorists, was borrowed from pacifism and the argument was developed that force could nevertheless be condoned as the lesser of evils." (p.297-298) The surrender of the last functioning military order, the Hospitallers, at Malta to Napoleon in 1798 is thus a convenient marker for the end of the Crusading era, a physical occurrence nearly aligned with the completion of the broader intellectual changes. It was something of a pleasant surprise to learn while reading that Riley-Smith is a contemporary member of the Hospitaller order. It seems quite fitting that someone with such a vital connection to the crusading past should write this well-received history. This is an important book and well worth the effort.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Diabolical Duckling

    I feel guilty rating this book so low because it is such an authoritative piece of scholarship. Jonathan Riley-Smith deserves props for being able to condense and catalog such a nuanced period of history. However, Riley-Smith falls into the trap of many “academic” writers that I end up reading for my classes: the trap of verbosity. This book is a wonderful chronicle of history, and because I am a student of history, I read it with some enthusiasm. However, this book is not at all accessible to t I feel guilty rating this book so low because it is such an authoritative piece of scholarship. Jonathan Riley-Smith deserves props for being able to condense and catalog such a nuanced period of history. However, Riley-Smith falls into the trap of many “academic” writers that I end up reading for my classes: the trap of verbosity. This book is a wonderful chronicle of history, and because I am a student of history, I read it with some enthusiasm. However, this book is not at all accessible to the layman who may just want to learn a bit about the crusades, as the writing style is excessively verbose and dense. Hence the 3 stars instead of 4. But who am I to judge? If I had to write a whole ass book about religious fanatics shanking each other for three centuries I’d be depressed and tired too. Ultimately, I give the author props for tackling this monumental period of history and for the in-depth historical analysis of social trends and events surrounding the crusading past. This book is about the Crusading years, AKA a period where some of the worst fuckery humanity had to offer was on full display. Seriously folks. Read ANY in-depth history of the crusades and you’ll suddenly understand why every 13-year old atheist is so salty about religion. For those who the American School system failed; the Crusades were a roughly 3 century long pissing contest between Christian Europe and the Islamic Middle East. It can be argued (at least from the facts presented in this book) that the pissing contest was unfairly initiated by Christian Europe. Seriously. While the Islamic rulers of the Holy Land were not perfect, they allowed Christians and Jews to worship freely, extracting higher taxes from those who did not practice the Islamic faith. The Islamic and non-Islamic residents of the Levant were chilling, minding their own business in a relatively multiethnic society when a Pope decided to get greedy. Since when are Popes not greedy? Never. Never in the history of ever. But anyways, a Pope (probably a Clement, or a Pius, I’d try to remember but there are seriously too damn many) wakes up after a night of wine and Roman tramps with a splendid idea. The Christian Kings of Europe should retake the Holy Land, which is currently in the possession of those devil-worshipping Muslims! Leveraging his spiritual power, as well as some classic ole racist and xenophobic appeal, the Pope manages to get a scrappy coalition of European kings to take the cross and invade the Middle East because JESUS! The kings proceed to launch a successful first crusade, retaking the holy land and establishing a colony in Jerusalem. They manage to drive out most of the Muslims, who were completely unprepared militarily for the Christian assault because who the fuck invades a whole ass country on short notice? Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit, apparently. The Christians reign in peace and holy harmony in Jerusalem for around a century before everything goes to shit. Seriously, it is both tragic and humorous how quickly the entire Crusading venture goes to shit after Jerusalem falls. After a long line of European kings of the Levant (all named Baldwin for some reason) finally die off, another pissing contest emerges between the daughters of some blokes related to the last Baldwin. Saladin, a Muslim ruler, takes advantage of the disarray and kicks the European squatters off his lawn, so to speak. Under militant ideas of Islam, Saladin & Co drive out the invaders, causing mass panic among the Christians. Unable to retake the Holy Land, the European Crusader force decides to turn on each other for the sake of gold and plunder. Some of the unfortunate targets of the Crusader rage include but are not limited to: - The Moors (who were kicked out of Spain) - Lithuanians who just wanted to worship tree spirits in peace. - Egyptians in general - Jewish people who were massacred by the Europeans because of anti-Semitic bullshit. - The Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire, which was ruled by Christians, but by the wrong kind of Christians. - A bunch of old ladies in France who were heretics apparently? - Italian merchant families who were just trying to make money, but the Pope had them on his shitlist. - Children who made their own crusade effort for Piety Points but were tricked and sold into slavery. (probably to perverts) Seriously folks, the Crusades has it all. If you want some real Game of Thrones style historical shit, just take one look at this time period. There’s greedy Popes. Arrogant Christian and Muslim rulers. Sneaky Queens. Thuggish Knights. A shitton of peasants who died for no reason. Dead Saints. Bones and creepy relics. EVERYTHING. If you want to be entertained by some of the worst antics humanity has to offer, look no further. This book has opened my eyes to this weird and wild time in history, and I am determined to read more detailed and engaging books about this time period.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Anatolikon

    Riley-Smith presents the crusade movement as an organism passing through the various stages of life. The crusades to the Levant receive the most attention here, but those in the Baltic, Iberia, and various internal crusades are considered part of the movement even if they are a bit of a sideshow. Riley-Smith sees the crusading spirit as dying in the fourteenth century, although he traces the end of the movement only to changing ideas of just war in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This Riley-Smith presents the crusade movement as an organism passing through the various stages of life. The crusades to the Levant receive the most attention here, but those in the Baltic, Iberia, and various internal crusades are considered part of the movement even if they are a bit of a sideshow. Riley-Smith sees the crusading spirit as dying in the fourteenth century, although he traces the end of the movement only to changing ideas of just war in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This spirit is essential to Riley-Smith's vision of the crusades and the crusaders as people sincerely motivated by piety to go on dangerous and distant military expeditions.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ietrio

    I can't wait to see what fantastic discoveries has this paper pusher made, as it needed three editions! I can't wait to see what fantastic discoveries has this paper pusher made, as it needed three editions!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    When Boston Globe columnist James Carroll followed President Bush in applying the term "crusade" to the Iraq war (see Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War, 2004) - so that both advocate and critic named it thus - I decided I needed to know more about the crusades. Was this only hyperbole, or was there something in it? In Jonathan Riley-Smith's readable and reasonably concise (309-page) history, I found the latest scholarship well-presented in manageable and digestible prose. The most remarkable When Boston Globe columnist James Carroll followed President Bush in applying the term "crusade" to the Iraq war (see Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War, 2004) - so that both advocate and critic named it thus - I decided I needed to know more about the crusades. Was this only hyperbole, or was there something in it? In Jonathan Riley-Smith's readable and reasonably concise (309-page) history, I found the latest scholarship well-presented in manageable and digestible prose. The most remarkable thing I learned was how different is the picture modern scholars have of the crusades, from that I received in school thirty years ago. To us, the crusades were a bad idea of the medieval Church: a way to channel the restless energy of adolescent nobles as Europe sorted itself out after the collapse of Charlemagne's empire and the period of Viking invasions. They took place in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, after which the Church got either better ideas or more urgent distractions. Riley-Smith makes clear that while the crusades did get started at that time, they endured into modern times. The idea of a perpetual crusade took root in the 1220s, as the military adventures of the Danes and Germans in northeastern Europe began to be blessed and organized after the fashion of the Holy Land crusades. Forms and rituals of crusading began to serve cultural purposes of lending order and meaning to lives and society. Resistance to the 15th- and 16th-century invasions of eastern Europe by the Ottoman Turks was framed in crusading terms. Riley-Smith writes: "The crusading movement died a lingering death. By the fifteenth century growing disinterest in Germany and perhaps in France witnessed to disillusionment with the papacy. In the sixteenth century the Reformation reduced the Catholic population of Europe and involved everyone in introspective and bitter conflict. By the seventeenth century adherence to crusading was confined to the popes, those nations directly confronting the Turks and those families from which the [surviving Orders of knights] recruited their members." The last crusade was the Spanish Armada against England in 1588. The last order of crusading knights survived on the island of Malta until 1798. Europe was not distracted from crusading, nor did it find a better idea in the fourteenth century that put an end to it. Crusading was a vital and adaptable cultural force there well into the modern period. James Carroll suggests that it survives today. If crusading did not end, why did it fade? Riley-Smith answers: "The moral theology on which it rested passed out of currency in two stages. In the sixteenth century Christ's authority for the use of force came to be challenged. ... Francisco de Vitoria [argued that] the chief justification of violence could not be divine plan, but had to be 'the common good'... Just-war arguments moved quickly from the field of moral theology to that of international law... God was removed from the equation and just war lost the lustre of divine approval. The next stage in the evolution of modern justifications of violence was reached in the nineteenth century... The conviction that violence was intrinsically evil ... was borrowed from pacifism and the argument was developed that force could nevertheless be condoned as the lesser of evils." And today James Carroll pushes back against an administration that argues for using violence as a means to the common good ("freedom"). So it's not hyperbole, this present-day talk of "crusade" - there's definitely something in it to ponder.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Diogenes

    All that blood spilled, lives lost, and destruction wrought for earning the love of a Christian god . . . This is a heavy, dense read, but it is also an exceptionally thorough undertaking spanning some 700 years of European, eastern European, North African, and Middle Eastern history. I wouldn't call it a narrative style at all, and what might be the most problematic issue for me is that there is not one citation in the entire book (though there is a 30-page bibliography at the end, complete with All that blood spilled, lives lost, and destruction wrought for earning the love of a Christian god . . . This is a heavy, dense read, but it is also an exceptionally thorough undertaking spanning some 700 years of European, eastern European, North African, and Middle Eastern history. I wouldn't call it a narrative style at all, and what might be the most problematic issue for me is that there is not one citation in the entire book (though there is a 30-page bibliography at the end, complete with Riley-Smith's often colorful opinions). The Afterward is a mini historiography of how the Crusades were reflected upon over the centuries from both Muslim and Christian perspectives. The book is filled with fascinating characters, events, and eras, and the author does a nice job of being the objective historian, though it could be read as callous when treating battles as chess pieces and lost men as simple statistics. It takes a keen imagination to picture a legion being "slaughtered" wholesale. The bibliography does offer a nice scope for further reads, bracketed under headings. What should be noted for contemporary times is that the Islamic concept of jihad came directly as a mirror to the wanton wars brought by the Crusades. Historical memory interwoven within culture is a juggernaut.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    Up until now, many of my assumptions about the Crusades had been derived from the (admittedly excellent) Ladybird book about Richard the Lion Heart but post war on terror and having just been given responsibility for commissioning new books in the field for perhaps the leading publisher in the field, I was recommended this overview as a good way of getting up to speed. It's an excellent introduction albeit one that does inevitably assault the reader with a list of names which one could never have Up until now, many of my assumptions about the Crusades had been derived from the (admittedly excellent) Ladybird book about Richard the Lion Heart but post war on terror and having just been given responsibility for commissioning new books in the field for perhaps the leading publisher in the field, I was recommended this overview as a good way of getting up to speed. It's an excellent introduction albeit one that does inevitably assault the reader with a list of names which one could never have a hope of memorising but the broad structure of the tale - the dramatic First Crusade which saw the Christian armies take the Holy Land and it all being pretty much downhill from there ending in complete victory for Islam is very well told in engaging prose. The author is especially good on the settlements set up in the so-called Latin East in the wake of conquests, the parallels and differences to colonialism (he plays down the links), the inevitable religious fervour and a superb annotated bibliography. I'm told that 'God's War' by Christopher Tyerman is a more comprehensive take on the subject (it's certainly longer) but this is a very good starting point.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Derek Parsons

    The author tries to conquer too much with too little space. Mr. Riley-Smith's attempt to comprehensively survey the Crusades in 300 pages ends up distilling the story into mostly rapid fire facts resulting in the book reading like a Wikipedia article, albeit a very long one. To the author's credit, it is well researched and does cover quite a bit of ground. The author tries to conquer too much with too little space. Mr. Riley-Smith's attempt to comprehensively survey the Crusades in 300 pages ends up distilling the story into mostly rapid fire facts resulting in the book reading like a Wikipedia article, albeit a very long one. To the author's credit, it is well researched and does cover quite a bit of ground.

  12. 4 out of 5

    J. Eric

    This book is filled with information about the history of the crusading movement. It is excellent as a reference!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Carlos

    Let me start by saying that this book was exactly what I was looking for. The author gives the reader a comprehensive view of the extent, motivation and consequence of the crusading movement. By eschewing the obsession with numbering and the fruitless discussions of what can and cannot be called a crusade, Riley-Smith allows the reader to see the emergence of a movement that became fundamental to the development of Europe and the Middle East. Riley-Smith neither romanticizes nor dismisses the mo Let me start by saying that this book was exactly what I was looking for. The author gives the reader a comprehensive view of the extent, motivation and consequence of the crusading movement. By eschewing the obsession with numbering and the fruitless discussions of what can and cannot be called a crusade, Riley-Smith allows the reader to see the emergence of a movement that became fundamental to the development of Europe and the Middle East. Riley-Smith neither romanticizes nor dismisses the motivations of the men and women to took up the cross and neither does he hide the massive mistakes and inconsistencies that permeated the movement. By following the movement well past the point where most historians see its relevance he shows us its ideological death while laying the groundwork for exploring its historiography. Indeed, it is this analysis of the changing attitudes with which the crusades have been viewed by both western and eastern audiences that helped give the reader an understanding of the differing opinions that surround this subject. Finally, while the book can indeed be sometimes bogged down by the utter number of individuals involved in the crusading movement, it is still a great resource for anyone wanting to understand this oft-misunderstood period of history.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Shanna

    I’m not 100% sure about this book. I enjoyed it, but coming off of Dan Jones’ two books about the topic - The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God's Holy Warriors and Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands - made a lot of this information felt reiterated. I hate comparing one book to other books about the topic, but Dan Jones’ books are more recent and take a unique outlook on the topic. I really do enjoy the topic, but this book didn’t vibe with me. I feel I’m not 100% sure about this book. I enjoyed it, but coming off of Dan Jones’ two books about the topic - The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God's Holy Warriors and Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands - made a lot of this information felt reiterated. I hate comparing one book to other books about the topic, but Dan Jones’ books are more recent and take a unique outlook on the topic. I really do enjoy the topic, but this book didn’t vibe with me. I feel this way mainly because Riley-Smith didn’t seem to focus on one thing, yet the Crusades are too big a topic to compile in a 300-ish page book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Michael Wasson

    Replaces Runciman as the standard history of the Crusades. A must read and a good starting point for study.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    Jonathan Riley-Smith, Emeritus-Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the University of Cambridge, provides a riveting and insightful work in The Crusades: A History. The preeminent authority on the Crusades, Smith has written dozens of publications on the topic, many of which are books that have updated and republished numerous times. He has been a department chair for medieval studies, faculty, and lecturer on the topic of the crusades, and a fellow, member, and founder of numerous socie Jonathan Riley-Smith, Emeritus-Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the University of Cambridge, provides a riveting and insightful work in The Crusades: A History. The preeminent authority on the Crusades, Smith has written dozens of publications on the topic, many of which are books that have updated and republished numerous times. He has been a department chair for medieval studies, faculty, and lecturer on the topic of the crusades, and a fellow, member, and founder of numerous societies devoted to the study of the middles ages and crusading movements. David Abulafia FBA, Professor of Mediterranean History at Cambridge University, provides an excellent recommendation on Smith’s work on the back of the dust jacket for this edition, reaffirming the excellence of this publication. Smith begins by address old thought and stereotypes concerning the crusades and brings to light the idea that there are guidelines and rules to crusading that have generally gone unrecognized. He aptly takes his readers through not just the crusading movements that most are familiar with, the first through third crusades, but begins by discussing the causes of unrest in the East, exactly what penitential war is, and provides a detailed overview of the key players and birthers of crusading. While there is quite a lot packed into this book, a few themes stand out as requiring mention: European commitment to crusading and the constitution of a “crusade.” The first area to address is the European commitment to the crusading movement. While the majority of modern society would consider the crusades to be a black stain on western history that should otherwise be ignored, Smith notes that it was a small percentage of actual European society that bought into the movement. Birthed as a crusade (a war of liberation) and a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, participation was based solely on one’s ability to fund the venture. Smith estimates that there were probably only 113,000 recruits for the first wave of crusaders to the Holy Land, with only ten percent being actual knights. Considering the population of Europe at the time, this is a relatively small response in light of modern society’s assumptions. “Crusaders were not conscripts or vassals performing feudal service. Most of them were volunteers and those who could not attract the support, or were not ensconced in the household, of a rich noble had to finance themselves.” Numbers from the First Crusade do not vary much in the rest of the known crusades, nor do they vary much from the crusades in the Iberian Peninsula or Baltic regions. Smith’s prose is useful to inform his reader’s understanding of the response to crusade preaching, however, the general numbers provided and details of response of European royalty do not provide enough information for the reader to understand general public opinion. It could be that there is not available firsthand accounts of public opinion to provide such information. Aside from unveiling European sentiment about Crusading, Smith brings to light a great understanding of what a crusade actually is. In general, Smith asserts that a crusade was a penitential war for the liberation of Christian territories from nations or people considered pagan. As Smith details in his histories, crusades took place on a variety of levels against a variety of people. While the largest and bloodiest of the crusades remembered most often as the wars against the Muslims in the Holy Land, Smith informs his readers of other such movements that took place all around Europe, Western Asia, Northern Africa, and in the Mediterranean. The movement was even alive as late as the 16th – 19th centuries. Smith’s history of the movement reveals that much of the movement took place as a reaction to other nation’s expansion plans against Christian territories. The Church organized much of the movement, with few monarchs or world leaders calling for crusades on their own. Overall, Smith has left out no information desired by any reader. The Crusades: A History, the 3rd Edition, is a riveting work of history that provides the reader with a pluralist look at the movement that maintains the blackest mark on Christian history. Jonathan Riley-Smith does an excellent job in unveiling information not always readily available to every learner, or not taught in most education settings. This publication is recommended for any reader, from high school and onward.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Walter

    A real eye opener for a beginner in the subject such as myself, but be prepared to take some notes to jog your memory as you go along, and recognise you'll probably be using this as a springboard rather than memorising the whole thing all in one gulp. The parts that read like narratives are few and far between, but those will stick in your mind if you're a flimsy 2000's arts graduate like myself-the siege of Antioch, for example. Warning-sometimes it seems like everyone involved in the earlier c A real eye opener for a beginner in the subject such as myself, but be prepared to take some notes to jog your memory as you go along, and recognise you'll probably be using this as a springboard rather than memorising the whole thing all in one gulp. The parts that read like narratives are few and far between, but those will stick in your mind if you're a flimsy 2000's arts graduate like myself-the siege of Antioch, for example. Warning-sometimes it seems like everyone involved in the earlier crusades was called Raymond or Bohemond. The definition of the crusades used here is extended right up to the dispersion of the Knights Hospitaller at Malta by Napoleon, which I understand is stretching the boundaries for some purists. Stick with it, Riley-Smith seems to have his reasons.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lynn Wood

    Probably deserves 5 stars, but it is incredibly dense and scholarly, more suitable to a reader with far more knowledge of pre-Renaissance history and geography than I'll ever have. Ultimately, it's about 500 years of Catholics killing anybody who didn't agree with them. When they started killing other Christians I thought they might be onto something, but eventually they always came back around to the arch infidels, the Moslems. Probably deserves 5 stars, but it is incredibly dense and scholarly, more suitable to a reader with far more knowledge of pre-Renaissance history and geography than I'll ever have. Ultimately, it's about 500 years of Catholics killing anybody who didn't agree with them. When they started killing other Christians I thought they might be onto something, but eventually they always came back around to the arch infidels, the Moslems.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    During the Wikipedia blackout, you can pick up this book. Chock full of information, names, facts, and dates, very light on narrative, character or readability. ultimately, a fairly useful reference book, but at 300 pages, covers too broad a subject (ALL of the Crusades, including those against Slavs and Eastern Europeans to the north and east of Germany)to be much more than that.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jack

    Exceptional. A really good overall exploration of the Crusades from start to finish. I appreciated the extensive discussion about the realities the Western Powers (wars/dynastic struggles/other calamities) faced during the crusading era. The discussion concerning the Muslim powers was good but not as much detail as the European powers. Overall a very good read on one of my areas of interest.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    Elegant but robust, an excellent introduction. Riley-Smith is a pluralist and a professor of ecclesiastical history, so that's his bend and his narrative tends to follow theological developments. Struck me as very balanced and the tone was light and swift. Elegant but robust, an excellent introduction. Riley-Smith is a pluralist and a professor of ecclesiastical history, so that's his bend and his narrative tends to follow theological developments. Struck me as very balanced and the tone was light and swift.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Johnny

    Insofar as facts and data were concerned, it did a fine job. It was short and concise, not given to much verbiage-burble or sesquipedalian antics, which style was very fitting for this essay-like book, pulling no punches and taking no rabbit-trails.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Philip_c

    I myself am a deep lover for history, so I would recommend this book to any fellow history lovers (these were also my favorite times in history). There wasn't really a favorite quote of mine but my favorite section in the book was about the second crusade. I myself am a deep lover for history, so I would recommend this book to any fellow history lovers (these were also my favorite times in history). There wasn't really a favorite quote of mine but my favorite section in the book was about the second crusade.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    A very good overview of a very bad idea, clearly written by one of the best Crusade historians working today.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    A solid primer on all the crusades.

  26. 4 out of 5

    G.M. Burrow

    Thorough, balanced, and very readable.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Trey

    Textbook....nuff said

  28. 5 out of 5

    sologdin

    quick overview of the main thrusts into the levant, with some coverage of the conquest of the eastern romans, as well as some mention of the non-levantine theatres that popped up over the centuries.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

    Great prose, and a great overview of a long and complex issue by a man who is often considered the world's foremost expert on the subject. Great prose, and a great overview of a long and complex issue by a man who is often considered the world's foremost expert on the subject.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lashonda Slaughter Wilson

    Concise look at the European crusades against Islam and European heretics including the Cathars and Eastern European pagan tribes.

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