Thursday, February 14, 2013

Crusading for the Holy Land

God's War: A New History of the Crusades by Christopher Tyerman

Summary: "God's War" offers a sweeping new vision of one of history's most astounding events: the Crusades.

From 1096 to 1500, European Christians fought to recreate the Middle East, Muslim Spain, and the pagan Baltic in the image of their God. The Crusades are perhaps both the most familiar and most misunderstood phenomena of the medieval world, and here Christopher Tyerman seeks to recreate, from the ground up, the centuries of violence committed as an act of religious devotion.

The result is a stunning reinterpretation of the Crusades, revealed as both bloody political acts and a manifestation of a growing Christian communal identity. Tyerman uncovers a system of belief bound by aggression, paranoia, and wishful thinking, and a culture founded on war as an expression of worship, social discipline, and Christian charity.

This astonishing historical narrative is imbued with figures that have become legends--Saladin, Richard the Lionheart, Philip Augustus. But Tyerman also delves beyond these leaders to examine the thousands and thousands of Christian men--from Knights Templars to mercenaries to peasants--who, in the name of their Savior, abandoned their homes to conquer distant and alien lands, as well as the countless people who defended their soil and eventually turned these invaders back. With bold analysis, Tyerman explicates the contradictory mix of genuine piety, military ferocity, and plain greed that motivated generations of Crusaders. He also offers unique insight into the maturation of a militant Christianity that defined Europe's identity and that has forever influenced the cyclical antagonisms between the Christian and Muslim worlds.

Drawing on all of the most recent scholarship, and told with great verve and authority, "God's War" is the definitive account of a fascinating and horrifying story that continues to haunt our contemporary world.

Review: An extremely informative and thorough book about the Crusades that can be a bit heavy and dry at times.

As someone who wants to study medieval literature for my English Ph.D. along with getting a Certificate in Medieval Studies (when I go back in about ten years or so), I figured I should start building my knowledge now. Along with currently learning Latin, I decided to read some books about the medieval period. The Crusades seemed a great place to start. Obviously, one cannot learn as there is to know about the Crusades by reading one book, but this book does provide a great deal of information and a good starting point for learning more.

It really is a fascinating time period. The interplay of religion, war, morality, material desires, and duty is incredible. Tyerman does a very good job with not imparting today’s morals and views on yesterday’s history. He works as best as he can with what is known about the period and makes observations from that. Tyerman does still make some assumptions, but those are grounded in research and are based on evidence. This book is rather long and is filled with very long paragraphs. On a whole, the book is quite dry. I feel like this book would be better suited for a more academic audience than someone casually reading the book to find out more about the Crusades.


Recommendation: I would recommend this book for those looking for an in-depth and analytical history of the Crusades and not for those looking for a general history.

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