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Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors: Faith, Power, and Violence in the Age of Crusade and Jihad

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  144 ratings  ·  26 reviews
An in-depth portrait of the Crusades-era Mediterranean world, and a new understanding of the forces that shaped it.

In Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors, the award-winning scholar Brian Catlos puts us on the ground in the Mediterranean world of 1050–1200. We experience the sights andsounds of the region just as enlightened Islamic empires and primitive Christendom began to
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published August 26th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Average rating 3.77  · 
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Mohamad Ballan
Sep 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is a good, balanced introduction to the Mediterranean world between the 11th and 13th centuries. Prof. Catlos emphasizes the mixed motivations of the various actors, underscoring the importance of realpolitik and pragmatism over the dictates of ideology or theology in influencing the actions of political actors. This is not to say that he ignores the significance of religion and ideology during this period; quite the contrary. He demonstrates that many of the conflicts labeled as ...more
Jan 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: medieval, islam
One criterion I use in evaluating a book is how much new information I learned. Another is whether the information is significant, shedding light on my other interests. A third is, at the end of the day, did I enjoy reading it? On all three counts, Catlos' work is a resounding success.

This book explores various sites of inter-religious interaction in the Middle Ages, mostly the 10th to 12th centuries. Though it does not offer a systematic treatment of its topic, it performs the equally
Oct 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, religions
I thought I wanted a book on the Crusades, but it turns out what I actually wanted was Catlos' story of how we got the Crusades. His first four chapters, before they kick off, all hold more than enough intrigue for an epic poem or a series of historical romances. In particular, I want an entertainment set in Fatimid Egypt. (Exiles! Betrayals! Multi-generational messianic revenge cults!) The First and Third Crusades are more a capstone, even an epilogue, than the main end of the story.

A decent introduction to the history of the Mediterranean which manages to be informed by the most recent scholarship while still accessible to the interested lay reader, though the prose rarely rises beyond the serviceable. Catlos' thematic approach helps give a sense of the interconnected nature of the medieval world—of ethnic diversity, pragmatism, violence, and cultural innovation—particularly in the chapters on Iberia, which I believe is the author's area of speciality. He emphasises that ...more
Cagri Ustaoglu
Sep 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Brian Catlos has done quite an admirable job at overviewing the complex Mediterranean region from around the 900s to 1300s, mainly through focussing on some key figures during these times.

Naming a few… from al Andalus we read of Abd al-Rahman III, the great caliph of Cordoba, Isma’il ibn Naghrilla, the Jew who rose to great heights in Muslim Granada during the taifa period and his son Yusuf ibn Naghrilla. Brian Catlos does well to bust the mythical image of ‘the Cid’ (Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar)
Sep 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyable book about the incredibly complicated, brutal world of the Mediterranean region during the Crusades era. The time is often generalized as a conflict between religions and nothing more, but the truth is a bit different. Muslim governors had Jewish viziers, Christian knights surrounded themselves with a Muslim court, Armenian mercenaries had huge power in Fatimid Egypt, and so on. It jumps around a bit but the areas it focuses on are Muslim Spain, Norman Sicily, North Africa, and ...more
A balanced reading of the Med during the 11th and 12th Centuries with focus on Crusades, Reconquista, and Jihad.

Worth a read for those interested in the field.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars.
Sep 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2015
Took some time building up, but actually quite interesting. The basic thesis that Christians and Muslims (and to a lesser extent, Jews) were less motivated by existential hatred of one another and more so by more mundane power considerations isn't new or surprising, the depiction of the intersections and commonalities of religious-majority kingdoms alternatively tolerating (however self-interestedly) and scapegoating their minority populations is well depicted. The Middle Ages, however violent ...more
Mar 19, 2017 rated it liked it
A worthwhile read if you wish to understand the period of history which includes the Crusades in the Mediterranean area and gain an understanding of the forces that made these events so much more complex than a simple clash of religions, but incredibly thick with detail and not always engrossing for the casual reader of history. If you are just interested in the bottom line, go to your local library and read the last two chapters!
Alex Knipping
Jul 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dit boek start in 1066 en dan niet met de beroemde slag bij Hastings, maar een paar maanden later in Granada, aan de vooravond van een aantal turbulente ontwikkelingen die Yusuf ibn Naghrilla, Joods vizier van een plaatselijke moslimvorst het hoofd zal kosten. Het boek eindigt met de feitelijke ondergang van het Byzantijnse rijk. Aan de hand van de levensverhalen van een aantal bekende en minder bekende historische figuren laat Brian Catlos zien dat de periode rondom de eerste twee kruistochten ...more
David Andrews
Jan 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned
Infidel Kings is an enlightening look at the reality on the ground, as it were, of the medieval Mediterranean. Far from being a clear cut battle of religions between Islam and Christianity, things were often complicated, with Jews, Christians, and Muslims all holding high ranking positions within kingdoms of all denominations.

Where I think Infidel Kings falls a little short is the story telling style of the book. It opens with the climax of a story in a sort of flash-forward sequence, then
Robert Enzenauer
Excellenty history. This author has written such readable history that one Amazon reviewer described it as excellent "historical fiction." And the solitary criticism by another Amazon reviewer that suggests this author has a "pro-Islam agenda" made me ponder if we read the same book. The names are indeed "hard to follow", but I didn't find them any harder to follow that some books I have read about Russian history. And I can't imagine a way a different historian could have kept the perons ...more
Aug 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: spain
I must confess that I read only the first two sections, on al-Andalus, before I had to return this. Catlos' take on politics and culture on the Iberian peninsula in the 11th century and onward is that life was not a clash of civilizations or religions, despite the Crusades. Rather, Muslims, Jews and Christians did live together with a certain amount of tolerance, based on social and economic pragmatism more than on religion. A Jew could be the chief administrator of a Muslim kingdom, or a ...more
Nov 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
An absorbing and fast-paced book, which is quite something for a book that goes into detail about the complex relationships among Muslims, Christian and Jews from about the mid-11th century until the end of the 12th century. It is surprisingly easy to absorb all of the information provided in the book about the myriad of kingdoms, leaders and shifting alliances.
catlos walks the line pretty well between "happy smily convivencia" and "everyone was relentlessly beating on each other" although he focuses a little too much on individual nobles for my taste (so i am rounding up to 4)
Dec 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
A great starter book for those interested in the era preceding the crusades and the early crusades themselves. Makes me want to read more on the individuals written about.
Becca Edney
Feb 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This book is extremely dense with a lot of information, so it will probably require a few more reads and possibly taking notes.
Jul 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
A couple of years ago I was in a class called Europe in the Middle Ages I, listening to the discussion taking place between my peers and the professor on the Abbasid Caliphate and the “Islamic Golden Age”. The subject had drifted in to Islamic history in general and all my peers and I agreed that this topic of Islamic history was often neglected in the popular discourses on history. This prompted one of my peers to ask, “Are there any good popular history books on Islamic history and society?” ...more
James (JD) Dittes
Catlos brigs light to very dark ages of history in this novel, and through them he offers some fascinating insights that apply to our times.

Catlos uses a very basic structure for each of his sections: he begins with the overthrow of a Christian, Jewish, or Muslim official in a kingdom in which they were not of the same faith as the ruler, then he carefully walks back and shows how the sifting political sands led first to this person's empowerment, then to their comeuppance. What we see
Chris Buckham
Jun 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Title: Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors
Author: Brian A. Catlos
ISBN: 978-0-8090-5837-2
Publisher: Raincoast Books
Year: 2014
Pages: 390
Photographs/maps: 23/6

Perception is one of the key driving factors in the formation of popular opinion. It need not be based in fact because perception forms ones reality; it has been shown time and again that even when faced with facts that are contrary to ones opinion, it is very difficult to change initial perception. That does not mean however, that it
Jul 25, 2016 rated it liked it
A very interesting book covering the Middle Ages and the interactions between Christian, Jewish, and Muslim peoples. It reads a bit like the Game of Thrones, with power grabs, assassinations, war, and violence, sometimes in the name of religion, especially in support of the power grabs. What was interesting is how much the followers of these three major religions coexisted and, in fact, were important in the day-to-day existence, of the areas they lived in. While there were far too many names to ...more
Mar 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating and detailed. As a layperson, I appreciate the care and attention to detail the author exhibited. I also appreciate the alternative explanation of the causes of the Crusades versus the popular understanding of religion being the cause. I find the case presented in this book far more plausible and unfortunately similar to today's motivations.

It ends on a hopeful (and timely with today's polarized views) note:

"This most violent of eras, if we look close enough, turns out to give us
Dustin Krentz
Jul 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I was unaware how tied together these 3 religions were and are. I learned a lot about the relationships between the communities, the fact they coexisted, and even became important leaders in each other's military. Coincidentally while reading this the oldest known Quran was found and it caused quite a stir. I was absolutely fascinated by the "assassins" and have been studying them ever since.
Feb 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I received this as a first read. I learn a whole from this book. It was done in a entertaining way that made me keep reading. I love the amount of detail that is in this book. You can tell the research that went into this writing. A very well done book.
Jan Koster
Feb 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: in-bezit
Zie mijn recensie op Hebban
Jim Dertien
Jun 01, 2015 rated it liked it
Complex, due to the maze of ruler names, but worthwhile in gaining a different understanding of the undercurrents of conflict during the time.
rated it liked it
Dec 11, 2016
Lukas Evan
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Adrienne Oconnell
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Apr 10, 2016
rated it it was ok
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Brian Catlos spent over a decade living and travelling in Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, North Africa and Asia before completing his PhD (Medieval Studies, Toronto) and joining the History Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

He is a former President of the American Academy of Research Historians of Medieval Spain, Co-Director of the Mediterranean Seminar (
“God is most great! Allahu akbar! God is most great!” and sending the most faithful grimly shuffling through the dusky, unlit streets to salat al-‘isha, the evening prayer. The Sabbath” 1 likes
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