Paul Bryant's Reviews > A History of the Crusades, Vol. 1: The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem

A History of the Crusades, Vol. 1 by Steven Runciman
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's review
Oct 26, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: history-will-teach-us-nothing, to_reread

I read a review of The Arabian Nights on GR which began - pessimistically and rather alarmingly - "I needed a book which I could lose" - the idea being either that the reviewer has a form of dementia or is in an ongoing situation where they may need to flee and have no time to grab their reading material (I can't really imagine being that frantic but some people lead less sheltered lives than me).

Anyway, that reader should avoid Sir Stephen Runciman's towering, complex and riveting three volume history of the Crusades, because once you get going, you won't want to lose it. Indeed, you will be taking it with you everywhere, into the boardroom, the bathroom, into your most intimate boudoir itself. (What lives I imagine you living!)

This is a vastly tangled story, what with Caliphates, Seljuks, Byzantines, Franks, Abbasids, and starring roles for Saladin, King Richard Couer de Lion, Baldwin IV the Leper King of Jerusalem (he was 15, they carried him out onto the battlefield, he was dying, but you still had to have the King on the battlefield because the King was magic, even if horribly disfigured - apparently he was a sweet boy, everyone said so), Pope Urban Renewal II, monks called Fulcher, Kerbogha, the atabeg of Mocha, Baldric of Dol, Walter Sans Avoir, and not forgetting The Assassins (a backing group).

When they got there the crusaders built places such as Krak de Chevaliers. I mean, how cool is that?

If you like your outrageous continent-spanning narratives big, bold and scholarly, or if you're done with A Game of Thrones, these three hefty volumes might be just what the Doctor of Medick ordered.


On a more serious note, the wonderful complexity of the Crusades are such that they represent the first episode of unprovoked Western imperialism (before the 11th century the West wasn't in any position to colonise anyone; and the whole thing didn't last that long, the Crusader states hobbled on for about a century or so and then were absorbed back into the caliphate, which was, of course, itself an imperial enterprise); but also, the Crusades represented the first interpenetration of the West and the East, which heretofore were sealed off from each other. The meeting of the two civilisations was violent, but did not remain so. When fresh convoys of Teutonic and Frankish knights arrived in Antioch and Jerusalem, the older crusaders often sighed with regret, knowing that these new hotheads would soon be wanting to carve their way through the infidel hordes and entirely disrupt the delicate mutual respect and economic intercourse which had by then, slowly but surely, been established. And so it went.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
October 26, 2007 – Shelved
November 28, 2007 – Shelved as: history-will-teach-us-nothing
October 9, 2008 – Shelved as: to_reread

Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller This sounds like something I need to get my hands on--just the size scares me off a bit. I prefer small and quick. But your enthusiasm is catching.

message 2: by Julio (new) - added it

Julio Genao Nice summary. Looking forward to reading this soon.

 Linda (Miss Greedybooks) adding to my tbr thank you for a great review!

message 4: by Cecily (new)

Cecily A great opening anecdote and analysis of it, but I can't find that review. :(

Never mind: I enjoyed your review as well.

message 6: by Cecily (new)

Cecily Aw, shame! I was half hoping you'd made it up!

Paul Bryant Thanks for your comments which are a useful corrective to my somewhat abbreviated comments. The point about the first episode of unprovoked Western imperialism is that the Crusades intended to take the Holy Land from the Muslims and keep it. There had been plenty of unprovoked Eastern imperialism before then; this was the first time the West tried to do the same. It was ideological. It wasn't a skirmish within the West like, say, the 9th/10th century Danish takeover of England. But these matters can be disputed, and your knowledge of this complicated period is better than mine.

Paul Bryant Oh yes, I get Chalcedon mixed up with Nicea all the time. It is a really interesting period.

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