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message 1: by Bibliophile (last edited Sep 02, 2009 06:27AM) (new)

Bibliophile | 22 comments Just wanted to say that I'm currently reading Tariq Ali's The Book of Saladin which is, as its title suggests, about the great Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb (or Saladin as the Crusaders called him), the Kurdish Sultan of Egypt and Syria who recaptured Jerusalem from the Franks.

I've always found him quite fascinating, even though most of what I know about him comes from the (most likely) fairly biased slant of the Crusaders themselves.

(And in a very interesting bit of historical trivia, he was born in Tikrit, which of course, has a somewhat less gallant associations for us today!)


message 2: by Sharon (new)

Sharon (sharonk) | 59 comments Hi, Bibliphile,
I was somewhat disappointed in Tariq Ali's book, primarily because it is told from the first-person perspective of another character and so we do not get that intimate a portrayal of Saladin. He really is one of history's most remarkable figures. Did you know that Christian families in the 13th century sometimes named their children after him? He was considered a man of honor and integrity, even if they did believe he was an "infidel," and he became fairly well known throughout Christendom because of his conflict with Richard Lionheart in the Third Crusade. If anyone is interested, I can recommend several biographies of him, Saladin, not Richard--though I can recommend books about Coeur de Lion, too.


message 3: by Bibliophile (new)

Bibliophile | 22 comments Yeah, now that I'm a bit farther into the story, I'm not finding it nearly as good as I'd hoped. In part because Tariq Ali's agenda is shining through a bit too much (I've read a lot of his nonfiction and essays before so the agenda is not a huge surprise to me.)

Did you know that Christian families in the 13th century sometimes named their children after him?

I didn't know that, although he does appear in the Inferno in Canto IV with the other "good pagans." I would be interested in a biography of Saladin as well. As I think I said earlier, I mostly only know of him indirectly through the accounts of the Crusades (of which my favorite remains Stephen Runciman's!)


message 4: by Chrissie (last edited Sep 02, 2009 10:51AM) (new)

Chrissie Bibliophile, I have The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf on my to-read shelf. It might interest you too! Also on my religion shelf I have "to-read" the book The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization
by Jonathan Lyons. Both sound good!



message 5: by Bibliophile (new)

Bibliophile | 22 comments Chrissie, both of those do sound interesting, although I've read some of Maalouf's novels (Leo Africanus and something I don't remember) but didn't like them so much! Albert Hourani's A History of the Arab Peoples, though, I do remember liking very much (it has of course smaller sections on the Crusades).

I seem to have read a lot more on a) the Ottomans and b) the more modern Arab world than I have on this period, so thank you for the recommendations.


message 6: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie Bibliophile, that is what is so nice about this group, we all try to help each other find the books we are seraching for. You really have read so much that I think you can help me more than I can help you! Oh well.


message 7: by Bibliophile (new)

Bibliophile | 22 comments Chrissie, you're very kind, but I'm afraid my reading is somewhat haphazard and all over the place unless it's actually about my field :D But I do like a well-written book, so perhaps I can at least help with style :D




message 8: by Sharon (new)

Sharon (sharonk) | 59 comments Hi, Bibliophile,
I'm sorry it took me so long to get back to you with the recommendations about Saladin, but Coeur de Lion has been keeping me busy in Cyprus. The German historian Hannes Mohring has written Saladin, The Sultan and his Times. And while they're not actual biographies, I can also recommend Geoffrey Regan's Saladin and the Fall of Jerusalem, and his Lionhearts, Richard I, Saladin, and the Era of the Third Crusade. Another highly regarded history is Saladin, the Politics of the Holy War by Malcolm Cameron Lyons and D.E.P. Jackson. Francesco Gabrieli is the author of Arab Historians of the Crusades. When I started researching the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade, I was amazed by the resource riches; it seems as if every writer worth his salt has written a history of Outremer. One of the newest is God's War by Christopher Tyerman, though at over 900 pages,it can be a bit daunting at first sight! And if you're interested in a first person account through Arab eyes, I highly recommend The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, translated by Roland Broadhurst. He was a Spanish Muslim who made a journey to Mecca in 1183. Happily for me, he was shipwrecked in Sicily on the way home, and thus provided history with some fascinating glimpses of Sicily in the 12th century. It is interesting to get his perspective; for example, he was very impressed by Palermo, saying it dazzles the eye with its perfection, and then adding, "May God destroy it." He tells us that King William II, the husband of Richard I's sister Joanna, is fluent in Arabic and the concubines in his palace harem are all Muslims. I only wish his involuntary stay in Sicily could have been longer!


message 9: by Chrissie (last edited Sep 04, 2009 10:50PM) (new)

Chrissie Bibliophile, you said "In part because Tariq Ali's agenda is shining through a bit too much."

What is Taériq Ali's agenda? Pls explain. Why didn't you like Maalouf's writing? Is it impartial? Would you advise me against the book I have to read?

Another question - Albert Hourani's book - I read an interesting review by the reader Cal on GR. Why do you think he devoted so very little pages to the holocaust; it is true that it is important to take this into the discussion of the formation of Israel! My only possible explanation is that so MUCH has been written.... Still a very strange omission! What do you think?

Both You and Sharon, I would be ever so happy if you linked the titles of the books you mentioned. You do this in the following manner - &book:then here you write the title of the book& . Instead of & you type in [ at the beginning and :] at the end. Skip the colon before the bracket at the end - the computer keep putting in it as eyes! If I do it correctly you will not see it! This saves so much time for those of us reading and trying to check out the books you recommend. Thanks!!!


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 79 comments Great if they were on the bookshelf, too!


message 11: by Bibliophile (new)

Bibliophile | 22 comments Sharon wrote: "Hi, Bibliophile,
I'm sorry it took me so long to get back to you with the recommendations about Saladin, but Coeur de Lion has been keeping me busy in Cyprus.


Sharon, wow, thank you so much for all of these book recommendations - they are going straight on my Goodreads list (which grows every longer!) The Ibn Jubayr books sounds right up my alley, since I love Sicily (I am sure you have read the wonderful Normans in Sicily compilation by Lord Norwich!) I have a particular fondness for William II because he was the force behind the glorious cathedral in Monreale - one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I never realized he was married to a Plantagenet, though. Silly me!

Chrisse, Tariq Ali is a very well-known Marxist (I believe he's a Trotskyite, to be precise, which adds an element of lost-cause belief to the general Marxism!), which perhaps accounts for his desire to make Salah-al-Din (and especially his fictional wife) a sceptic in matters of religion in this book. Moreover, everyone is always very busy doing the nasty with everyone else throughout the book, which I feel adds to its "Arabian Nights"-like narration, but which is clearly not to everyone's taste :D (I'm not sure this comes out of Ali's Marxism, however!) Also, I think Ali definitely wants to paint a picture of medieval Islam as very inclusive and tolerant (and medieval Christianity as the opposite) - while there is certainly some truth to this portrait, I am automatically sceptical whenever someone tries to posit a lost golden age of anything (and I feel he is ignoring the existence of places like the Kingdom of Sicily!) But I feel there is something of a political agenda behind this portrayal too.

I just didn't find Maalouf's writing (in fiction) very compelling - it may have been that something was lost in the translation. But I only sort of vaguely remember the novels and my decision not to read more.

As for Hourani, since the book is A History of the Arab Peoples, I'm not sure why he should be taken to task for not having included a whole great deal about the Holocaust, since (despite Hajj Emin's at least verbal support of Hitler) the Arab peoples had very little to do with the Holocaust (and did not have much say in the creation of Israel.) Moreover, although I do think that international recognition of the state of Israel in 1948 had a good bit to do with a desire on the part of the United States and other countries not to take in millions of displaced European Jews, at least one Israeli writer makes a convincing argument that the Holocaust was very much downplayed in the early years of Israel's history and it was not until the Eichmann trials in 1961 that it became a factor, if you will, in Israeli politics. (The historian is Tom Segev and the book is The Seventh Million.) In short, to critique Hourani for not including a great deal about the Holocaust in a book that is devoted to the history of the Arab peoples seems strange to me, as if someone like Saul Friedländer who is writing about Nazi Germany and the Jews is obligated to talk at length about the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1948. It's outside the scope of his work, even though it is, of course, related.


message 12: by Melisende (new)

Melisende | 17 comments Can also recommend "God's Warriors" (forget the author) which is a comparison between both Richard and Saladin and their armies, tactics, etc.

And agree, "God's War" by Christopher Tyerman is quite a lengthy tome - however, it does cover all the various Crusades.


message 13: by Melisende (new)

Melisende | 17 comments Edit above post to "Warriors of God" for the comparison between Saladin & Richard III.


message 14: by Sharon (new)

Sharon (sharonk) | 59 comments I confess I was not impressed at all with the Warriors of God book by Reston. I'd recommend instead Lionhearts: Richard I, Saladin, and the Era of the Third Crusade by Geoffrey Regan, which also draws interesting parallels between the two men.


message 15: by Old-Barbarossa (new)

Old-Barbarossa Melisende wrote: "And agree, "God's War" by Christopher Tyerman is quite a lengthy tome - however, it does cover all the various Crusades...."

But it is fairly dull, and due to the breadth of the subject matter it doesn't go into much in depth (apart from very boring financial stuff). So fine for a broad view of crusades from a Western point of view (including the ones not in the Levant), but not great for an Arab point of view or any great depth on Saladin.


message 16: by Melisende (new)

Melisende | 17 comments Sharon wrote: "I confess I was not impressed at all with the Warriors of God book by Reston. I'd recommend instead Lionhearts: Richard I, Saladin, and the Era of the Third Crusade by Geoffrey Regan, which also d..."

Thanks Sharon - will look out for that one.


message 17: by Harvey (new)

Harvey | 10 comments Bibliophile wrote: "Also, I think Ali definitely wants to paint a picture of medieval Islam as very inclusive and tolerant (and medieval Christianity as the opposite) - while there is certainly some truth to this portrait, I am automatically sceptical whenever someone tries to posit a lost golden age of anything ..."

Hi everyone; new to the group here... the above was interesting to me, though I have not read Tariq Ali's book. I would tend to support the view that Islam at that time Islam was more heterodox than Christianity was. Also, in terms of a 'golden age', philosophy, technology, science, mathematics-not to mention art were going great guns in the Islamic world. Christian Europe had a bit of catching up to do quite honestly in many fields. It did so for a variety of reasons, but at a later date. Not that I wish to denigrate the great abbey or cathedral architecture that was produced but I would pose a point that it was not until after the crusades that Europe awoke out of its slumber and became a civilizing force. I hope to expand my points at a more covenient time than the wee hours of the morning, but this seems a great discussion!




message 18: by Tony (new)

Tony McMahon (tonyrossmcmahon) | 3 comments Don't be too harsh on Tariq Ali - he is a polemicist but a witty one and I think the book is an interesting look at Saladin at a time when Islam was at a turning point. Even Muslim scholars, of a liberal bent, admit that it was around the 1200s that the open culture of the Damascus and Baghdad caliphates began to end. A new intolerance was creeping in. In fact you could say that as Islam became more closed in the late Middle Ages, the torch of reason passed to Renaissance/Reformation Europe. Roles were reversed as the Catholic church was challenged. We don't really know if Saladin was more secular or more jihadi in outlook - I've read books arguing both cases. I suspect Saladin is a vessel into which you pour your prejudices!


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