By Zoe Oldenbourg
Published in 1966
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
The Crusades is a history textbook that covers the history of the first three Middle Eastern crusades.
I found that The Crusades managed to strike a neat balance between being a narrative history covering major events and major players and an experiential history describing the daily life of people.
Learning about the economics and logistics of the crusades is always fascinating, and this book more than delivers. I especially enjoyed the description of the events in the interim between the second and third crusade. Learning about the succession of warlords that preceded Saladin, ultimately leading to the fall of the Fatimid caliphate, are often ignored yet very important.
I also enjoyed learning about the degree of cultural mixing between the crusaders and Muslims. I was most surprised when I learned about the tentative anti Turk alliance between the Fatimid Caliphate of Cairo and the Byzantine Empire.
Zoe Oldenbourg draws many interesting and unconventional conclusions which shed light on the events of the crusades. For example, she excoriates Richard Lionheart as an incompetent fool who doomed the Kingdom of Jerusalem to fall permanently to Islam. She also concludes that female slaves taken into the harems fared the best of all of the female slaves.
Overall, I cannot recommend this book to average readers. It is too long and too detailed to be of interest to a general audience - it also is pretty advanced and requires a significant understanding of the crusades to be appreciated.
I do recommend this book to amateur historians and nerds interested in a deep dive into the history of the period and region.
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