My first exposure to Thomas Asbridge was his book on William Marshal, The Greatest Knight. I absolutely loved this book, and when I found out he had released a book on the Crusades, I knew I had to get it. Little did I know at the time that he’s written a number of books on this era already. That’s ok… I know it now. In the meantime, I picked this up when it first became available on Audible, and it’s almost as though fate conspired against me to keep me from burning through it. I ended up taking this one slow, mostly listening to it on the daily commute.
As it turns out, that was a good thing. Being the Medieval enthusiast that I am, I’ve made my way through several books on the topic in the past, and I’m still coming to grips with how these conflicts unfolded as they did. As straightforward as this book is, the Crusades is an era of complexity, and every historian has their own take on the hows and whys of it all. I don’t dispute Asbridge’s authority on the subject. Quite the reverse, it’s pretty clear he has a solid handle on it. He brings to his narrative an understanding of the social, political, and religious forces on both sides of the conflicts, and in many cases the nuances of character are brought to the forefront when discussing the personalities who drove the wars. But even told as simply as possible, it’s a difficult subject, one that’s made more so when an historian favors breadth over depth. This isn’t nearly as detailed a volume as some of the books I’ve read on the Crusades, but it’s most definitely friendlier to those who don’t claim to be experts in the subject. Perhaps my primary complaint is that I would have appreciated material on the later Crusades as well, but such was not the scope of this book. A close second would be that I’m always interested in more detail on the holy crusading orders, and while this book doesn’t go into a great deal of detail on them, they are given their due accordingly. I’m most definitely inclined to read his more detailed work on the subject. My understanding is that his book on the First Crusade is a must. As an overview with a spotlight on the ever-popular Third Crusade featuring Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, this book is a win for the recreational reader with more-than-casual interest without going into the deep ends of scholastic intricacy. His inclusion of commentary from contemporary Islamic sources is especially welcome for a richer understanding.