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Essential Histories: The Crusades Review by Patty RebneDavid Nicolle
Osprey Publishing 2001
Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers
919 N. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
This 90-page book provides a highlighted look at the Crusades. The first chapters describe the world in general and the situations and positions of the factions involved-the Byzantines, the Turks, the Crusaders and the Saracens. The chapters discuss the existing balances (or not) of power and the ideas and events that compelled the parties to action. It introduces, as well, cultures and peoples who were not major players but who were affected by the Crusades.
The book progresses through the start of the First Crusade, looking at it in some detail. But rather than becoming a relentless listing of battles and outcomes, the book examines the effects of the wins and losses on the people involved. It draws on stories of individuals with names and faces and personalities: it has human interest. It describes the strategies, methods of battle, and effects of climate and geography to a good, but not overworked, level of detail.
The book then returns to the world at large to describe the impact of the Crusades in the lives of cultures, nations and the individuals in them. It traces the long-term impact to our own day. We can see today the consequences of these events which happened nearly 1,000 years ago.
The book itself is part of Osprey Publishing's Essential History series. From their website: "Each book studies the origins, politics, fighting and repercussions of one major war or theatre of war, from both military and civilian perspectives. Maps, photography and contemporary illustrations support each text. Books in Osprey's Essential Histories series span 3,000 years of human conflict, and upon completion in 2004, the series will number 65 volumes." (This series is worth looking at for military events.)
The Crusades is full of relevant and interesting maps, drawings, and photographs of art, artifacts and geography. The maps are good beginner military maps-they contain enough detail to give life to the text but do not require a deep military background to interpret them. One map shows the prevailing winds and currents. The glossary defines otherwise elusive medieval and Middle-Eastern terminology. Sidebar lists of events and dates keep the text clean and fluid.
Any history book is prone toward bias of some sort, but some are more even handed than others. This one seems even-handed. It is not a book for indoctrination by any one group wishing to show moral superiority over another group. Neither is it dismissive of genuine faith or of the role religion plays in culture.
The language is accessible and clear; it's not "textish", but it is factual-not "dramatized history". The book is appropriate as a reference for junior high/logic stage students who can keep track of cultural complexity, who have a fundamental understanding of the world or Western history of the time, and of Christian and Islamic history and beliefs. It would be good "required reading" for a senior high/rhetoric stage history student, especially one on a 3-4 year history cycle. If the student is tackling "World History" in a year or two this might consume too much time, but it would be difficult to find a shorter book with this much information.
Adult history dilettantes will gain a better understanding of the current situation in the Middle East and between Christians and Muslims; for those who want more insight into this time in history or our own time, or who are preparing to address this historical period with their children, but don't want to sink a lot of time into it, this book is a good option.