Thursday, December 19, 2019

Book Review | Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Obviously, right?

And no, I do not give all of Dan's (we are still BFFs, after all) books five stars just because he is my fave. I give them five stars because they are worth it, because he is a historian who does not act and think like the historians of old, who safeguarded their knowledge so that only the elite could access it. Jones does not do that, and I have said before - and will say again in the future for the next book and the next book and the next book - he writes in a way that is fully engaging without dumbing anything down.

I have read my share of history books on a huge range of topics. In fact, I have probably read a lot of peoples' shares of history books. It takes a lot to bore me, but also takes a lot to wow me, and Jones manages to do that with each new offering. It began with my reading of The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who made England (where I met my girl Eleanor of Aquitaine for the first time, and subsequently gave that name to my baby girl who was born about a month or so later). From that for introduction aboard the White Ship, I was hooked. Jones weaves together stunning and spellbinding stories and soon you've read your way through the entire book in a few hours, wondering how that just happened.

I will admit, I mainly wanted to read this one first and foremost to see what thoughts Jones would put forth about Eleanor's time on Crusade with her first husband, Louis. This will neither surprise nor offend Dan. He knows I am obsessed with her. Here is a picture of us discussing Eleanor in St. Louis in 2017:

I was happy with the attention she received, but when those sections were over, I was never tempted to put the book down, because I was still interested in the content. I truly thought this one would probably be the hardest for me to maintain an interest in, ONLY because I struggle in general with military history of any kind. I do not care to read about it, regardless of the war, or who is involved.

Given the fact that we're talking a couple centuries' worth of fighting and bloodshed over the Holy Lands, it was a tall order for Jones to deliver on in less than 500 pages. In the hands of a lesser author, this would have been a clusterfuck. So many names and dates to remember, yet the text is not overwhelming because Jones has a tendency to know just what would be most captivating to readers, while remaining highly important to the narrative, and what he can spend less time on. We get all the information we need, know the names and dates we need to know, and still come away feeling as though we had a conversation about a subject we are interested in, not a subject we were lectured at about for hours.

As you might have guessed from the title, this book is not about the Crusades. It is not a detailed blow-by-blow account of every single battle that took place, nor is it confined to those battles only taking place in the Holy Lands. Instead, Jones focuses on the people, the Crusaders - those who were, for better or worse, the reasons the Crusades happened, succeeded, or failed (all subjective terms of course, depending on your viewpoint). After Eleanor of Aquitaine (of course) I was most interested in what I learned of Anna Komnene. Hers is a name I was familiar with, having read other books about the various crusades, and her family's empire, but here Jones gives her the attention she deserves. She is best known for her written work on the life of her father, Alexios, and it is from this record that we get so much information about the events in her lifetime, and in her father's. She is definitely another medieval figure who I am greatly interested in learning more about.

Presenting the history in this way, by focusing in on various individuals within their larger roles as leaders, rulers, pilgrims, soldiers, makes this such an important offering. The centuries in which the Crusades occurred were tumultuous, dangerous, chaotic, and complicated. It would be easy to get tangled up in the web that connects all of these people, places, and events together and that is why this approach works so well. You still learn about the various Crusades, but the people Jones presents make it all the more real.

I am kind of embarrassed to admit that there were some Crusades that I knew nothing about - those that had nothing to do with Jerusalem, Antioch, Acre, and the like. I learned so much more about the time in Egypt, but those that were spread out across much of the known world - Sicily, Spain, the Baltic, and so on.

I don't think it will surprise anyone that I highly recommend this latest from Dan Jones. He writes in an engaging style and there is always that well-timed dash of humor he uses so well. Jones has proven once again why he is one of the best historians writing today, given his extensive knowledge and commitment to doing the research necessary in order to take on such a complex span of time.


  1. Funny, I just saw this at Barnes and Noble tonight. It was in the new non- fiction or whatever section at the front of the store. If not for you I wouldn't know anything about him, but the Crusades have always been interesting to me so I'm glad to hear this was good! Nice that this one focused on the people involved and not just the battles, etc. I often wonder what it would be like to have lived in those times- SO tumultuous in terms of the politics, religion, etc. Not to mention the Crusades themselves!! Reconciling faith with going off to war- something we still struggle with today.

    1. You should most definitely read it then, I feel like it will become one of the must-reads for those who are interested in that part of history. There are many Crusaders to learn about, I absolutely loved the book.

  2. It's morbidly funny the way crusades got increasingly short sighted. At first they were trying to redeemed Jerusalem from the hated Turks, but then they settled for Byzantium, and then they were just walloping heretics in France and (southern?) Italy. It's a bit like how so many acts of crime these days is labeled terrorism. Yeaaaah, no.

    1. They definitely lost sight of the mission, though the mission itself was not necessarily one that should have happened. But that was the time, and the violence and bloodshed and warfare was part of life.

  3. I have been looking for a good book about The Crusades. I believe this will be the one for me!


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