Reviews of The First Crusade

 

Nuanced and sophisticated . . . Throughout his book, Asbridge resists the temptation to provide a simple, seamless narrative. Instead, he builds up his account of critical moments by leading the reader through the various (sometimes contradictory) layers of contemporary evidence . . . If this approach provides the text with a vivid directness, so too does the author’s (for once, literally) foot-slogging research. Asbridge has walked large tracts of the crusader route through Syria and Palestine, and his sensitivity to topographical detail – and its tactical importance to the campaign – gives his account the tightly focused immediacy of travelogue. For our tidy, post-Enlightenment minds – in which the sacred and the secular have long since been compartmentalised in distinct and separate boxes – it is both exhilarating and disconcerting to be immersed in the sheer foreignness of the crusaders’ world. Asbridge confronts us with an environment in which the numinous suffuses almost every aspect of human activity: from mystics’ prophetic visions to the gorily holy business of massacring the unbeliever.

John Adamson, Sunday Telegraph

 

[A] substantial book, [in which] there is plenty to discover . . . Asbridge [tells] of astonishing heroism, together with rapidly escalating sadism and atrocity . . . Asbridge has produced a taut, clear and exciting narrative, which also manages to convey the best of modern Crusader scholarship . . . His pace is tremendous, and he has a remarkable feel for place. It certainly helps that, like so many Crusaders nine centuries ago, Asbridge has himself walked 350 miles from Antioch towards Jerusalem: his book is all the better for it.

Diarmaid MacCulloch, Guardian

 

Asbridge’s book gives exactly the sort of fast-flowing narrative the story demands. He writes clearly and vigorously, with a fine eye for telling detail. Having walked considerable parts of the itinerary the Crusade followed, he presents a vivid picture of the landscapes they passed through. He admires the crusaders’ hardiness and extraordinary boldness without condoning cruelties they inflicted. He makes the point that few came back laden with riches and he follows most modern research in stressing that for the vast majority the motivation really was religious … This lively account of the Crusade looks set to replace Steven Runciman’s classic 1951 account of the expedition as the best introduction to the subject.

Hugh Kennedy, New York Times Sunday Review of Books

 

This emotive, thorough account of Christian jihad follows the rag-bag pan-European army from gestation to bloody victory. [Asbridge] combines accounts of battles with a clear outline of the political and cultural climate.

Observer

 

The first, very considerable, merit of [this] book . . . is that Thomas Asbridge, while fully aware of the modern perspectives, presents the story to us from the point of view, principally, of the Crusaders themselves . . . The book is enthralling. Thoroughly documented and academically respectable, [it is an] admirable example of narrative history written with the general reader in mind. Nobody can read [The First Crusade] without acquiring a better understanding of the Middle Ages and the mediaeval mind; nor, I would think, without developing an admiration for the courage, tenacity, and even the idealism of the Crusaders. To that extent, [it] may be called revisionist history.

Allan Massie, Literary Review

 

[Thomas Asbridge’s New History] is indeed innovative, in that it confounds many of the clichés hovering over the First Crusade, and does so with rigour and clarity … With judicious use of first-hand accounts, Asbridge presents a disarmingly diverse picture of the crusaders. One moment they are lauded or vilified as mythical monsters, tearing earth and bowels in their unstoppable progress, the next they seem like cheery tourists trading in village bazaars.

Murrough O’Brien, The Independent on Sunday

 

Balances persuasive analysis with a flair for conveying with dramatic power the crusaders’ plight throughout the nine-month siege of Antioch . . . should revitalize the study of this fascinating period in European history.

Christopher Silvester, Financial Times

 

Asbridge’s outstanding new history eyes with understanding and unsqueamishness the mixed motives of the Crusaders . . . The savagery of the triumphant Christian warriors seemed to shock and delight contemporary commentators in equal measure. It is this duality of passion, religious and murderous, that Asbridge analyses with such skill . . . Asbridge’s tactful and sympathetic approach to the fragmentary and partial nature of the primary sources, his ability to sustain a gripping narrative, to develop the personalities of the principals, to inspire both admiration and regret for the achievements of these medieval adventurers, all combine to make this one of the most distinguished books yet launched on the current wave of enthusiasm for history.

Graham Anderson, Oxford Times

 

A gripping and highly entertaining read that casts light on a clash of cultures that resounds through the centuries and up to the present day.

Good Book Guide

 

Although well-researched, the book wears its scholarship lightly and reads like a work of fiction, complete with vivid characters such as Stephen of Blois and Godfrey of Bouillon.  This will, no doubt, become required reading on many a university’s history course, but it is also a fascinating and lively account that will readily appeal to the ordinary reader.

Stephen Stewart, Glasgow Herald

 

[Thomas Asbridge’s The First Crusade is] absolutely riveting [and] engrossing … every detail held me … this book flies.

BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Review

 

Thomas Asbridge’s account of this First Crusade has vividly brought the event to life . . . everyone should read this book.

Medieval History

 

[Asbridge’s] prose is straightforward yet gripping . . . his scholarship thorough and careful; here is an author whose passionate engagement transcends the divide between the academic and general reader . . . he is that rare breed of historian whose painstaking research does not compromise his readability.

Jason Taliadoros, The Age

 

There is an underlying assumption among commentators looking at the confrontation between Islam and the West that it has been engendered by the events of September 11, 2001. Thomas Asbridge, by tracing the roots to the First Crusade in his lucid and provocative “new history”, helps us to understand the present by explaining the past.

Professor Akbar S. Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, D.C., and author of Islam Under Siege

 

Thomas Asbridge achieves vivid characterisation and gripping storytelling without sacrifice of scholarship. Interweaving analysis, narrative, evocative description and occasional wry humour, he tells us – as no other book on the subject really does – who the crusaders were, how they behaved, how they killed and died and, most surprisingly of all, how they survived and triumphed.

Professor Felipe Fernández-Armesto, author of Millennium and Civilizations

 

Rousing….Asbridge knows this territory well. In 1999, he even walked 350 miles of the crusaders’ route.

Christian Science Monitor, Winner of Notable Non-Fiction Award 2004

 

Combines fast-paced history writing, evocative prose and lucid research for a first-rate history of the First Crusade…. Brilliantly re-creates the three-year history of the First Crusade, chronicling its difficulties and victories, not downplaying its brutality but emphasizing its genuinely religious impulse.

Publishers Weekly

 

Asbridge, in keeping with his aim to produce a popular history, writes with maximum vividness.

Joan Acocella, The New Yorker

 

Asbridge’s history works well on many levels. He tells his story vividly, but he does not shy away from details that may muddy his otherwise clear picture. When a scholarly debate exists on a point, he brings it up forthrightly and describes it succinctly. Throughout his narrative he liberally sprinkles footnotes that direct interested readers to the best scholarship available. With knowledge of medieval siege weapons, armor, and basic army conditions, Asbridge argues that the internal command of the First Crusade was not as fractious as historians have generally believed. What really adds depth and color to this history, though, is Asbridge’s familiarity with the region and the careful attention with which he describes it. Readers see the landscapes and fortifications through the eyes of someone who has studied them closely … The First Crusade provides a first-rate description of the course and consequences of that initial moment in the Crusades. It is a story not to be missed.

Thomas Madden, First Things Journal

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