Professor Thomas Madden’s New Concise History of the Crusades is a textbook that reads like a novel. In an easily digestible fashion, Madden explores the intricacies of European politics and religion that lead to the birth of the Crusading movement, and traces the development of that movement until it disappeared in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. He follows the course of events in good detail, without drowning his reader in documentary evidence. Each chapter has suggestions for further reading, with a list of original sources in translation. Madden stays very focused on his topic and does not stray into discussions of events unrelated to the Crusades. Some knowledge of the history of the High Middle Ages is helpful in placing Madden’s narrative in context, but is not necessary to enjoy or learn from this book.
The Crusades are a fascinating episode in world history. They feature some of the most notable names of the Middle Ages, including Richard the Lionheart of England, Phillip II Augustus of France, Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, Saint Louis of France, and the noble barbarian of Romantic lore, Saladin. The tales of chivalry and heroism from this period are awe-inspiring. Anyone with an interest in the Crusades should begin by reading Madden’s book.
With the current unrest in the Middle East and the threat of Islamic terrorism, the Crusades have assumed a tremendous importance in the modern world. Many writers have sought the source of present conflicts in the events of distant centuries. Madden does an excellent job explaining the significance of the Crusades to the modern international situation, and dispels many of the myths that have come to be accepted about these endeavors. He expertly refutes interpretations of the Crusade that attempt to put them in a modern context, and demonstrates the true nature of their genesis. The final two chapters of the book should be required reading for anyone studying modern foreign relations. I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in medieval European history or the modern Middle East.
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