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Book Review


Madden, Thomas F. The New Concise History of the Crusades: Updated Student Edition (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, November 2005). 280 pp, $21.95.

     Recent decades have seen a growth of historical research on the Crusades. This has been especially true after the September 11 bombings, because scholars have looked back to these campaigns in an effort to explain the current ideological conflict between Christians and Muslims. Thomas F. Madden, professor and chair of the Department of History at Saint Louis University, has written a brief, enjoyable, and balanced account of the Crusades in his The New Concise History of the Crusades, Updated Student Edition He addresses both the most recent scholarship and the significance of the Crusades today.

     'Concise' is the operative word for this book. This provides some of its strengths and also some of its weaknesses. The book consists of ten chapters and a conclusion, glossary, bibliography, sources in transition, index, and about the author. There are fourteen maps throughout the book. Madden begins with the rise of Islam in the seventh century, and proceeds to show how the "clash of civilizations" occurred over the next several centuries, ending with the Holy League of the 1600s. The emphasis is on the first five crusades and the crusades of Louis IX. Especially illuminating is the coverage of participants in the campaigns as well as their individual motives for taking part.

     Madden's goal is to "craft a history of the crusades that charts a middle course between the traditional and revisionist constructions." (xi). He himself views the Crusades from the Western European point of view as "a war against Muslims for the defense of the Christian faith." (x) Thus, his focus is predominantly on Crusades to the Middle East, and continues to the point when European interest in the Crusades began to wane.

     The biggest weakness of the book is the lack of visuals. Perhaps the publisher felt that the cost of adding visuals was prohibitive, but even books that are competitive with this title in the college textbook market have at least some central plates. Indeed, an occasional sketch of the more important and compelling figures such as Saladin, Louis IX, and Baldwin I would make the book more pedagogically effective. It would help overcome the mind-numbing amount of names and places which, admittedly, cannot be avoided at times.

     Another weakness is the inconsistent use of statistics and figures. For example, Madden states that 150,000 people in Europe responded to Urban's initial call. Of these, about 40,000 went on the Crusade. Yet he also makes statements like "It was the single greatest massacre of the entire crusading era" (181) in discussing the fall of Antioch in 1268. How great? How many casualties were there? Without specifics, how can readers put this in perspective with other battles? There is also little military detail in the book, which is fine since the excellent bibliography can point anyone so interested in the right direction. However, a little more on the use of siege engines, which were so vital to victories, would be helpful for students.

     The best chapter is the last, entitled "The Legacy of the Crusades." There, Professor Madden reviews the historiography of the Crusades and how popular perceptions of it have arisen. It should be required reading for anyone interested in the Middle East as it helps to show how the world has come to view that region. Counter to some historians, Professor Madden argues that the Crusades were not a failure and also did not lead to the present conflict. He does argue, however, that the Crusades may have prolonged the Byzantine Empire and also that they prevented the unification of the Middle East into a single state. Additionally, the Crusades did provide a blueprint for "the discovery and exploitation of the New World [which] not only saved western Europe but also propelled it to world hegemony. Ironically, the Muslim threat was neutralized not by the Crusades to the East, but by those to the West." (225)

     Professor Madden argues that "the artificial memory of the Crusades by modern colonial powers and passed down by Arab nationalists and Islamists" (222) has led to the belief that the Crusades lead to September 11. To him, however, "the Crusades were a medieval phenomenon, a part of a medieval world that is very different than our world today." Christians saw the Crusades to the east as acts of love and charity, waged against Muslim conquerors in defense of Christian people and their lands. For their part, medieval Muslims had no understanding or interest in the Crusades. The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem "was simply one more state in an already chaotic political landscape. When the Muslims finally united they dispatched the infidels and that was all (222)."

     Despite its drawbacks, this enjoyable book is an excellent introduction for anyone interested in the Crusades. It can be used as a supplement for any history course on the Middle Ages. It can provide solid background for a senior or graduate seminar on the Crusades or the Middle Ages, depending on the background of the students. Note that the publisher is working on a book website which should be a valuable resource for any teacher using this book.


Sanjeev A. Rao, Jr
Monmouth University and Brookdale Community College


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