God's War: A New History of the Crusades

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God's War: A New History of the Crusades. By Christopher Tyerman. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 2006. Pp. xvi, 1024. $35.00.)

It seems that there is no end to books about the crusades. A great number of academic titles and popular histories on various aspects of crusading are published at regular intervals, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of all that is written about this vast field of historical inquiry. And yet, there are books that stand out from among the many, such as Christopher Tyerman's God's War, imposing by its impressive length of over 1000 pages alone. The dust jacket announces God's War as "the definitive account of a fascinating and horrifying story" and compares it to Sir Steven Runciman's wellloved and much-published "classic study of the Crusades." Harvard University Press may have good reasons for marketing the book in the way it does, but to the professional historian such pre-emptive praise rings alarm beËs. Firstly Runciman's work received a less than guarded reception by crusade scholars when it first appeared some fifty years ago and was never accepted as a standard academic narrative. Secondly, if the postmodernist paradigm has taught us anything at all, it is that we no longer move in a world of "definitive" histories. But let us not judge the author by the foibles of his publisher. Tyerman has written an admirable work of synthesis based on his vast knowledge and upto-date expertise as a crusade scholar. His narrative is pleasing to read, offering sound judgments and profound insights on a topic which spans 500 years of European history and encompasses most parts of medieval Europe. In short, with current world politics and the military conflicts in the Middle East having led to a renewed interest in the history of the crusades, God's War has all the ingredients to become a publishing success. Or has it? The format of the book is not easy to grasp. For the general reader this is not an easy book to read, as it provides a dense account filled with copious detail and numerous references to wider historical contexts. This requires a fair amount of previous knowledge or additional reading to appreciate the full strength of Tyerman's arguments. …