God's War: A New History of the Crusades

Article excerpt

Tyerman, Christopher. God's War: A New History of the Crusades. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 2006. 1,024pp. $35

Christopher Tyerman, a lecturer in medieval history at Oxford University, offers this work at a crucial moment. With world attention focused as it is on the Middle East and on the social, political, religious, and military interactions between the Muslim East and Christian West, God's War could not have come at a more opportune time, especially for those who wish to have a better understanding of this exotic and violent period. Over the past decade, the subject of the Crusades has become a popular one for writers, but Steven Runciman's three-volume History of the Crusades remains the primary standard of comparison. Tyerman accurately, if perhaps with a bit of hubris, notes that Runciman's work is now outdated and seriously flawed. What makes Tyerman's work stand out is the extent of his knowledge of the entire crusading era and his ability to deploy that knowledge in a clear, concise, and generally readable manner in the course of a single (if massive) volume.

God's War is reasonably if not totally comprehensive. The first four Crusades are covered in minute detail, the later Crusades less so. Tyerman, however, also discusses many related movements not normally considered as crusades, such as the Reconquista in Spain and Teutonic campaigns in the Baltic, and even the expansion of the concept of holy war to the conquest of the New World. This breadth of coverage makes up for an occasional lack of depth. At times the book does suffer from an overreliance on name-dropping, some of which is repetitive and, for the novice, confusing.

Tyerman stresses that one cannot know how the Crusaders thought or felt-making it ironic when he comments, as he frequently does, on what did or did not motivate them. …