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Thursday, January 7, 2010

The First Crusade: A New History by Thomas Asbridge

Title: The First Crusade: A New History
Author: Thomas Asbridge
Reviewed Format: Trade Paperback
Release Date: April 2005
Pages: 432

This is going to be a curious review for me.  I want to begin by saying: I have not finished reading this book.  There are good reasons for this.

The first is: I’m not too big on history.  I need a lot of context for my historical facts otherwise, try as hard as I might I forget everything I hear or read.  That’s not say I don’t like history--I like it quite a bit--I just need to get it in small doses.  The second is: Thomas Asbridge’s The First Crusade: A New History is not particularly dry or boring, it’s actually really fascinating and easier for me to read than a textbook (of the historical variety); it puts things in context.  Historical figures are put into roles as characters, given motives and backstories, there are maps, illustrations, and full color photo panels of medieval artwork and modern day buildings that were once pivotal during the Crusades.  It’s not quite an historical fiction novel, but I’m invested in the text anyway.

If this were a historical fiction novel I can promise you I’d be finished by now.  Since it isn’t, I think I’ll continue reading it as I have been: in small doses when I get the chance and not all in one go.  I really want to understand the facts and research Asbridge has worked so hard to put together.  Plowing through this would be unfair to the history and do an injustice to why I wanted to read it in the first place: to learn.

There is a glossary and a chronology in the back of the book; for the die-hard historical fan there is even a bibliography and end notes to support Asbridge’s book and encourage further reading.  My favorite so far is the chronology.  It sort of sums up without explanation the very main points of Asbridge’s text along the timeline of the Crusades.  The dates orient a reader who may be lost or not quite sure on some events, even after having finished.  Once a section is completely read, you can go back to the chronology and see then all of the context and background that went into, for example, “The Council of Piacenza” (p. 342).  In short: you can feel that you’ve learned something and walk away with a studious understanding of certain events and dates.

Even though I’m reading this book from a more curious background when it comes to history, I’d still recommend it to readers interested in a real academic approach to the Crusades.  All readers will appreciate the sincerity and depth of Asbridge’s narrative and feel at ease with his accessible prose and intelligent, articulate writing.  I’m enjoying it a lot, despite reading it in bits and pieces.  I’d like to think I’m not losing any momentum, but it’s such a wonderful read it would be hard to put down and never pick it up again.

With that in mind, yes, I will eventually finish.  Asbridge’s book is exciting and he does an excellent job infusing anticipation into his text and in turn, the reader will become anxious for more.  The photos and illustrations are compelling and do help root the historical events to places and things we can see and perhaps one day, visit.  I’ve found The First Crusade: A New History to be fascinating and will continue to read it.  I suggest if you’re interested at all in the Crusades, you give Asbridge a chance!

How many Jawas recommend this book?


Thank you to Simon & Schuster UK for hosting a Holiday Giveaway on LiveJournal where I managed to snag my copy. :)


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