Tuesday, September 16, 2008

THE CRUSADES by Anthony West

The Crusades, written by Anthony West and illustrated by Carl Rose, provides a brief overview of the First through Fourth Crusades. This volume is just under 200 pages, which barely enough space for West to cover the who, what, why, where and when of things (most everything but the "what" is often glossed over).

West focuses on the people he sees as the key figures of each Crusade: Peter the Hermit, Saladin, Richard I, and Louis IX. Most other people are mentioned by name and title only, and without background they tend to run together. 

West does a good job of presenting the Crusades fairly, as there isn't room for much editorializing (all there is one egregious instance where West describes those crusaders who fled a hopeless, lost battle resulting from ambush as "cowards). He depicts the disorganization, incompetence, squabbling, and terrible acts of the crusaders, and some of the nobility and mercy of the Saracens. 

It is important to note that while the Crusades are often described as Christians versus Saracens, "Christians" is used in a cultural-political rather than spiritual sense. Certainly in hindsight the Crusades were a black eye for Christianity, and they involved large numbers of ignorant and hateful "Christians". The Crusades, by and large, couldn't have less to do with true Christianity. But nobody wants to re-label it along the lines of Europeans versus Saracens, because the objectives were religious in nature. 

Taking West's The Crusades for what it is, an introduction to the first four crusades, it is certainly not without value.