The New Concise History of the Crusades

  By kilroy, 6 June 2007; Revised
The New Concise History of the Crusades By Thomas Madden.  Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc.  Maryland 2007. 

The New Concise History of the Crusades
is a short, detailed introduction into one of the most chaotic and controversial eras in human history, known as the crusades. 

Weighing in at just a little over 225 pages of text, Thomas Maddens’ book is just what it says it is in the title, its concise.  Madden covers all of the major events, including the first crusade all the way to the end of the fifth crusade, with separate chapters dedicated to each crusades aftermath.  Accompanying the major crusades, Madden focuses on all of the other crusades as well, including the Crusades of St. Louis, the Albigensian Crusade, the Crusades in the Baltic, Varna and the Reconquest of Spain.  Madden even delves into the history of the great military orders such as the Templar and Teutonic orders and their fates after the crusades. 

Madden takes a very balanced view, and treats both sides equally, citing atrocities on both sides.  He does an excellent job at showing just how divided the crusaders were when it came to planning and coordination.  But while Madden focus’ mostly on the Crusader camp, Madden mentions, but never goes into much detail, on just how divided the Muslim camp was as well, fraught with civil strife and internal conflicts.  One of the other problems I had with the book was the fact that it doesn’t even mention Ma’arra anywhere.  Also, events such as the Baltic Crusade and the Reconquest of Spain only get half page summaries, but this may be only due to the concise nature of the book, but more detail would have made this book a great resource. 

Among the many interesting points the author strikes upon in the book, a few central themes stood out.  One point was when Madden challenged a claim that the middle east has always had a very long memory when it came to the crusades.  Madden claims that this is simply wrong, and cites the fact that an Arabic term for the crusades was not created until the late 19th century, and that the first Arabic history of the crusades was only written in 1899, and he goes further to claim that the Muslim world did not “differentiate the crusades from any other wars fought against infidels” (pg 218).  Madden also cites the fact that Saladin, one of the Muslims most capable commanders, was largely forgotten until recent times.  He concludes that this was simply a constructed memory.  Whether this is true or not is highly debatable.

Another important point that Madden focuses was the fact that many in the crusades (including many knights and commanders) were driven mainly by piety and less by greed.  Madden cites many personalities from among the crusades leading men and cited the fact that many gave up much of their wealth and land to go off to a distant land where success and possible payback was never guaranteed.

The book itself is written in a very lively, yet business like fashion.  The narrative moves along at a steady pace, and is written for the general public to digest.   There are intext notations and a select narrative bibliography in the back. 

Thomas Madden is the chairman and professor of History at St. Louis University. 

If your looking for a short introduction into the crusades, Maddens work is a great read.  But if your looking for more detailed anaylsis, I would look elsewhere.