Dan Jones, author of The Templars, returns to dazzle readers with a fascinating look at the Crusades. And lest you hesitate because events that took place a thousand years ago appear irrelevant, rest assured: This is no dry, boring tome. Entering the world of Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands is a bit like plunging into the political machinations of the fight for the Iron Throne of Westeros, only in this case all the players and events are real.
Like “Game of Thrones,” this epic tale is peopled with a large cast. Helpfully, Jones begins with a chart of major characters (17 pages’ worth). The book also boasts several maps, copious source notes, lists of major rulers in the appendix and, of course, an extensive bibliography. In other words, even neophytes will feel well armed to appreciate the journey.
And what a journey (or rather journeys) it is. The book is organized into three parts, with the first section devoted to the personalities and events that birthed the crusader movement from the 1060s forward; the second takes place in the 12th century and focuses on crusader states in Syria and Palestine; and the third covers the events that precipitated the Second and Third Crusades in 1144 and 1187.
Jones’ focus on human characters and his strength as a storyteller are what make Crusaders a success. Vivid descriptions and the use of primary source quotes help readers span the centuries. The book begins, for instance, with a colorful scene between a Norman count reacting to advice from his courtiers: “Count Roger of Sicily lifted his leg and farted. ‘By the truth of my religion,’ he exclaimed, ‘there is more use in that than in what you have to say!’ ”
In a thought-provoking epilogue, Jones brings his narrative into the present day. For while the Crusades are part of history, violent conflicts between Christians and Muslims continue to shadow the 21st century. “The Crusades are over,” Jones notes in a final thought. “But as long as there are crusaders—real or imaginary—in the world, the war goes on and on.”