-->
Books

The Crusades: A Mammoth Study of the Clash Between the Armies of Europe and the Middle East

Thomas Asbridge gives a comprehensive look at 200 years of military, political, and religious maneuvering in the crucible of the Holy Land.


The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land

Publisher: Ecco
Length: 784 pages
Author: Thomas Asbridge
Price: $34.99
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 2010-03
Amazon

The Holy Land occupies a unique place in human history, its significance unparalleled and doggedly persistent. It’s the birthplace of three major world religions, and home to some of the earliest, longest-lasting, and most fought over cities and settlements on the globe. Though the names, faces, and motives may be different, today’s conflicts in this troubled yet alluring region are not far removed from the conflicts that raged hundreds of years ago, and with The Crusades, author and medieval historian Thomas Asbridge wipes away the obscuring dust of passed time to reveal a stunningly complicated and familiar set of circumstances.

Asbridge, who found success with his earlier book, The First Crusade, has now taken on the full 200 year span in his mammoth, highly comprehensive study of the clash between the armies of Europe and the Middle East. It’s no small challenge, and Asbridge makes an effort to explore each crusade in close detail, covering the major players and minor maneuvers, both military and political, that defined the battles. The result is a finely rendered portrait of the crusades that goes beyond the simplistic religious motivations that most people think of when they consider the subject, and reveal the inner workings of the medieval aristocracy, armies, and spiritual movements.

That said, Asbridge’s preoccupation with detail makes The Crusades something of a slog throughout much of the narrative, particularly during the chapters that deal with the First and Second Crusades. While they’re certainly informative, and provide an important foundation upon which the rest of the book may build, these chapters struggle to find focus amidst a wide array of characters and a bevy of unfamiliar locations. Soldiers march from mountains to cities to deserts to other cities, back and forth, in a single paragraph, their travels not registering in a coherent path.

It’s difficult to conjure the geography, or rather, the narrative geography, of the first and second crusades. Asbridge seems on the cusp of anointing a figure that can carry the story, such as Peter Bartholomew, a Frankish peasant whose prophetic visions discovered a sacred relic, the Holy Lance, which served as a rallying point for the men of the First Crusade. Unfortunately, none seem to hold the stage for long enough to build a relationship with the reader, and soon the cavalcade of new names becomes numbing.

The Crusades picks up steam in the interbellum years following the First Crusade, when the Franks have established their own colonial kingdom in the Holy Land, Outremer, French for “overseas”. Here it becomes clear that freeing the Holy Land from the so-called infidels was only a single motivator. Many lesser nobles and aristocrats took the long, arduous trip across the continent not just for spiritual rewards, but for temporal ones as well. With a firm grip on their new territory following the defeat of a disorganized and unprepared collection of Arabic forces, these fighters turned themselves into newly styled Kings and Lords, ruling over fresh territory and peer to their counterparts back in Europe. They fought for God, and God’s providence granted them the divine right to rule over the lands they captured with his assistance. It was a fair bargain.

It’s not until after the Second Crusade, however, when Asbridge finds his marquee star, the brash, calculating Arab sultan Saladin. Asbridge follows the great leader’s consolidation of power and eventual domination of Egypt and Syria, from where he then projected his forces toward not only the invading Franks, but also toward his Arabic rivals who took up most of his time and energy. Saladin is a complex figure, and it’s a pleasure to learn more about the man. A wise leader, shrewd politician, and powerful general, Saladin was the pinnacle of Islamic resistance to the crusades, and his cat-and-mouse games with Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade are the stuff of legend.

For readers interested in a crash course in this fascinating time in history, The Crusades will give you everything you need to know, in painstaking detail. It just may not give you everything you want to know; a book with such ambitious scope must make sacrifices. Obviously Asbridge’s book on the First Crusade is more able to explore the nuances and personalities of that conflict in its 400 pages than The Crusades can for the same subject in roughly two chapters. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent starting point for getting familiar with the history and coming to grips with the surprising truths and exciting stories of those far off times.

6
Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less
7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image