Book Review: Crusades: The Illustrated History


by edited by Thomas F. Madden

Ann Arbor, Mich.: The University of Michigan Press, 2004. Pp. 224. Illus., timeline, biblio., index. $35.00. ISBN:0-472-11463-8

In 1996, Osama bin Laden declared war on “the USA Crusader military forces on land, sea and air of the states of the Islamic Gulf.” Two years later, he co-signed a statement with other Islamic terrorist leaders that read in part: “The Arabian Peninsula has never…been stormed by any forces like the crusader armies spreading in it like locusts.” In November 2001, as the noose tightened around his former sanctuary of Afghanistan, a video was released through al-Jazeera in which he stated: “This war is fundamentally religious. The people of the East are Muslims. They sympathized with Muslims against the people of the West, who are the crusaders.” Shortly after the 3/11 bombings in Madrid, a group linked to al Qaeda issued a statement that said the attacks were “part of settling old accounts with Spain, the crusader and America's ally in its war against Islam.” This was a reference to the fall of Muslim Spain to Catholic Spain in 1492.

Fighting yesterday’s war is not an uncommon practice, but the Crusades are as distant a memory for Westerners as the Avignon the papacy. What are the terrorists talking about?

The scourge of political correctness has so reduced the rich history of the Crusades, which lasted from as early as 1095 to as late as 1798, to just another egregious sin committed by barbaric Christians against other more enlightened cultures. Confronted with this characterization, defenders of the West (e.g., editor Thomas Madden, who has also written for National Review) have responded by pointing out that the Crusades were, essentially, a response to aggression perpetrated by Muslims against Christians. This absolutely beautiful book, authored by an impressive array of historians hailing from institutions in the United States, Wales, Scotland, and England, confirms that the politically correct description is unbelievably wrong. Fully aware of the various myths surrounding the Crusades, the contributors preempt canards, refute tired assertions, and illuminate a truly fascinating period of history—one that has never been more relevant to Americans. Describing the Crusades as one of “the most misunderstood phenomena in history,” Madden and his co-authors proceed to explode myth after misconception after lie.

Fact one: Muslims invaded the Holy Land and took it from the Christian Byzantines. They occupied most of Spain and even attacked what are now France and Italy. The Crusades were a response to this.

Fact two: The Crusades were not limited to the Middle East. Crusades were launched against pagans in the Baltic region, heretics in southern France, and Christian reformers in the Holy Roman Empire.

Fact three: The Crusades were a two-way affair, both sides committing atrocities, both sides waging war. This simple concept is key to understanding why, having failed in their mission of reclaiming the Holy Land and, even further, losing the Byzantine Empire to the Ottomans, Christian Europe lost the Crusades. Anti-Western Muslims have little claim on any sort of victimhood.

An apologia the anthology is not, however. The massacre of Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem in 1099 is not glossed over. Richard the Lionheart’s mass execution of of thousands of hostages after the fall of Acre is not left out, nor is the Shepherd’s Crusade, in which “riots and massacres of Jews became commonplace.”

Terrorists like Osama bin Laden label us as crusaders in order to recruit more terrorists from all over the world, including here in the West. Harebrained intellectuals who insidiously spread propaganda about the Crusades in order to supplant their fervent “Blame America First” ideology with a self-hatred for the West only help his cause.

The authors and the University of Michigan Press deserve congratulations of the highest order for their superbly rich scholarship and deftly crafted gem of a publication. rc=> Reviewer: Tristan Abbey   

Buy it at



Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close