Crusaders: Villains or saints?

Historians have long debated the motives and actions of the medieval crusaders who took the Holy Land by force in the 11th century. New York Times reviewer Eric Ormsby has a review.

In the book, Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades by Jonathan Phillips, the author looks at the best and worst of the the men and women who created the Christian crusades, fought to hold their lands, or who traveled thousands of miles to be part of the history-changing campaign.

From the review:

“Holy Warriors” is what Phillips calls a “character driven” account. The book is alive with extravagantly varied figures, from popes both dithering and decisive to vociferous abbots and conniving kings; saints rub shoulders with “flea pickers.” If Richard the Lion-Hearted and Saladin dominate the account, perhaps unavoidably, there are also vivid cameos of such lesser-known personalities as the formidable Queen Melisende of Jerusalem and her rebellious sister Alice of Antioch. Heraclius, the patriarch of Jerusalem, is glimpsed in an embarrassing moment when a brazen messenger announces to the assembled high court where he sits in session that his mistress, Pasque, has just given birth to a daughter.

Phillips is especially good portraying 12th-century Muslim personalities — from Ali ibn Tahir al-Sulami, a preacher of jihad, whose fiery exhortations sound alarmingly familiar, to the refined Usama ibn Munqidh, poet and man of letters, and the grumpy but astute Ibn Jubayr, a sharp-eyed traveler through Crusader territories.