Seven Myths of the Crusades
by Alfred J. Andrea and Andrew Holt, eds.
Cambridge, Mass.: Hackett Publishing, 2015. 248 pp. $54 ($19, paper).
As the editors make clear in their preface, Seven Myths of the Crusades is presented as an antidote to the “outpouring of exaggerations, misperceptions, errors, misrepresentations, and fabrications” that proliferate in popular discourse about the Crusades. In the course of seven chapters, each written by a specialist and supported by scholarly notes and fresh research, this short primer examines and exposes the many anachronisms around the Crusades.
Andrea, professor emeritus, University of Vermont, and Holt of Florida State College make their basic assumption clear from the outset stating that the “notion that medieval people … were ‘just like us’ and acted out of motives very much like our own … has led to some basic misunderstandings of the crusades and the people involved in them.”
While not all chapters are equally enlightening, the more useful ones deal with large and important themes including whether the Crusaders were motivated by “proto-colonialist greed, irrational fanaticism, or sincere piety.” Paul Crawford examines whether the First Crusade was an “unprovoked offense or overdue defense” against Islam while Mona Hamad and Edward Peters question whether modern-day Muslims actually still hold a grudge against the West because they have “a nine-hundred-year-long grievance.”
A few sections—such as those dealing with the Children’s Crusade and Templar myths—while intrinsically interesting, are less sweeping in their significance. Others do not so much debunk myths as provide up-to-date scholarship: Daniel P. Franke’s “The Crusades and Medieval Anti-Judaism: Cause or Consequence?” for example, does not minimize the plight of European Jews but rather places it in historical context.
Despite President Obama down-playing ISIS atrocities by invoking the Crusades in February 2015, this book convincingly demonstrates that his view runs “counter to the mainstream of today’s scholarly interpretation—a general consensus built upon decades of research, reflection, and debate.”
[A book review, Middle East Quarterly]