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"God's Battalions" has the unfortunate subtitle, "The Case for the Crusades." That makes it sound more polemical than it appeared to me as I listened to it. Rodney Stark seems to be arguing, not that the Crusades were a righteous cause, but that the European participants THOUGHT they were a righteous cause, and that we should take their declared motivations seriously. It's not so much pro-Crusades as it is anti-anti-Crusades.
Stark doesn't think the Crusades were a cynical grab for land and power. By analyzing family connections and financial data, he argues that most people who went on the Crusades did so at tremendous cost, sometimes bankrupting themselves in the process, for little or no material gain. He concludes from this that they truly felt they were participating in a "higher cause."
Stark's strong suit is using sociological and economic data to fill in the historical picture. Surprisingly, he manages to do this without turning the book into a dry thesis: he sticks to a strong narrative line, filled with battle descriptions, anecdotes, and extensive quotes from letters and other contemporary documents. Most of all, he tries to be specific: which families were involved, which groups participated in pogroms, which factions (Christian and Muslim) set off the conflict, when did accusations of conquest and colonialism first arise.
The narrative is crafted into a compact and comprehensible outline that makes the book a useful introduction to the subject. Of course, I have to admit, in saying that, that this IS the first book I've read on the subject. I was drawn to it by the liveliness of the writing (and the excellence of David Drummond's narration) more than anything else. Even if Stark's analysis fails to stand up over time, he has included a wealth of information in a concise and very well-organized format.
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This work hits several myths about the Crusades head on and provides historical evidence to expose their errors:
* The myths of why the RC Church called for the 1st Crusade
* The myth of the victimized peace-loving Muslims minding their own business
* The myth of the Crusader as a blood-thirsty, raping, greedy mercenary.
* The myth of Saladin the Noble Warrior
* The myths surrounding the Fall of Jerusalem
Stark is a fearless iconoclast when it comes to the myths progressives invent to support their anti-Western narrative.
Stark does not whitewash the atrocities that were committed by some of the Crusaders. He frequently acknowledges that bad things were committed by some Crusaders. The corrective he offers is a vision of the Crusades as understood by contemporaries, against the vision offered by Enlightenment-Progressive scholarship which interprets the entire history as evidence of why white, European Medieval Christians and the history they made should be condemned.
This and works like it are greatly needed.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful