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Kenneth Harl’s series of lectures forms a good basic introduction to the Crusades. Seven of them are covered in detail, from the first, with Raymond of Toulouse and Bohemond of Sicily, through the seventh, with Louis IX of France leading a disastrous invasion of Egypt. The battles are described at a high level but with enough detail to be coherent.
But there's a great deal more in here than just the Crusades: as the title suggests, there's also quite a bit about the Era as well. One area where this is especially true is the coverage of Byzantium. Harl provides several lessons’ worth of the history of this eastern half of the Roman Empire and the leaders who pushed its boundaries even further east and north. There are times when he makes Constantinople sound like King’s Landing in The Game of Thrones. Basil the Bulgar-Slayer figures prominently in his account of Byzantine history.
There's also quite a bit about society and technology: the rise of the merchant class, the switch from “two-field” to “three-field” agriculture, the switch from “shell building” to “frame building” in the shipyards, and the development of armored warfare, giant battle horses, and regiments of archers.
Some things I expected to hear are skimmed over in Harl’s lectures. There wasn't much here about the “people’s crusade” and the slaughter of Jews that followed; nor much about the leaders of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. (I have to admit that much of my interest in this aspect of the story stems from the film The Kingdom of Heaven.)
But there's much here that's new and surprising and it's well worth the listen. Harl delivers his material with energy and enthusiasm. Unfortunately he sometimes slips into a “you’re not gonna believe THIS” tone, but mostly he's speaking clearly and engagingly about a subject in which he is obviously an expert - which of course is what you'd want from a Great Course.
I do wish the producers of the Great Courses would ditch the canned applause at the beginning and end of every lesson. The material IS good - we don't need an “applause track” to reinforce the point.
22 of 23 people found this review helpful
What made the experience of listening to The Era of the Crusades the most enjoyable?
I enjoyed how detailed and thorough the information was.
What did you like best about this story?
I truly had a complete understanding about the era as well as the Crusades.
What aspect of Professor Kenneth W. Harl’s performance would you have changed?
Uh I uh would uh have uh changed uh the way uh he uh presented uh the lecture.
Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
No, neither. But I was irritated because many times throughout when he came to an important point or fact he trailed off.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Not a bad overview, I would had liked a lot more detail. As an introduction or as a refresher good, detailed analysis I personaly would look (and have bought how the crusades changed the world) else where. The crusades podcast is genuinely better for details and anecdotes,
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
spoken way too quickly with too much information to really absorb. could have been much better if it had slowed down a bit
Really fantastic. A captivating performance from a good authority with well researched sources. A brilliant piece for anyoen interested in medieval history, and a key turning point in the history of Europe.