The best books on the Crusades and Crusader States

Who am I?

I'm a retired diplomat and award-winning novelist with a PhD in history. I became fascinated by the crusades and the crusader states because few periods of history are so widely misunderstood or so profoundly misrepresented. While scholars have for decades meticulously uncovered the evidence of religious tolerance, peaceful coexistence, and sophisticated understanding of the Islamic opponent, the general public remains trapped in the cliches of “barbarism,” “bigotry” “apartheid” and “proto-colonialism”. The discrepancy between the evidence and the popular image motivated me to write books that show the real face of the crusader states as revealed by the scholarship of the last thirty years. In addition, I was commissioned by Pen & Sword to write a non-fiction introduction to the crusader states that will be released later this year.

I wrote...

Envoy of Jerusalem: Balian d'Ibelin and the Third Crusade

By Helena P. Schrader,

Book cover of Envoy of Jerusalem: Balian d'Ibelin and the Third Crusade

What is my book about?

Hollywood made him a blacksmith; Arab chronicles said he was “like a king.” He served a leper, but defied Richard the Lionheart. He fought Saladin to a standstill, yet retained his respect. Rather than dally with a princess, he married a dowager queen—and founded a dynasty. He was a warrior and a diplomat both: Balian d’Ibelin

As Envoy of Jerusalem opens, Balian has survived the devastating defeat of the Christians at the Battle of Hattin. He has walked away a free man after the surrender of Jerusalem, but he is a baron of nothing in a kingdom that no longer exists. Haunted by the tens of thousands of Christians now in Saracen captivity, he is determined to regain what has been lost. The arrival of a vast crusading army under the soon-to-be-legendary Richard the Lionheart offers hope—but also conflict, as natives and crusaders clash and French and English quarrel. Envoy of Jerusalem was the winner of seven literary awards including Best Biography 2017 from Book Excellence Awards and Best Christian Historical Fiction 2017 from Readers' Favorites.

The books I picked & why

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The Concise History of the Crusades

By Thomas F. Madden,

Book cover of The Concise History of the Crusades

Why this book?

This is the perfect “first book” for anyone interested in learning about the crusades without ideological bias or polemics.

In just 209 pages, Professor Thomas Madden has provided a cogent and comprehensive overview of the crusades. He writes in a fluid, accessible style rather than a turgid academic tone, yet his scholarship is impeccable. Madden opens with an explanation of the concept of crusading and proceeds to summarize the key events leading to and during the major crusades to the Holy Land. The book is chronological and ends with a chapter on the legacy of the crusades. Madden also provides notes and an extensive bibliography.

Hattin: Great Battles Series

By John France,

Book cover of Hattin: Great Battles Series

Why this book?

This is the perfect book for someone striving to understand the relevance of the crusades based on their place in the history of both the West and the Middle East. It is not a comprehensive history as is Madden’s work, but a compliment to Madden in that it shows how history has been harnessed to modern politics — usually incorrectly.

Despite its misleading title referring to Saladin’s defeat of the Christian army in July 1187, this book looks not so much at the events as the meaning of the crusades. In less than 170 pages, France explores the concepts of jihad and crusading, and describes the fateful battle of Hattin. He then goes on to analyze the immediate military and political consequences of the battle, and ends by examining how the myths surrounding this iconic battle have impacted national identity and foreign relations to the present day.

The World of the Crusades

By Christopher Tyerman,

Book cover of The World of the Crusades

Why this book?

This is the perfect book for someone seriously interested in the crusades and looking for a reference with tips on additional sources.

Tyreman’s almost 500-page work is a treasure for readers looking for greater detail than Madden and France offer. Meticulously researched and documented, it is also enriched with a chronology, lists of rulers, and a glossary. In addition to a chronological treatment of the crusades, including the crusades in Western Europe and against fellow Christians, it provides short essays on a variety of aspects of the crusades — things like castles, interpreters, Jews, women, food and drink, medicine, manuscripts and art and much more. Last but not least, this is an illustrated history filled with color reprints of images from illuminated manuscripts, as well as photographs or etchings of places of relevance.

Frankish Rural Settlement in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem

By Ronnie Ellenblum,

Book cover of Frankish Rural Settlement in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem

Why this book?

This book is an absolute “must” for anyone seriously interested in understanding how the crusader states fit into and impacted the Middle East in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Hidden behind this dry title, is the most significant book about the crusader states of the last fifty years. This book by an Israeli archaeologist based on data mining and archaeological surveys completely discredited the theories on the social structures and demographics of the crusader states which had dominated crusade historiography since the Second World War. It started an avalanche of new research that has led to a generation of revisionist historians, whose works collectively have revolutionized our understanding of the Middle East in the era of the crusades.

Muslims and Crusaders: Christianity's Wars in the Middle East, 1095-1382, from the Islamic Sources

By Niall Christie,

Book cover of Muslims and Crusaders: Christianity's Wars in the Middle East, 1095-1382, from the Islamic Sources

Why this book?

No one should claim to understand the crusades without having first read this book.

This work by a scholar of Islamic history is based entirely on Muslim sources, and as such provides a mirror image to the works which draw heavily on Latin, Greek, French and Italian sources. It is concise (119 pages), easy to read, and backed by a large document section as well as recommended reading for each chapter. For anyone who is not an Islamic scholar, the book is worth owning for the clear, succinct definitions of key Arabic terms such as iqta, qadi, and jihad itself. The guide to Arab names is invaluable. The book provides an overview of sources, describes the Muslim Middle East before the crusades and then describes Muslim reaction to the various Christian incursions into the Dar al-Islam as depicted in contemporary Arab and Turkish sources.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Crusades, Islam, and the Middle Ages?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Crusades, Islam, and the Middle Ages.

The Crusades Explore 39 books about the Crusades
Islam Explore 64 books about Islam
The Middle Ages Explore 245 books about the Middle Ages

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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