Tuesday, January 03, 2006

de Laude Novae Militae

I'm not sure why Piers Paul Read called his book The Templars; it is more a compact history of The Crusades and the variety of European intrigues and personalities behind them. The Templars play a role of course, but do not feature any more prominently here than Bernard of Clairvaux, the Knights Hospitallers, Richard Lionheart, or Frederick Hohenstaufen. The best segment of the book is Read's magnificent refresher course in the rise of Christianity and Islam from the 1st to the 7th century AD, which takes up the first 70 pages. I've not read a better summary elsewhere, even in H.G. Wells' Outline of History.

But though the subject matter barely matches the book title, I enjoyed it for the most part, though there are typos galore scattered throughout. At times Read also tacks on extended quotes from better books without comment, which I fault in freshman essays, so it should be unforgiveable here. The first couple of chapters are excellent, the middle third is just ok, and the concluding bits about the torture of James de Molay and friends makes for fun Xmas reading:

Occasionally the torturers miscalculated: the feet of Bernard of Vado, a Templar priest from Albi, were so badly burned that his bones fell out

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