Robert Irwin

View from the Minaret

The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades

By

Oxford University Press 360pp £20 order from our bookshop

Paul Cobb’s aim is to break with the ‘traditional perspective’ whereby the essential history of the Crusades begins with the preaching of Pope Urban II at Clermont in 1095, which launched the First Crusade, and effectively ends with the Mamluk reconquest of the Crusader city of Acre in 1291. Looked at from a Western point of view, it is, as he remarks, a ‘lachrymose narrative’ of ultimate heroic Christian defeat (and it was the ‘lachrymose narrative’ that I fell in love with when, as a schoolboy, I read Steven Runciman’s superbly stylish three-volume A History of the Crusades). Cobb instead wants to take a wider view of the conflict between Islam and Christendom in the Middle Ages. It is one that begins not in 1095 but in the 1060s, when the Norman occupation of Sicily began. His story ends not in 1291 but in 1453, when the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II took Constantinople from the Byzantines. The Race for Paradise still covers the campaigns in Syria and Palestine, but presents them as parts of a wider struggle that encompassed Spain, Sicily, North Africa, Egypt and Anatolia.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • From the Archive: Martyn Bedford on Ian McEwan's 'Atonement' ,
    • In 'Silenced Voices' reports the ongoing story of the human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been… ,
    • The mystery of Jack the Ripper's identity has long been agonised over. But what do we know about his victims?… ,
    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,