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.
In taking this approach Cobb seems to be following the lead of the Syrian preacher ‘Ali ibn Tahir al-Sulami, who in 1105 produced the Book of Jihad, in which he sought to rally Muslims against what he described as Frankish aggression that had taken place first in Sicily, then in