Religion is the power that wields the sword that is faith.
The Crusades are seemingly anomalous in nature which however, save for the rai·son d'être that is still under great contention, was like any other war waged in the history of men: devoid of mercy, riddled with corruption and which ended in mutual defeat and further enmity if not in destruction. There is inherent difficulty in reconciling the Christian doctrine that emphasizes the value of life beyond any measure to those of taking it under the claims of being sanctioned by God, if ever it truly was. And by this inquiry a further irony is revealed that one has to have faith with God, the Church and Religion to question such disposition. This is why the crusades have such proclivity towards disquisition with scholars and laymen alike.
Let me start by saying what Madden's work is not. At an entire 228 pages, including the illustrations, explanatory boxes, sidebars and chronology, one can accurately deduct, even foresee, what the book contains and to what extent it manages the historical narrative of the Crusades. One who desires to be well versed in the history of the Crusades should think about picking this book up. It is not a historical book brimful of historical discourses nor is it chockfull of the rationalization for such discourses. It too lack the further essential milieu existing in derivative albeit vital events of the era. However, it should be the first book that one who desires to be well versed in the history of the Crusades should pick up, INITIALLY.
This is because Madden's book is a concise historical work, aspiring to provide a broad overview of the Crusades. Works such as Madden's are characterized by broadness in trying to present every facet of the narrative and yet they too are distinguished by the brevity at which they delve into each facet. One can say that the particular design books of such kind address is providing laymen with an outline of events and basic knowledge of the subject.
The dilemma of books of this kind is that they are presenting a convoluted and sophisticated narrative intricately entangled with man's history as simple and as concise as possible (with the use of these adjectives I feel I could not further improved on emphasizing my point). More essential to this argument is that books are written in the writer's perspective and it is he/she that determines the pivotal points in the historical narrative to include. Differences inevitably arise between works, but more importantly, the reader's interest falls into a deadlock (of which i pray should not happen, once is too much in this occasion) encountering a point in the narrative that is mentioned only in passing but is seemingly vital to the reader's conscious reasoning in understanding the very narrative itself.
Further consideration is, and this is true not only with Madden's work, the volume by which the people and events are mentioned are taxing to the memory of a non-eidetic intelligence (as i have experienced myself). This is also because the persona of the individuals involved does not create a connection, relation, or mark in passing mention, just as the events do not leave an impression. A pedigree would greatly help. Also a map for every vital period within the narrative, as these are limited in the work, would be a revelation.
A caveat however is needed. The perspective from where this is review is written is apparent. I would not relegate the work into failure even how much it would seem the words are couch in the negative. I picked up the book out of sheer curiosity of the illustrations inside. Critically speaking, the book did present the Crusade's narrative as objectively as possible save on one or two occasions where Madden claimed support for his thesis.
I have yet to compare the illustrations (composed of photos of ruins and relics complimented by the paintings of the era) to other books constituting of the same composition. As it stands, The included illustrations are visually pleasing, well detailed and I might say, well selected by virtue of their relevance and bearing with the discussions presented.