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History Book Reviews

A Child’s History of the World V.M. Hillyer

If it’s not a classic, perhaps it should be. Even my 5 and 6 year olds were drawn into discussion’s around this book. Hillyer clearly made it his expert craft to draw children into a love of learning and it shows. Through Hillyer history exploded off the pages and came alive in the minds of my children (and me).

It was written over 70 years ago, when America was still largely a Christian country so the story of God is woven into the historical narrative of humanity, without ignoring science or mocking the Bible. I found Hillyer’s efforts to allow the peaceful interfacing of God, history and science both refreshing and balanced.


The New Concise History of the Crusades Thomas F. Madden.

Kill people in Jesus name? What were they thinking? Perspective helps a lot in understanding. In this Madden is valuable. In the same way we are shocked that so many people would be willing to do battle for their religion, so to would the people of that era be shocked at us in our willingness to shed blood over political ideology, nationalism, or greed. The only thing worth dying for in that era was your faith. Anything else would have seemed foolish to them. Protecting the holy land was an issue because the powers that be were able to connect it to the faith of the people.

The crusades at first then were little more than misshapen piety. The people who went on them were under prepared, ill equipped, pilgrims determined fight there way into Jerusalem to worship and then go home. So many of these pious ones were slaughtered and most of the lands they gained were quickly lost because the vast majority of crusaders who actually survived the endeavours wanted nothing more than to return home upon completion of their pilgrimage.

Later crusades were definitely more conquest oriented, but in this Madden also does the reader a good service by dispelling the notion that the crusades could ever be reduced to bloodthirsty Christians killing and conquering innocent muslims. There we’re 5 key players in the in the Crusade era: Western Christians, Byzantine Christians, Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, and the small branch of Christians that clung to ever shrinking strongholds captured in the holy land. These 5 players were constantly battling each other, in order to gain the upper hand. For example, when the Shia brand of Islam came up from Egypt and threatened the holy land the Sunnis were quick to partner with the Western Christians to beat them back. Also during the 4th Crusade the Western Christians never even made it to the holy land, instead the sacked the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. The blow so weakened the empire of Eastern Christendom, that the Muslim conquest of Constantinople in 1453 can be attributed in part to the devastation brought upon that city by invading Western Christians so many years before. Other examples of this 5 way mess are what the book is all about.

As far as winning goes, there is no question the muslim’s won. That the Christians were able to hang on to some of their holdings in Palestine for as long as they did, was near miraculous.

According to Madden, Muslims only recently embraced the idea of crusades as a rallying cry for revenge and violence upon the west. In their histories, nothing much is recorded, except to view the invaders from the west as just another army among many armies who lost, thanks to Allah and good leaders like Saladin.


The History of the Medieval World Susan Wise Bauer

Susan Wise Bauer takes an ambitious crack at filling the reader in on everything that happened in the world between the conversion of Constantine and the first Crusade.  From Krakatoa in Indonesia, to the mysterious dynasties of the Inca people, it’s all here in her book. She manages to avoid the nasty trap of limiting her writing to the spitting out of facts, dates and basic information that some historians get themselves into when having to cover so much stuff. Instead her book reads like a good newspaper — it has the information, but it has the stories that capture the imagination also. Bauer see’s the humour in being human and that is reflected in her writing. Bauer’s book also just drops it down to the reader in plain English. All the messed up stuff that is the human story is served to you on a great big platter. As you chew on it, it becomes easy to get reflective. To wonder how to avoid the mistakes of the past and embrace the successes for our future.


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