This is rollercoaster history; had I not been taking notes I would struggle to recall each twist and turn of the ride. A storyteller rather than an analyst, with a nose for the dramatic, disgusting and bizarre, Jones might not be the right man to get a call from MI5. But every page of his extraordinary book provides vivid evidence of the Crusades’ continuing ability to mesmerise, including those with murderous intent.
Jones has a brilliant eye for these telling anecdotes from the original sources, which bring the extraordinary centuries of Europe’s crusades to fresh and compelling life. We’ve had plenty of books about the period in recent years, but for sheer narrative brio and readability Jones’s sweeping, energetic account is surely the best. Instead of plodding soberly through the period, he homes in on particularly thrilling set-pieces — voyages, battles, sieges — and some of the outsized and unforgettable protagonists who dominated their times, as well as various minor characters, including a brief but tantalising mention of one “Fulk the Repulsive”...Jones is exceptionally good at giving evocative snapshots of medieval life, sometimes poignant, sometimes pure Monty Python. One of the “people’s crusades” involved “a band of thousands of peasants who walked east behind a miraculous goose and a nanny-goat whom they believed to have been possessed by the Holy Spirit”. He makes great use of the wonderful descriptions by Anna Komnene, scholarly daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I, in her fascinating, gossipy account of her father’s reign, the Alexiad.