This article is from the soc.history.medieval FAQ, by Stephan Schulz email@example.com with numerous contributions by others.
In this section I try to collect a list of interesting books. If
possible, I try to include a short (or even longer) review, however,
individual titles are usually printed as they had been submitted to
I particularly try to compile a list of books that can be read
without formal training in history. If you want to submit
information on a book please try to follow the standard format
and try to provide a text that can be copied to the FAQ
without much editing.
Brown, R. Allen, "The Normans"
Brown gives a good overview on the impact on the Normans from
the time of the establishment of the Normandy as a Duchy under
Rollo and Charles the Simple to the end of the
Crusades. Apart from the well-known invasion in England the
participation of multiple generations of the family Hauteville
in the conquest of southern Italy and the Crusades is
stressed. The book is well researched but does not offer much
detail on the era.
Contamine, Philippe, "War in the Middle Ages", trans. Michael Jones
(London, Basil Blackwell, 1984) ISBN 0-631-13142-6; xvi+387 pages,
24 b+w illustrations, 10 tables, 7 maps, 4 line-drawn figures.
A welcome translation of the author's "La Guerre au moyen
age" (originally published 1980) this book is the essential
starting place for any serious study of medieval military
institutions and affairs. It is divided into three parts.
"The State of Knowledge," reviews what scholars know about
warfare in the Middle Ages in four chronological chapters: the
"Barbarian" period (500-900), the "Feudal Age" (900-1150), the
High Middle Ages (1150-1325) and the transition to gunpowder
warfare (1325-1500). Chapter 1 is the weakest part of the
book because Contamine does not properly evaluate the survival
of Roman practices in the early Middle Ages. Chapter 4 is the
best, because it covers the era in which Contamine does his
own research. The second part, "Themes and Perspectives",
examines six specific issues like strategic theory and the
'laws of war.' Chapter 9, "Towards a History of Courage" is
the most interesting. The third part is a 51 page
bibliography of work on medieval warfare.
Readers who are looking for narrative accounts of battles
and campaigns will be disappointed -- Contamine emphasizes
institutions, practices, and the nature of the evidence that
medieval military historians have to work with. As a result,
this book works best when it is used as a reference or as a
place from which to start reading on a particular topic. As
such it excells.
DeVries, Kelly, "Medieval Military Technology", (Lewiston NY,
Broadview, 1992), ISBN: 0-921149-74-3; xi+340 pp., numerous b+w
pictures and line drawings.
This book reviews of technology of warfare in the western
european middle ages. It is divided into four sections: one
on arms and armor, the second on artillery (both
stone-throwing and gunpowder varieties), the third on
fortifications, and the last on warships. In each case,
DeVries describes the chronological development of specific
technologies, with special emphasis on the military and
economic reasons that medieval people chose to develop them.
Since he often uses examples drawn from specific battles and
campaigns to support his points, this book is easy to read and
gives a clear picture of what was going on in each technology
at specific times.
At appropriate points, DeVries interrupts his narrative to
describe what modern historians think about controversial
issues. A good example is his chapter on the great "Did
Stirrups cause Feudalism" debate. DeVries says "No" and his
explanation of why is clearer and easier to read than the
original research he is summarizing. De Vries bibliography is
up-to date and should be preferred over the corresponding
section in Contamine. DeVries also gets credit for properly
emphasizing the continued use of Roman military technology in
the early medieval era.
France, John, "Victory in the East: A Military History of the
First Crusade", New York, Cambridge University Press,
1994, 425 pages, maps
[No review available yet - *you* are invited to write one ;-)]
Maalouf, Amin, "The Crusades through Arab Eyes", translated from the
French "Les Cusades vues par les Arabes" by Jon Rothschild,
Schocken Books, New York, 293 pages, 2 Maps, US$ 16
Maalouf gives us yet another account of the Crusades. While the
book follows the general outline of most overview works on the
era, it adds a new perspective. His book concentrates on the
Crusades as experienced by the Arab inhabitants of the Near
East. The struggles between the different Muslim factions and
rulers are described in unusual detail, as are the social and
religious movements that eventually resulted in a revigouration
of the "Jyhad" concept and thus the destruction of the Frankish
states in Outremer. There is little new material on the
main Frankish/Muslim conflict, but a lot of information about
the dealings behind the scenes. Although Maalouf often cites
long passages by Arab chroniclers verbatim, this book should not
be confused with a collection of original sources. However, the
appendix contains a short and helpful discussion of these
sources. With a price tag of $20 for the paperback edition, this
book should be well worth the price for everybody interested in
Norwich, J.J., "The Normans in the South", "Kingdom in the Sun"
In these two volumes the author gives a very readable
introduction to the Norman achievements in southern Italy and
Sicily. The first book describes the deeds of Robert Guiscard
and Roger, Count of Sicily, in some details, including the
conflicts with the German imperator and the Pope. The second
volume describes the Norman history of the Kingdom of
Sicily. While the historic account is less detailed, Norwich
takes some time to describe the remains of Norman buildings on
Strayer, Joseph R., "The Albigensian Crusades", Ann Arbor Paperbacks,
A classic. If you think that western Europe was
monolithically Catholic and that crusades were waged only in
the Holy Land, think again. This is the story of the 13th
century destruction of Occitania, an event that has had
repercussions down to our own day.