Ibrahim, Raymond. Defenders of the West: The Christian Heroes who stood Against Islam. (Bombardier Books 2022) Kindle edition
I’ve read Ibrahim’s other history book, a study of battles, so I picked this one up as well. I’d heard of El Cid, both from the movie and from a (very hagiographic) older young reader biography I read a long time ago. Richard the Lionheart? Crusader and the good guy in Robin Hood, who was dumb enough to think irking the Duke of Austria was a good idea and then trying to sneak through the duke’s home territory. Jan Hunyadi? The not-a-king king of Hungary. I’d crossed paths with a number of the individuals highlighted in this book, which spans the years 1000 to 1600, more or less. However, other individuals are less well known, or are strangers to the western tradition (Skenderbeg), or have an afterlife unrelated to their real life (Vlad III).
Ibrahim is blunt about where his preferences are. He also uses primary sources from all sides in the conflicts, giving a good view of what the Berbers, Arabs, and Ottomans thought about the different men. He frames each mini-biography with the events of the time, giving the reader context often skipped in modern studies. This can make for odd reading, because often the primary sources are far more laudatory than modern accounts can be, or dare to be, or are supposed to be. Dispassion and balance were NOT considered critical attitudes for historians to have in the Middle Ages or early modern era. That lack of distance might be offputting to some readers. It took me a bit to adjust my mental frame, so to speak, to get past my Historian’s Bristle at effusive descriptions of people’s virtues (and vices, although that’s not something lacking from many current works.)
The biographic chapters are in chronologic order, from Godfrey of Bolougne and Rodrigo de Vivar “El Cid” to Skenderbeg and Vlad III. One thing Ibrahim points out on a regular basis is that these men fought defensive wars. The First Crusade and subsequent were launched in answer to the conquest of the Levant by the Seljuk Turks and the enslaving, robbing, and killing of native Christians (and Jews) and pilgrims from Europe. El Cid and Fernando de Leon y Castile (descendant of El Cid) fought to regain land occupied by the Berbers since the early 700s. Hunyadi, Skenderbeg, and Vlad III challenged the Ottoman Conquest of southeastern Europe, pushing back against Ottoman attacks and aggression. It’s easy today to forget that until 1689, Western Christianity fought a defensive war against Arab/Berber/Turkish forces.
The stories are great reads. Ibrahim lets the material speak for itself, with some additions to clarify places and to put events in the larger context of European politics. He’s not unbiased, but he is upfront about that, so you know what you are getting. I found his reminders about “yes, this lord/petty king turned his coat to survive, but that was normal. What Skenderbeg/Hunyadi/Vlad did was the exception” to be useful.
I’d recommend this to people interested in the various military figures, those curious about primary sources and where to find more (the bibliography and notes are extensive), and people looking for solid role-models for boys (and girls, but now days, especially boys.) Ibrahim does a good job working with the primary sources, and the book is quite readable once you get used to the various styles of the original material. I found his defense of Vlad III a bit intense, but then I remembered that I’ve read the books, and I know the history and politics of that region. Normal people don’t. They know either novel-Dracula, or Vlad the sadistic b-stard of an impaler.
FTC Disclaimer: I purchased this book for my own use, and received no remuneration or consideration from either the publisher or author for this review.
“But Islam is a Religion Of Peace! It’s Always The Christians’ Fault!”. [Sarcastic Grin]
Seriously, it sounds interesting. More than I want to spend for a book but it’s on my To-Be-Purchased List. 😀
By the way, I saw some more books by this author in the KoboBooks store. They all sound interesting. 😀
Working my way through the Durant’s “History of Civilization” but did add this to my reading list. Always value your reviews. Thanks.
But do they know Vlad the Impala, a fine Chevy product? ;-p
Carp away! [pulls back on lanyard of carpapult]
So, this might be a good secondary source for writing a Fate Grand Order fic, with a tertiary goal of cheesing a few people off?
Yes. The sources in the bibliography are translated into English, so if you want to borrow or mimic, you’ve got a good template to start from.
I’ve actually heard of Skenderbeg. The Albanians consider him one of their greatest leaders. One tends to forget that the Ottomans conquered much of southern Europe and did not lose it until after 1800.
Some of the things you learn from stamp collecting.
Which is intriguing, since the country is majority Muslim (almost 3/4, depending on which statistics you go by.) I would guess his being anti-Ottoman outweighs his being anti-Islam for modern Albanians.
David Nicolle’s Cross & Crescent in the Balkans: The Ottoman Conquest of Southeastern Europe is a very readable history if anyone is interested in the Balkans during this time.