ACTION ITEM: Good books, info about Crusades, Inquisition

crusadersLies and black legends are constantly retold about both the Crusades and the Inquisition.  Recently, the First Gay President – in a spectacular display of tactless disregard for both truth and audience – chose to trot them out during the National Prayer Breakfast.

There are a lot of smart readers here.

I think we should compile a reading list about the Crusades and the Inquisition.  Good books.  Good articles.

It could also be good to point out which books are really bad, so that we recognize them when they are cited.

I’ll turn the moderation queue so that I can clean up some links, etc.

¡Hagan lío!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ¡Hagan lío!, "How To..." - Practical Notes, ACTION ITEM!, Our Catholic Identity, Si vis pacem para bellum!, The Drill, The Religion of Peace and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Iconophilios says:

    There is an historian on YouTube of the name J. Stephen Roberts, who hosts a channel called Real Crusades History. Not only does he produce quality videos on various topics pertaining to the Crusades, but he also provides recommended reading about the Crusades.

  2. Boniface says:

    Inquisition by Edward Peters (not the EP of this blog)

    Inventing the Flat Earth by Jeffrey Burton Russell

    anything by Thomas Madden or Jonathan Riley-Smith on the Crusades

    Seven Lies About Catholic History by Diane Moczar’s (and her other work – she is a Ph.D. in history and legitimate historian, despite the polemical titles)

  3. medievalist says:

    A unique take on the Crusades, and all compiled from primary sources: The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf.

  4. Matthias1 says:


    – Thomas Madden, “The Real History of the Crusades” Crisis Magazine.
    A brief article discussing the whole crusading movement with a particular goal to clearing up modern misconceptions. Madden is at St. Louis University and is probably the top crusade historian in the US.
    – Jonathan Riley-Smith, “Rethinking the Crusades,” Firstthings.
    On the silliness of apologizing for the crusades. Riley-Smith is recognized as the most important crusade historian alive today.


    Thomas Madden, A New Concise History of the Crusades

    Riley-Smith, The Crusades

    Riley-Smith, What Were the Crusades?

    Anything by Madden or Riley Smith

    Rodney Stark, God’s Bataillions
    A bit polemical, written to defend the crusades, but Stark publishes with University Presses and his stuff is quite good. He’s just not as much of a authority as Madden or Smith. Other good authors include Bernard Hamilton; Chris Tyerman is ok. Sumption is ok.

    – When in doubt, anything on the History Channel. Or by Terry Jones.
    – Runciman was an old popular author, but his views are badly outdated by recent research. Asbridge is ok, but less good than Smith and Madden and there are some problematic aspects of his work.

    Bernard Hamilton’s brief book is the best short intro. “The Medieval Inquisition” (1982). Anything by Mark Gregory Pegg is crap. I mean uhh… his views are controversial and not widely accepted.

  5. jacobi says:

    There is a real need for such a list. We have all been subjected now to centuries of biased history, initially the Protestant, then Secularist and now Islamic.

    It is high time we had a good re-assessment of something that the Church and many Popes pursued diligently for nearly two hundred years.

    The Crusades were essentially a counter-attack against the savage, violent, and conquering eruption of Islam which wiped out the great Christian civilisation of North Africa, of Saint Augustine of Hippo and nearly overran all of Europe.

    It had limited objectives, to open up access for pilgrims and to secure the Holy Land.

    Yes they were fought savagely fought as were all wars in those days, but rules did apply. A besieged town for example was usually offered terms. If rejected and several hundred of your men were killed or burnt with boiling oil while attacking – then what followed would happen just as much today, in spite of all the U N rules and what not.

    A good Christian history is long overdue.

  6. ProfKwasniewski says:

    Some years ago I published an article in Homiletic & Pastoral Review called “Rewriting the Inquisition, Roman Style,” in which I discuss how multi-faceted the Inquisition is as an historical phenomenon, how Protestants and others created a black legend about it, and why, in fact, the Inquisition was good and necessary, at least some of the time.

  7. Charles says:

    Regine Pernoud has some good ones: “The Crusaders“,and “The Templars“. The latter reminds me of Piers Paul Read’s book on the Templars that is also quite good.

  8. acardnal says:

    God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades” by Rodney Stark

    The Crusades” by Hilaire Belloc

    The Concise History of the Crusades (Critical Issues in World and International History)” by Thomas F. Madden

    Books by Steve Weidenkopf:
    The Glory of the Crusades
    “The Real Story of the Inquisition” – available from Catholic Answers, MP3/CDs
    “The Real Story of the Crusades” – available from Catholic Answers, MP3/CDs

    Books by Diane Moczar:
    Islam At The Gates: How Christendom Defeated the Ottoman Turks
    Seven Lies About Catholic History: Infamous Myths about the Church’s Past and How to Answer Them

    I haven’t read this one …yet:
    101 Questions and Answers on the Crusades and the Inquisition: Disputed Questions” by Fr. John Vidmar, OP

  9. Nicholas says:

    There is a great YouTube channel called Real History of the Crusades. I highly recommend it.

  10. JayDeee says:

    This is very good, from First Things: . Their penitential character has been completely forgotten, and the idea of “the Crusades” has been adopted for use and misuse by Europeans and modern-day Islamists…

  11. Chatto says:

    An excellent author on this subject is Dr. Jonathan Riley-Smith, who I saw give an excellent talk at Leeds Cathedral, England, on the Crusades.

    Another is Thomas Madden, who has also written a number of “myths about the Crusades” articles for Crisis Magazine and the like.

  12. Athelstan says:

    Regarding just “the Inquisition”:

    There are any number of what would be commonly termed apologetic works by Catholics on the Inquisition; I will leave those to others, mentioning only Dr. Peter Kwasniewski’s essay, “Rewriting the Inquisition – Roman Style” at Catholic Culture for those wanting a quick read. But if you want good scholarly works of recent vintage that take a balanced, revisionist look at the Inquisitions (note the plural), two authors remain at the top of the list: Edward Peters (not the canonist), and Henry Kamen.

    Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision (1999)
    Henry Kamen, Inquisition and Society in Spain (1985)
    Edward Peters, Inquisition (1989)

    Neither author’s work is a whitewash of the Inquisitions. But they are sound, well researched demolitions of the Black Legend, and make clear that the Inquisitions were more diverse, much less powerful and far less sanguinary than Whig historians or modern progressive figures believe. And all three works came even before the 2004 release of documents from the Vatican Archives, the Symposium Report, which indicates that only 0.1% of the 125,000 people tried by church tribunals as suspected heretics in Spain over its three centuries of existence were actually executed – which comes out to fewer deaths than Boko Haram manages on a good weekend.

  13. WaywardSailor says:

    I intend to start brushing up with “The Glory of the Crusades” by Steve Weidenkopf, which I will be sure to order through your Amazon portal and which was reviewed here:

    Thomas Madden’s article in Crisis Magazine has again become prominent in the last couple of days, too.

  14. TC says:

    I don’t have anything to recommend but I just bought The Crusades: the Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land” — mostly because the Kindle edition is only $1.99.
    So does anyone know if iy is any good before I dive in?

  15. The Egyptian says:

    May I suggest
    Myth of the Spanish Inquisition
    very interesting and insightful, not long 5 10 minute vids
    sourced from the original Spanish records of the inquisition,
    yes they kept records tens of hundreds of volumes
    well done and scholarly

  16. yzerman123 says:

    We must be very skeptical of any book on the Inquisition written before 1975 (including the Catholic Encyclopedia, which is otherwise a great reference). In 1972, scholars discovered that a commonly used reference on the Inquisition was a forgery. I’m talking about Etienne Leon de Lamothe-Langon’s “Histoire de l’Inquisition en France” , written in 1829. Lamothe-Langon invented a bunch of trials and deaths that never happened. More generally, since the 1970s, new scholarly work has been done on the Inquisition which overturned much of what had previously been written. 

  17. Tim says:

    On the Crusades: anything by Prof. Thomas Madden (St. Louis Univ.): in particular, Concise History of the Crusades. Madden’s review of Riley-Smith’s work in First Things (June 2009) also includes a lot of good general insights into understanding the Crusades.
    On the Inquisition: a prof of mine who was no friend of the church by a long shot but a reasonable man nonetheless once remarked that the article in the original Catholic Encyclopedia on Inquisition still stood the test of time.

  18. yzerman123 says:

    A great overview of the history of the Inquisition came from the pen of historian Jenny Gibbons: “Recent Developments in the Study of The Great European Witch Hunt.” It was published in 1998 in The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies. This is a peer-reviewed international journal. A copy can be found here:

    Note that Ms. Gibbons is a wiccan, a religion which is no friend of the Church. Yet, her objective scholarly work debunks the myths of the Church has a great persecutor of witches. By the best estimates, between 40,000 and 60,000 witches were put to death over 300 years, [That seems way too high.] the vast majority by secular trials, not the Church. 

  19. Cincinnati Priest says:

    Don’t have the book to confirm (yet), but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is alluded to in Kaczor’s book, Seven Big Myths About the Catholic Church:

  20. kekeak2008 says:

    I just hand a civil debate regarding the Crusades with a couple of acquaintances on Facebook yesterday. I’d recommend the following three sources:

    “Seven Lies About Catholic History: Infamous Myths about the Church’s Past and How to Answer Them” by Diane Moczar (TAN Books). The whole book is good, but Chapters 3 and 4 cover the Crusades and the Inquisitions.

    The Real History of the Crusades–Crisis Magazine

    Crash Course on the Crusades–Crisis Magazine

    The second website is particularly helpful; it provides timelines, definitions, and refutes some of the most common myths regarding the Crusades. The second article is also written by Steve Weidenkopf, who has also written a couple of good books regarding the Crusades. Both articles also specify a few bad sources of information.

  21. rodin says:

    Since you read “First Things” presumably you have seen the review of the following new book:

    ?”The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam” (Bampton Lectures in America)
    Riley-Smith, Jonathan

    The review is also very interesting. Another book, “The Church Under Attack” by Diane Moczar, has a brief discussion of the Crusades. I have not finished the book yet so there may be more about the Inquisition.

    A very old book (1940), “Characters of the Inquisition” by William Thomas Walsh is useful.

  22. Muv says:

    Capchoirgirl has recommended The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades by Robert Spencer. I have just finished reading it, and books recommended by the author have already been mentioned above, with the exception of this fascinating book, The Monks of Kublai Khan, available online:-

    In brief, it is about the Muslim persecution of the Nestorian Christians in Central Asia, and the journey of the emissary of the Mongol ruler Arghun to Europe in 1287 to try to get the European monarchs to enter into an alliance against the Muslims.

    I haven’t read it yet, I have just made sure the link works and have skimmed down the page. The title of Chapter XVIII leapt out at me – The Massacre of Christians at Arbil. This is Erbil, in Northern Iraq, which is where many Christians have fled to in the latest crisis.

  23. Andreas says:

    To round out your collection, might I recommend “The Crusades: Iron Men and Saints” by Harold Lamb. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Dorn and Co. (1930). Whilst not a scholarly treatise, Mr. Lamb’s extensive research and splendid ability to spin a non-fiction yarn makes for a fascinating and revealing history. While one such as I can take great delight in the reading of aging, musty hard covered tomes, I believe that this book may now also be available in a more recent soft cover edition released by another publisher.

    As per their website, Project Gutenberg ( “offers over 46,000 free ebooks: choose among free epub books, free kindle books, download them or read them online. ” If you type Crusades into their web engine, you will find a host of books on this subject.

    Finally, for those who wish to listen online or download audio books, you can do so without cost at the wonderful LibriVox website ( It is there that I found a 19th century 2-volume history of the Spanish Inquisition.

  24. New Sister says:

    @JayDee — I second your recommendation.
    The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam by Jonathan Riley-Smith, Columbia University Press.

    Excellent review of it in First Things mag,

  25. Old 21J says:

    As several others have said, anything by Jonathan Riley-Smith. A good one to start with might be “What Were the Crusades?”. Also, “101 questions & answers on the crusades and the inquisition” by a Dominican, Fr. John Vidmar would be a good intro.

  26. FrankWalshingham says:

    Not a book, but this video clip of a Protestant bishop speaking about Obama’s recent ignorant comments is worth watching, as he hits the nail squarely on the head! See:

    Also this video clip by Dr. Bill Warner from the National Center for the study of political Islam is succinct, and objective shows the fallacy of the first gay president and others who use the what about the Crudades argument. The dynamic map that Dr. Peters shows about the number of jihadist battles fought over time is frightening:

    If you are going to read one book on the topic, I suggest Muhammed: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion, by best selling author Robert Spencer. You don’t even have to buy it. Here is a link to a pdf of this informative book:

    Happy Reading! But at least review the video clips and pass the links along to your friends who lack the historical background to understand the reality of the dark enemy facing Christian civilization.

  27. iamlucky13 says:

    I was literally thinking just 10 minutes ago that I need to find an accurate, verifiable source of information on the background and major events of the Crusades. Thank you for starting the discussion Father, and everybody for their suggestions. This post is now bookmarked!

  28. Bob B. says:

    The book I used for my classes is The Catholic Church in History by Keith D. Lewis, a professor of Church history at a seminary. This book has chapters on Islam, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, Martin Luther, Colonization and Evangelization in the 16th Century, Galileo and Pius XII and Germany. It is less than 200 pages long, but treats all of the subjects well and does an excellent job of refuting how bad we Catholics were.

  29. JMody says:

    Piers Paul Read – The Templars This has an excellent intro-history of the region and the growth of the Jewish faith, the dawn of Christianity, and the life of Mohammed, leading to the situation in the 11th Century.
    Robert Payne – the Dream and the Tomb a great book even as entertainment.
    Warren Carroll’s History of Christendom Series, Vols 2 &3 The Building of Christendom and The Glory of Christendom— Dr. Carroll’s work is readable and decent history, but his bibliography is excellent.

  30. mibethda says:

    On the subject of the Inquisitions, general works in English tend to be superficial on both sides, although there is a growing body of monographs of value on specific issues. Let me, however, suggest a book which, while not a study of the (Roman) Inquisition per se, does provide valuable insights and which led the Vatican during the Papacy of John Paul II to open more of the records of the Inquisition to historical studies – studies which, hopefully will lead to an increasingly balanced appreciation of the institutions. The work is by the secular (agnostic) Jewish historian, Carlo Ginsberg entitled “Night Battles”. Ginsberg, one of whose interests was in folk religions, was studying the agrarian cults in the Friuli region of Northern Italy in the late 16th and early 17th Century. In pursuing his work, he obtained access to the complete records of the Roman Inquisition of the time in that area off Italy since these rural cults had come to the (reluctant) attention of the Inquisition. He was apparently the first non-Catholic scholar to gain such access to the original records. He candidly admits – and discusses at great length – his surprise at what those very detailed records revealed. As he says, he had had the conventional hostility to the Inquisition common in Jewish circles. What he found, however, was a legal system which was one of the most enlightened of its day – one whose procedures and concerns for truth seeking and fairness would have been unremarkable among the better legal systems in the 20th Century (the book was written in the mid 60’s and the English translation dates to about 1980). One case, which was reviewed by Cardinal Bellarmine (head of the Holy Office at the time) was particularly interesting and is discussed in some detail. A good deal of the book discusses the exceptional qualifications of the inquisitors and the detailed procedures of the system – a topic which would be of particular interest to lawyers as well as historians.

  31. MouseTemplar says:

    These are all fine titles. My own special interest is the military orders so:

    The Rule of the Templars by J.M. Upton Ward (translated from the French text).
    Acre 1291 by David Nicolle–a discussion on that pivotal battle.

    And, on a side note, an interesting fiction: The Last of the Templars by William Watson (No tinfoil hats here…)

  32. Gus Barbarigo says:

    Zoe Oldenbourg’s “The Crusades” has come highly recommended, but I haven’t yet read it. Has anyone here read it?

    BTW, this is a very interesting topic, and I’m very grateful to Fr. Z and his erudite readers for this post!

  33. AAJD says:

    I’m teaching a class on the Crusades this semester here at the University of Saint Francis in Ft. Wayne, IN. We are using two books mentioned by others above: the Rodney Stark volume (whose chief merit is that it renders contemporary scholarship more easily accessible to those with no background); and then a second book by the doyen of Crusades scholars today, Jonathan Riley Smith. I discuss Smith’s book here, where you may also find links to other good books about the Crusades I have reviewed and used:

    Moreover, as I noted yesterday, 2015 will be a good year for three publications of primary sources documenting Muslim-Christian relations. I note these here:

  34. kat says:

    I have an older version of this book: Characters of the Inquisition:,

    that I very much enjoyed reading years ago.

    I too have the book mentioned by others “Seven Lies about the Catholic Church in History” (or something like that…it is in the other room.)

Comments are closed.