Saladin

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Overview

Working simultaneously on two levels, Saladin represents the best kind of biography—a portrait of a man who is said to have made an age, and the most complete account we have to date of an age that made the man. Unlike biographies that focus on Saladin’s military exploits, especially the recapturing of Jerusalem from European Crusaders in 1187, Eddé’s narrative draws on an incredible array of contemporary sources to develop the fullest picture possible of a ruler shaped profoundly by the complex Arabian political...

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Overview

Working simultaneously on two levels, Saladin represents the best kind of biography—a portrait of a man who is said to have made an age, and the most complete account we have to date of an age that made the man. Unlike biographies that focus on Saladin’s military exploits, especially the recapturing of Jerusalem from European Crusaders in 1187, Eddé’s narrative draws on an incredible array of contemporary sources to develop the fullest picture possible of a ruler shaped profoundly by the complex Arabian political environment in which he rose to prominence. The result is a unique view of the Crusades from an Arab perspective.

Saladin became a legend in his own time, venerated by friend and foe alike as a paragon of justice, chivalry, and generosity. Arab politicians ever since have sought to claim his mantle as a justification for their own exercise of power. But Saladin's world-historical status as the ideal Muslim ruler owes its longevity to a tacit agreement among contemporaries and later chroniclers about the set of virtues Saladin possessed—virtues that can now be tested against a rich tapestry of historical research. This tension between the mythical image of Saladin, layered over centuries and deployed in service of specific moral and political objectives, and the verifiable facts of his life available to a judicious modern historian is what sustains Anne-Marie Eddé's erudite biography, published to acclaim in France in 2008 and offered here in smooth, readable English translation.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this insightful biography, the Muslim hero who impressed even his Christian adversaries personifies the complex religious and cultural dynamics of the crusading era. French medievalist Eddé gives a lucid if plodding recap of the career of the Kurdish conqueror who united Syria and Egypt, recaptured Jerusalem from the Europeans, and fought Richard the Lion-heart to a draw in the Third Crusade. He gained a reputation even among his enemies for chivalry, trustworthiness, and magnanimity. Twelfth-century magnanimity, however, did not preclude his enslaving thousands of prisoners, beheading many others who refused his generous offer of a reprieve if they converted to Islam, or ordering the execution of a rationalist philosopher who riled clerics. Eddé, indifferently translated by Todd, picks carefully through tendentious, often hagiographic medieval sources to assemble an objective portrait of Saladin, and sifts the legends surrounding him—many of them self-generated—for clues to the ideologies of his day; presented by himself and others as the defender of a sacred community against a cruel, impious, animalistic Christian Other, he was even to Europeans the mirror image of the Crusader. Eddé’s shrewd and informative, if stolid, biography shows us how much two clashing civilizations had in common. 20 color illus.; 9 maps. (Nov.)
Le Jour

An impressive biography of Saladin … supported by a multiplicity of sources, known or previously unknown: chronicles, travel narratives, letters, poems, administrative treatises. . . . Although [Eddé] is intent on placing that extraordinary figure within his context, on understanding his conception of power and how he founded his dynasty, she endeavors above all to analyze the discourses of which he has been the object from the Middle Ages to the present, discourses serving to fashion his myth. The result of that exacting and rigorous undertaking is at once accessible to the non-specialist and compelling, allowing us to rediscover a Saladin richer and more complex than his Western or Eastern legend.
— Georgia Makhlouf

Boston Globe

How, asks medieval historian Anne-Marie Eddé, did a "relentless jihad fighter" ultimately come to be identified as a "valiant, generous, and magnanimous" figure among his former foes? Her comprehensive biography, Saladin, examines the birth and elaboration of a legend that casts a shadow even into the present day. In it, she highlights the conflict that can arise when our quest for historical truth runs up against the carefully constructed image that people of the past wanted us to see...The Saladin of legend is a palimpsest on which the agendas and concerns of whoever invoked him were inscribed. Eddé untangles the concrete facts from the endless revisions and reinterpretations that turned Saladin into a larger-than-life icon over the ages.
— Michael Patrick Brady

Spectator

This fastidious and superbly well researched book is, in some ways, the biography of an idea. We don't know all that much about the historical Saladin, and next to nothing about him personally—not even what he looked like...Edde's account of Saladin's life...is always lucid and sensible, and instills complete confidence in the reader...Above all, this book is valuable for giving us a sense of what the Crusades looked like from the other side.
— Sam Leith

Wall Street Journal

Profound and impressive...As an analysis of the "discourse" surrounding Saladin, Eddé's account can hardly be bettered...Eddé convincingly shows the heterogeneous nature of 12th-century Near Eastern society, in which a multifaith indigenous population was controlled by competing forces from outside: Turks, Kurds, Greeks, Armenians and western Europeans. Any notion of a Manichaean clash of civilizations is unsustainable here. This is as important for Near Eastern sensibilities as it is for Western perceptions. Eddé's richly textured account not only offers the prospect of non-polemical research but suggests perhaps the beginnings of an Arab Spring in historical scholarship, a fresh intellectual openness that, if sustained, cannot but color the burgeoning political diversity in the region it studies.
— Christopher Tyerman

New Yorker
Eddé's book portrays Saladin amid a medieval world in motion: He dispatches sons and nephews to what is now Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt; crusaders from France, England, Scandinavia, and Germany arrive in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious Holy Land...Less a conventional biography than an exploration of how Saladin came to be cited, by Dante and Sir Walter Scott, as a sort of ideal prince, and why his name is still a rallying cry.
Times Literary Supplement

Originally published in France in 2008, this splendid [book] will now have a wider international readership thanks to this fluent translation by Jane Marie Todd...[Saladin is] so filled with lively anecdote and a thoughtful, balanced analysis of the points at issue, as to be eminently readable for a wide audience...The book is a powerful reminder...of the full range of Saladin's concerns across the Middle East. At times we are so drawn towards his epic struggle with the Christians that we lose sight of the Sultan's need to engage in near-constant negotiation, bluff, warfare and propaganda with his co-religionists, processes that absorbed the majority of his time and energy. These matters are superbly well drawn out, but Eddé offers much more. There exists a wealth of evidence in the form of poetry, in medical, financial and military treatises, in religious and judicial material, and in architectural studies, that she has utilized to illuminate the more day-to-day aspects of his rule and the environment in which he operated...Anne-Marie Eddé has drawn a charismatic figure in a richly colored environment, to produce a refreshing, enjoyable and valuable book.
— Jonathan Phillips

Chrysostome Gourio
A central figure in the history of the Crusades, an enlightened sovereign, a reunifier of the Muslim world, Saladin … is more than an icon in the East, he is the greatest figure of its glorious past and the model of the ruler par excellence. Profoundly attached to Arab values, he is awash with unparalleled glory and respect from the time of his reign until the present, and from his own territories to Europe. That cannot fail to raise problems when it comes to writing his biography. In fact, between hagiographical accounts emerging directly from his close circle and hostile criticism from his fiercest detractors, there was no objective middle course. This book constitutes the first step on that path: rigorous without being academic, resituating the man within his context and noting the influences exerted on him, it proposes to discover, beyond the usual panegyrics, the hidden face of Saladin, a portrait in light and shadow.
Le Jour - Georgia Makhlouf
An impressive biography of Saladin … supported by a multiplicity of sources, known or previously unknown: chronicles, travel narratives, letters, poems, administrative treatises. . . . Although [Eddé] is intent on placing that extraordinary figure within his context, on understanding his conception of power and how he founded his dynasty, she endeavors above all to analyze the discourses of which he has been the object from the Middle Ages to the present, discourses serving to fashion his myth. The result of that exacting and rigorous undertaking is at once accessible to the non-specialist and compelling, allowing us to rediscover a Saladin richer and more complex than his Western or Eastern legend.
Boston Globe - Michael Patrick Brady
How, asks medieval historian Anne-Marie Eddé, did a "relentless jihad fighter" ultimately come to be identified as a "valiant, generous, and magnanimous" figure among his former foes? Her comprehensive biography, Saladin, examines the birth and elaboration of a legend that casts a shadow even into the present day. In it, she highlights the conflict that can arise when our quest for historical truth runs up against the carefully constructed image that people of the past wanted us to see...The Saladin of legend is a palimpsest on which the agendas and concerns of whoever invoked him were inscribed. Eddé untangles the concrete facts from the endless revisions and reinterpretations that turned Saladin into a larger-than-life icon over the ages.
Spectator - Sam Leith
This fastidious and superbly well researched book is, in some ways, the biography of an idea. We don't know all that much about the historical Saladin, and next to nothing about him personally--not even what he looked like...Edde's account of Saladin's life...is always lucid and sensible, and instills complete confidence in the reader...Above all, this book is valuable for giving us a sense of what the Crusades looked like from the other side.
Wall Street Journal - Christopher Tyerman
Profound and impressive...As an analysis of the "discourse" surrounding Saladin, Eddé's account can hardly be bettered...Eddé convincingly shows the heterogeneous nature of 12th-century Near Eastern society, in which a multifaith indigenous population was controlled by competing forces from outside: Turks, Kurds, Greeks, Armenians and western Europeans. Any notion of a Manichaean clash of civilizations is unsustainable here. This is as important for Near Eastern sensibilities as it is for Western perceptions. Eddé's richly textured account not only offers the prospect of non-polemical research but suggests perhaps the beginnings of an Arab Spring in historical scholarship, a fresh intellectual openness that, if sustained, cannot but color the burgeoning political diversity in the region it studies.
Times Literary Supplement - Jonathan Phillips
Originally published in France in 2008, this splendid [book] will now have a wider international readership thanks to this fluent translation by Jane Marie Todd...[Saladin is] so filled with lively anecdote and a thoughtful, balanced analysis of the points at issue, as to be eminently readable for a wide audience...The book is a powerful reminder...of the full range of Saladin's concerns across the Middle East. At times we are so drawn towards his epic struggle with the Christians that we lose sight of the Sultan's need to engage in near-constant negotiation, bluff, warfare and propaganda with his co-religionists, processes that absorbed the majority of his time and energy. These matters are superbly well drawn out, but Eddé offers much more. There exists a wealth of evidence in the form of poetry, in medical, financial and military treatises, in religious and judicial material, and in architectural studies, that she has utilized to illuminate the more day-to-day aspects of his rule and the environment in which he operated...Anne-Marie Eddé has drawn a charismatic figure in a richly colored environment, to produce a refreshing, enjoyable and valuable book.
Library Journal
In her first book to be translated into English, French medievalist Eddé (director of research, Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Paris) seeks to cut through the myth of Saladin, as the West came to call Salah Ad-din Yusuf Ibn Ayyub, the leader who retook Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187. Born in Kurdish Tikrit, he succeeded, through his talents for tactics and politics, in uniting the Muslim world, from Egypt to Upper Mesopotamia, facing down Richard the Lionheart and founding the Ayyubid dynasty. Eddé does an admirable job of showing all his complexity, from human, religious, and cultural standpoints, wading through the mythology and hagiography surrounding him to present a more balanced view of this historical figure who was so well suited to his times. VERDICT A more academic study than Geoffrey Hindley's Saladin: Hero of Islam and with substantial editorial apparatus showing deep use of a variety of sources, this will be of great interest to serious students of the Crusades and those seeking insight into the history of East-West relations.—John Sandstrom, New Mexico State Univ. Lib., Las Cruces
Kirkus Reviews

Massive, detailed biography of Saladin, in which the author endeavors to separate history from myth and legend--first published in France in 2008.

Eddé (Medieval History/Univ. of Reims) mines below the official rhetoric of Saladin's secretaries and administrators to develop a historical account independent of the many mythologies surrounding his biography. In the West, thanks to Voltaire and Walter Scott, among others, Saladin has been viewed as a kind of ecumenical peacemaker by negotiation. In the Middle East, he has been embodied as the victorious opponent over foreign aggression and invasion. Saladin defeated the crusader army in July 1187, opening the way to the conquest of Acre, Haifa, Caesarea and ultimately Jerusalem; this string of victories established his reputation as a conqueror, unifier and religious leader.But Eddé shows that Saladin was very much bound by his subordinate relation to the Caliphs and by the willingness of various subsidiary lords to provide him with troops and resources. He built an empire, and used some of the proceeds to rebuild Sunni Islam by financing the spread of education, but his creation did not outlive him. Where Jay Rubenstein's Armies of Heaven (2011) considers the apocalyptical belief structures of the crusaders, Eddé discusses the political and diplomatic contexts of the religious war. She also points to wars over the control of trade with Asia as a contributing factor.

Extensive research creates a picture readily distinguishable from the many Saladin myths.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674283978
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 5/12/2014
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 704
  • Sales rank: 538,740
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Anne-Marie Eddé is Director of Research at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, and was Professor of Medieval History at the University of Reims.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 29, 2012

    My interest in Saladin began when i saw the movie Kingdom of Hea

    My interest in Saladin began when i saw the movie Kingdom of Heaven which recounts the fictionalized adventures of Balian of Ibelin in the Holy Land between 1184 and 1187. Although it was not the first time i heard about him. I remember reading his story when i was a child, which was written specifically for children. Then this book poped up while i was surfing book catalogues on the internet. So I immediately bought the book. Well, this book is not a chronological history of Saladin, which was a bit of disappointment in the begining but as i moved along the book it became interesing and interesting. It is a kind of analysis or discourse about his era, his personality and his legend. The author discusses almost all aspects (to count a few: the need of legitimacy of his throne; why he needed the caliph's backing; how he managed to build an empire; illustrating his strategy, his wins and losses in war; what were his strategic interests; how he was able to build his image as a hero; his relation to Richard the Lionheart; the trade and markets of his time; his love for orthodoxy and hatered for philosophisizing; his rules of war and treatment of his prisons of war; his realtion to his own subjects; his image vs reality; being guardian of faith; his strengths and weaknesses; how he was able to manage his sufferings; his relation to Christians and Jews of that time; and how his myth and legend was created overtime by both Christian and Muslim authors/historians over the coming years). Well I am not going to discuss all these matters here. It is for you to read and discover for yourself. If you prefer to read his chronologic history then may be this book should not be the first choice. But as far as complete analysis of his life is concerned i would count this book as one of the best. Some readers, i am sure, going to say that the author is biased. But i don't think so. The author gives, most of the times, "two ends of spectrum" like picture and then states that the truth must lie somewhere in between. Plus it is very difficult for any historian to be not biased about Saladin, because all of his personality and his histiography was biased from the begining. Muslims and Christians both exaggerated his picture according to their own interests, and with the passage of time as his legend and myth was created even more disambiguation about his character developed. In the end i would say it is a really good book, i thorougly enjoyed it. Learned some new facts and was able to see and analyze Saladin from different perspectives.

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  • Posted July 6, 2012

    poorly organized

    The book has all the information , but the way the author breaks
    up the book into facets of the man makes it hard to follow the chronology of events . I guess if you were a medieval history professor
    with a lot of background on the crusades it might work , but for a layman trying to understand the events of the time around Saladin it's
    hard going back and forth in time trying to match the family life , with
    the political life with the military career .

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