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Saladin

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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 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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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 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.

30 review for Saladin

  1. 4 out of 5

    Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont

    On the first morning of my first full day in Egypt the first place I visited was the old Citadel of Cairo, with fortifications built by Saladin in the late twelfth century to protect it from the Crusaders. I first came across this remarkable figure, an historical giant who stands across both the Muslim and Christian world, in the pages of The Talisman, Sir Walter Scott’s nineteenth century historical romance of the crusades, which I read in my early teens. In so many ways Saladin was the real he On the first morning of my first full day in Egypt the first place I visited was the old Citadel of Cairo, with fortifications built by Saladin in the late twelfth century to protect it from the Crusaders. I first came across this remarkable figure, an historical giant who stands across both the Muslim and Christian world, in the pages of The Talisman, Sir Walter Scott’s nineteenth century historical romance of the crusades, which I read in my early teens. In so many ways Saladin was the real hero of this book, a verray, parfit, gentil knyght, a Victorian recreation of a chivalric ideal. Saladin has long been celebrated by his enemies, much more than his friends, even as far back as the Middle Ages. He seemed to be the very personification of a code of conduct that was more mythic than real, a reproach to his Christian opponents, who professed an ideal which they ignored in practice. Saladin here was the mirror of virtue. In Dante’s Inferno he is to be found in the mild first circle of hell, along with Homer, Euclid, Socrates and other virtuous pagans. In contrast, he was a largely forgotten figure in the Muslim world, his reputation surpassed by Baibars, the Mamluk sultan of Egypt who was instrumental in bringing the Crusader presence in the Middle East to an end. He was only rediscovered in the late nineteenth century as an avatar of Arab nationalism, rather ironic considering that he was Kurdish. Given that Saladin is a man possibly more wrapped in myth than any other it would take a bold person to attempt to disentangle the Gordian knot; to separate out fact, fiction and dewy-eyed romance. So, it was with keen interest that I opened the pages of Saladin, a biography by Anne-Marie Eddé, originally published in France in 2008. The new translation by Jane Marie Todd, published last month by Harvard University Press, was the first book I bought on my return from Egypt. It’s a remarkable piece of work by a woman I can only describe as a historian’s historian. It’s well-argued, scholarly, and thoroughly researched book, rich in all sorts of detail. It’s also an excellent exercise in deconstruction or exploration. It does not demolish the myth of Saladin; it simply makes him, and it, more understandable. Eddé, a specialist in Medieval history, begins with one basic question: how did this relentless jihad fighter come to be identified as valiant, generous and magnanimous figure among his former foes? Some truths are simply stated: Saladin was everything he was cracked up to be: he was pious and he was tolerant; he was a man of his word; he was a skilful soldier and an even more skilful politician; he was a patron of the arts and the sciences…and he was the world’s first spin doctor. The Saladin myth, in other words, really begins with Saladin himself. In the complex religious and political world of twelfth century Islam he made his way to the top by selling himself, by advancing his own platform, by convincing others he was the man and this was his moment. He was a deal-maker without parallel, moving by soft degrees to the point where he replaced the Fatimids with his own Ayyubid dynasty, uniting Egypt and Syria. He was a self-promoter, convincing much of the Muslim world that only he was capable of leading it against the threat posed by the Crusaders. He was pious, certainly, but he was no Osama bin Laden, no stupid fanatic. He could be pragmatic as occasion demanded, making bargains even with the enemy, all part of a bigger political game. Such was his success that he laid the basis for multiple interpretations of his life and actions, something the author explores with admirable skill. Some of the details are fascinating, things I was not previously aware of. For instance, even in the midst of conflict, Saladin negotiated trade deals with Italian merchants, obtaining the wood, pitch and iron that enabled him to build the Egyptian fleet, no matter how hard the Papacy raged. There is another truth here worth emphasising, that the Crusades themselves, from beginning to end, were a political disaster, which in the long run weakened and destroyed Christian power in the east, the power and integrity of the Byzantine Empire. Compared with such cynical ‘crusaders’ as Venice’s Enrico Dandelo it’s little wonder that Saladin is such a paragon, a true Christian gentleman! Another virtue of Saladin is that it helps to give some understanding of what the Crusades looked like from a Muslim perspective, this movement of outlandish outsiders they generally referred to as the Franks. It was their beliefs that the Muslims found most perplexing, as one twelfth century Syrian document makes clear; The most amazing thing in the world is that the Christians say that Jesus is divine, that he is God, and then they say that the Jews seized him and crucified him. How can a God who cannot protect himself protect others? Anyone who believes his God came out of a woman’s privates is quite mad; he should not be spoken to, for he has neither intelligence nor faith. And for once my comment is to say no comment! Saladin was of and beyond his times, a figure I personally would parallel with the Hohenstaufen emperor Frederick II, another wonder of the world. Eddé certainly gives us a better sense of the man, as a politician as well as a soldier, an individual who was inevitably going to appear like Ozymandias to subsequent generations. She disposes of the exaggerations while still leaving us with a figure whose myth was in a traditional form, a simple narrative explaining a complex truth. Saladin was no icon; he was a man, but what a man. I thoroughly recommend this book and I’m going to give it five stars. I should say, though, that its strength is in academic detail rather than narrative line; some people may be discouraged by her thematic arrangement. Notwithstanding this, Eddé’s approach is forensic and exhaustive, and on that level I really don’t think this book will ever be surpassed, either as a work of history or of biography.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Muhammad Arqum

    An absolutely exhaustive and comprehensive biography of Saladin! Written in a non-chronological structure, this book takes topical approach instead. Which to be honest I found a little difficult to follow somewhere around the middle of the book. This book is thorough in cataloging every aspect of Saladin's life and in addition to that, it also covers quite a lot of peripheral history of the time. The panegyric narrative and the critique both run side by and the author has done a wonderful job to An absolutely exhaustive and comprehensive biography of Saladin! Written in a non-chronological structure, this book takes topical approach instead. Which to be honest I found a little difficult to follow somewhere around the middle of the book. This book is thorough in cataloging every aspect of Saladin's life and in addition to that, it also covers quite a lot of peripheral history of the time. The panegyric narrative and the critique both run side by and the author has done a wonderful job to gradually and methodically portray Saladin as a person and as an image that evolves very naturally over the course of the book. Definitely an academic work. It is not very enjoyable at times, but still is extremely informative. The author has remained true to their duties as writing down a fantastic, objective, thorough and complete biography covering every facet of Saladin's life. There is quite an excess of medieval weaponry and war terms, political and historical jargon, plenty of names and places to remember. But that I am made aware now is extremely important while reading an actual historical book that is solely written to objectively unfold a great man from parchments of history onto the canvas of this century. A fantastic biography of the man, the legend, the warrior, the irreproachable, one of my favorite personalities. A champion of a man! In the end, a massive thanks to my buddy Aimal for sending this exquisite hardcover copy to me from London. It is a prized possession.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Shahge

    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 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.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Marie-aimée

    Cet ouvrage est la biographie de référence sur Saladin. Figure mythique du monde arabo-musulman, ses représentations et utilisations dans le discours politique sont abondantes. A Damas, son mausolée est aujourd'hui encore un lieu de pèlerinage. En Occident c'est aussi un personnage de référence, sa présence dans les chroniques médiévales traverse le temps jusqu'aux représentations cinématographiques les plus récentes (Kingdom of Heaven par exemple). Première impression : c'est gros, très gros, 7 Cet ouvrage est la biographie de référence sur Saladin. Figure mythique du monde arabo-musulman, ses représentations et utilisations dans le discours politique sont abondantes. A Damas, son mausolée est aujourd'hui encore un lieu de pèlerinage. En Occident c'est aussi un personnage de référence, sa présence dans les chroniques médiévales traverse le temps jusqu'aux représentations cinématographiques les plus récentes (Kingdom of Heaven par exemple). Première impression : c'est gros, très gros, 755 pages de biographie. Ce qui peut faire fuir les plus courageux. Cela s'explique par sa longue et trépidante vie, les nombreuses références littéraires du Moyen-Age à aujourd'hui. Anne-Marie Eddé a tout dépouillé, analysé et organisé. Quelques répétitions peuvent apparaître au fil de la lecture mais l'ensemble reste homogène. Une première partie est consacrée à sa vie de sa naissance à sa mort ; une deuxième partie présente la vie sous Saladin (entendez la vie quotidienne auprès du Prince) ; enfin une troisième partie ajoute des éléments de lectures historiographiques sur les représentations postérieures de son image (en somme comment il est devenu légende). Le problème qui structure l'analyse est l'ambivalence des sources, souvent des panégyriques ou extrêmement dépréciatives, il faut arriver à faire la part des choses. Ce que parvient à faire l'auteur. Même si les traits et le caractère sont célébrés, l'auteur montre la base "vérité". Une trajectoire riche en événements, mais l'auteur est là pour rappeler les circonstances politiques et religieuses (peut-être un peu trop à certains moments). Un sultan qui a su s'entourer de sa famille, répartir les rôles et les honneurs, de fidèles, naviguer dans les intrigues et les conflits, dans la complexité du monde arabo-musulman entre le califat fatimide et le califat abbasside. Une très bonne vue d'ensemble.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Aatif Rashid

    A fantastic and comprehensive history of Saladin that covers everything from his political accomplishments to his economic and social policies. Like all good histories, its relies primarily on primary sources and makes sure to integrate plenty of direct passages. Most importantly, Edde recognizes the impossibility of ever having a firm grasp on a figure as famous as Saladin who lived during a time from which very few sources survive, and so she acknowledges that her history is as much a history A fantastic and comprehensive history of Saladin that covers everything from his political accomplishments to his economic and social policies. Like all good histories, its relies primarily on primary sources and makes sure to integrate plenty of direct passages. Most importantly, Edde recognizes the impossibility of ever having a firm grasp on a figure as famous as Saladin who lived during a time from which very few sources survive, and so she acknowledges that her history is as much a history of representations of Saladin as it is of Saladin himself: “It is also necessary to read these sources with eyes different from those of a historian seeking to establish ‘how things actually happened,’ to borrow the expression of the famous nineteenth-century German historian Leopold van Ranke, one of the founders of “scientific” and “objective” history. The facts have their importance, of course—no one can deny that—but the way they were presented, understood, and experienced by Saladin’s contemporaries is key. What image did they retain of Saladin and of his power? How and why did they spread it? What is covered by that propaganda? Is it intended simply to glorify and individual? Though these discourses, does not a political conception of power emerge, as well as a certain vision of the world and of the religious and moral values on which the society of that time was founded? The images, metaphors, and words chosen are indicative of the idea the authors held of an ideal prince, while the description, true or false—it hardly matter in this context—of their enemies is itself the occasion to point out his good qualities. Therefore, the interest in noting the comparisons our sources make between Saladin and one biblical figure or another obviously lies not in demonstrating the validity of these comparisons but rather in attempting to understand the intentions and objectives concealed behind such an approach."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

    Eddé's nobly attempts to provide a portrait of Saladin in a way that shows simultaneously the man who defined his times and the times who defined the man. Her historiographical approach aims to steer clear of plumbing through the sultan's intentions. For example, she has no time for questions such as "was he REALLY a pious Muslim defending the faith or merely a Machiavellian master of realpolitik?" As her account makes apparent, the deeper you try to go into the primary sources, both on the Musl Eddé's nobly attempts to provide a portrait of Saladin in a way that shows simultaneously the man who defined his times and the times who defined the man. Her historiographical approach aims to steer clear of plumbing through the sultan's intentions. For example, she has no time for questions such as "was he REALLY a pious Muslim defending the faith or merely a Machiavellian master of realpolitik?" As her account makes apparent, the deeper you try to go into the primary sources, both on the Muslim and Frankish sides, the more elusive the "real" Saladin becomes. Nevertheless, Eddé lets the primary sources speak for themselves, intervening only to refute outright falsehoods. Yet, she never completely writes off outlandish claims about Saladin. Rather, she emphasizes how exaggerations or legends reflect the ideals of the time in which they were formed. This approach to history was a breath of fresh air. However, this book only gets three stars from me. Eddé structures her book thematically rather than chronologically (under the subjects The Sultan, Jihad, Governance, The Legend, and a few others). This allows her to pack heaps of information about a particular area of Saladin's life in a confined space, but this structure occasionally tempted her to go a bit too far and include heaps of extraneous information, to the point that I had to ask myself several times "how does this relate to Saladin again?". Additionally, this structure means that she often repeats previous claims and passages from primary sources that we've seen ad nauseam beforehand. The book advertises itself as a book for the layman, but many medieval Islamic terms and concepts are left completely unexplained or only explained when they reappear for the fifth time hundreds of pages later. For example, she often mentions the "turcopoles," and I had no idea what that meant until the second half of the book. Finally, the translation felt stilted and not written in English. The translator relied on archaic older words that made me stumble while reading. I don't mean to point out only the negative. The book is a fantastic journey through the primary sources of the time, and in some sections, especially the section "Jihad" and "The Legend", Eddé truly shines as a historian, as she has a firm grasp of the sources she's using. I'd highly recommend this book to those who have some background in Islamic history and already have some idea about who Saladin is.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    An in-depth construction. Dizzying skills are revealed as Saladin perfects his diplomatic gestures, honoring some horrifying others, yet playing perfect realpolitik centuries early, both against Franks and Germans and against/with Turks, Arabs, Selucids, Persians. Although militarily oblique at times (a single chapter deals with siege strategy, technology, and spoils distribution) the book illustrates not every chess move, but differing windows of life, myths, customs, the widows in power, the p An in-depth construction. Dizzying skills are revealed as Saladin perfects his diplomatic gestures, honoring some horrifying others, yet playing perfect realpolitik centuries early, both against Franks and Germans and against/with Turks, Arabs, Selucids, Persians. Although militarily oblique at times (a single chapter deals with siege strategy, technology, and spoils distribution) the book illustrates not every chess move, but differing windows of life, myths, customs, the widows in power, the practical concerns of shifting allegiances. Moments of potential romanticism, sparsely employed are properly unexploited: Reginald's beheading is taut and powerful. Nuances like histories of the sultan/Seljuk title, interspersed, are amazing. At times a travelogue tragedy. An ocean of desert at night for a knife at throat bedouin raid, the march of entire cities leaving every valuable behind while others are left untouched. Sensations of the 12th century between the conflicts of Saladin's unique empire. Watch Saladin's archetype emerge from the mythic chapters into western media.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sagheer Afzal

    Informative but with too many irrelevant tangents. The last chapter of the book was the worse. I think the author became bemused by all her information and let it cloud her narrative. I also think the translation from French into English was a little awkward in places. Unfortunately although this book gave you many interesting facts about Saladin and the customs of his time; it didn't really bring anything new to the table. You know Saladin was chivalrous and generous and magnanimous and all of Informative but with too many irrelevant tangents. The last chapter of the book was the worse. I think the author became bemused by all her information and let it cloud her narrative. I also think the translation from French into English was a little awkward in places. Unfortunately although this book gave you many interesting facts about Saladin and the customs of his time; it didn't really bring anything new to the table. You know Saladin was chivalrous and generous and magnanimous and all of that. I was hoping to gain a more nuanced perspective and sometimes it felt the author was close to doing that but just fell back on the general opinion. William Dalrymple would I think have done a better job.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lee

    An OK biography of Saladin. The book does not go in chronological order but covers the various aspects of Saladin’s life, Political, religious, his rise to power, his effect on trade etc. in a chapter and then moves onto the next subject. A timeline at the beginning of the book is helpful. A cast of characters would also help greatly as a lot of Saladin emir’s and lieutenants have very similar names and titles.

  10. 5 out of 5

    !Tæmbuŝu

    Reviewed by Open Letters Monthly

  11. 4 out of 5

    Philip Davis

    A most excellent work of scholarship with a depth of research, illuminated in the historical context, and supported by many accounts of contemporaries, foes, and followers.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany

    False start - got through the introduction just fine (although it's very, very French), but couldn't maintain the momentum. I'll have to try this one again some other time.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Waleed

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kolitude

  15. 4 out of 5

    Dobromir

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mohamad Ballan

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mike Myones

  18. 4 out of 5

    Cameron Bower

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alex Barry

  20. 4 out of 5

    'Aussie Rick'

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tooba

  22. 4 out of 5

    Colin Jones

  23. 5 out of 5

    Yuli Yanto

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rian

  25. 5 out of 5

    Bryan

  26. 4 out of 5

    Amelia

  27. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nasreddin

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rachid

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sheren

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