Nicholas Morton’s new book on the formative years of the Crusader states is a delight on multiple levels. The Field of Blood: The Battle for Aleppo and the Remaking of the Medieval Middle East provides an illuminating survey of the Levantine region in the period immediately after the Christian Frank incursion, when Jerusalem was the newly-created seat of a Christian kingdom and European nobles sought to dominate the Holy Land. Historians have long assumed the Crusader experiment was destined to fail, but Morton makes a very persuasive case that it could well have succeeded. The action takes place in present-day Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, and involves the same strategic cities—Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs—that so tragically dominate headlines today.
The publisher of The Last Palestinian touts it as the first book in English to profile Mahmoud Abbas, the man who succeeded Yasser Arafat as leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization and has since been the titular head of the Palestinian national movement. Astonishingly, the publisher’s claim appears to be true, and co-authors Grant Rumley and Amir Tibon have indeed delivered a crisp catalogue of the events and players that have brought Abbas and the Palestinians to where they are today.
A couple of years ago I found myself changing my flight to Jerusalem to include a side-trip to Jordan, so that I could meet a friend-of-a-cousin-of-a-friend who had offered to help me with my research. It was difficult to find anything about the man I was to meet, but among the precious snippets I could glean was that he had founded an organization called the Jerusalem Day Society headquartered in Amman. And there was a review in Publishers Weekly indicating he was was a fabulist and an anti-Semite.