A Concise History of the Crusades (Third Student Edition) by Thomas Madden, 209 pages
The Crusades have been interpreted and reinterpreted many times over the centuries. The popular narrative at present is the residue of the twentieth century view of the Crusades as an imperialist endeavor by Europeans to colonize the Near East. This, in turn, is a development of the nineteenth century interpretation of the Crusades as an early example of the civilizing mission of Western man. The dawn of the twenty-first century has seen the Crusades as the root of conflict between Muslims and Christians (and post-Christians).
Recent research has overthrown some of the old certitudes about the Crusades, even if the popular mind has not yet assimilated this. The Crusades were not primarily composed of surplus males - to the contrary, they were lead and manned by the cream of the European nobility. They were not undertaken for financial profit - to the contrary, they were a constant economic drain. They were not remembered vividly by Muslims - they were barely remembered at all until the nineteenth century, when the European powers invoked them during their colonization of the Middle East. They were not considered at the time to be offensive wars, but a counterattack against an aggressively expansionist Islam, and an attempt to reclaim territories which were, at the time, still predominately Christian.
Madden, the Director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at St Louis University, provides a basic overview of the Crusades as understood by their participants. Covering four centuries in two hundred pages, the book is very readable despite being compact. An excellent introduction to a complex, and often misunderstood, subject.