The crusades

Are all great civilisations doomed?

To quote Private Frazer in Dad’s Army, ‘We’re doomed, doomed!’ That seems to be the message of Paul Cooper’s eminently readable series of essays about how and why 14 civilisations rose to greatness and then collapsed. He begins with the Sumerians in the fourth millennium BC, at the northern tip of the Persian Gulf, and he finishes with Easter Island in the 18th century. He then concludes with dark prophecies about how a few centuries from now an overheated planet will look in a simpler post-industrial age. The style is informal, based on a series of popular podcasts, and one can almost hear the spoken word as one reads. Yet

Light and shade in the Holy Land – a century in spectacular images

Roger Hardy is a romantic. That much I deduce from the language he uses to describe how photographers were drawn to the special quality of light in Palestine. Their images, he writes, ‘capture the play of light and shade on the limestone walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, the glistening watermelons on sale at open-air markets, the white apartment blocks of the new metropolis of Tel Aviv, the dusty rubble of houses blown up by soldiers during the rebellion of the 1930s’. The last few words reveal a steely realism, too, a quality developed, no doubt, during the more than 20 years he worked as a Middle East analyst for the

From pirates to princes — the heroic transformation of the Normans

The Normans had an astonishingly good run. Not only did they take over England in 1066, of course, but they also triumphed over the Muslims, establishing themselves in southern Italy and founding a principality in the Near East. William the Conqueror’s is one of the most famous names from Europe’s Middle Ages, but the achievements of Robert Guiscard were nearly as astonishing: leaving Normandy with five knights and 30 infantrymen, he became Duke of Sicily, Apulia and Calabria. Meanwhile, his son Bohemond was one of several Norman heroes of the First Crusade, and rose to become Prince of Antioch. These military successes did not surprise contemporaries. They knew the Normans