As with our other travels, I’ve developed a reading list to help us prepare for the trip and enhance the experience.
The books below are listed in the order I recommend you read them if you are new to the subjects–not that I expect you will actually read all of them, but if at the end of this journey you are more interested in these subjects, you will have a place to start.
Also, if you are interested in how others have interpreted the manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth in their eras, Charlemagne and the First Crusade are fascinating studies.
1. Two Lives of Charlemagne, Einhard & Notker the Stammerer. Two short biographies of Charlemagne, one by a friend of Charlemagne (Einhard) and one written in the following century (Notker). Many modern historians dismiss what these two authors wrote as panegyrics, but who is better to write about an historical figure, someone who knew the person or a history professor with an agenda 1,200 years later?
2. Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne, Pierre Riche. Interesting book on how people lived in the eighth century. This books covers everything from personal hygiene to reading habits in the eighth century.
3. Emperor Charlemagne, Thomas Hodgkins. This book is a little more difficult to find because it was written in 1902, but a reprint is available on Amazon. It’s a fairly straightforward biography.
4. Charlemagne: A Biography, Derek Wilson. A good modern biography of Charlemagne that quotes from Einhard and Notker but offers alternative explanations of events and motives when appropriate.
Godfrey de Bouillon & The First Crusade:
1. God’s Battalion: The Case for the Crusades, Rodney Stark. Start here so you can unlearn the biased post-Enlightenment and modern views of the crusades you’ve been taught your whole life. I reviewed this book on GSB last month. The book is well-reasoned and well-written.
2. The First Crusade, Edward Peters, Ed. Read about the First Crusade and its leaders, including Godfrey de Bouillon, from writers who were there or wrote shortly after the events. As with Charlemagne, I believe it is best to start with the original sources before moving to modern interpretations and opinions.
3. The Alexiad, Anna Komnene. This book was written by the daughter of Byzantine emperor, Alexius I (1081-1118). Anna writes about Godfrey de Bouillon and the leaders of the First Crusade from personal knowledge, having met them at Constantinople where they stopped on their way to the Levant. If you just read Latin writers of the Crusades you will have an incomplete view of the Crusaders and the Byzantines. This book gives you the view from the other side of Christendom. It should be noted only a small part of this book addresses the First Crusade; it is a book about Alexius’s rule as a whole.
4. A History of the Crusades: Vol 1, The First Crusade, Sir Steven Runciman. This is considered the modern masterpiece on the Crusades. If you’ve not read much about the Crusades you will probably find it dry, which is why I’ve listed it last on my list. It is better to read this book after you’ve read the books above.
When I read to prepare for a travel journey, I take notes in a small pocket journal to help me remember key facts. This includes things like a list of the kings during that era or a chronology of important events to provide context for what we see during our journey. I carry the journal with me on the trip and add notes of our experiences on the journey. It sounds nerdish I know, but I can’t tell you how much it has enhanced our travel experiences. GS