Comparative Book Review of Two Books on Saladin

Saladin: The Politics of the Holy War by M - Comparative Book Review of Two Books on Saladin introduction. C. Lyons & D. E. P. Jackson

            Lyons and Jackson’s book about Saladin is, in itself, a biography that focuses on Saladin’s career. The character of Saladin was developed through Lyons and Jackson’s exploration of his civic and military involvement set against the backdrop of politics and religion. According to Lyons and Jackson, they chose to focus on mapping out Saladin’s civic and military career in order to substantiate some of the facts written about him in various biographies. Lyons and Jackson said, “The object of this work is to re-examine and…to add evidence for the career of Saladin in order to strengthen the frame of reference into which the judgments and conclusions of his modern biographers can be fitted.”[1] In order to accomplish the objective of the authors, current sources and existing correspondence available during the time the book was written was utilized.

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            The authority and qualification of Lyons and Jackson as authors of the book were not explicitly revealed due to the absence of author information in the book, as well as in other sources of references. However, the authors seemed to be academics who were interested in reading and researching about the life of Saladin. The authors have conducted their research through their partnership and collaboration with Cambridge University and other intellectuals from other colleges or universities. Between Lyons and Jackson, Lyons has more background in the Arabic culture and society as based from the several Arab-related books that he has written throughout the years including “The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights,” “Identification and Identity in Classical Arabic Poetry,” and “Three Tales from the Arabian Nights.”[2]

            The book was structured chronologically, such that the chapters each successively focused on a particular age or period of Saladin’s life. However, in order for Lyons and Jackson to stay true to their objective in writing the book, which was for the purpose of focusing on Saladin’s civic and military career, each chapter was not only a narrative of Saladin’s life but also a view of his character and mindset, which was attributed as to how he has managed to emerge as a civic and military leader in later life. For instance, Lyons and Jackson discussed how Saladin, as a child, was forced into maturity by his own father. Lyons and Jackson wrote, “his early days are, for the most part, a blank. Adolescence was a period which contemporary society tried to shorten as much as possible by emphasizing the need for maturity.”[3] As a consequence, people saw Saladin as an adult who was knowledgeable about the issue that the elderly worried themselves with, and later on piqued his interest and motivation that led to his involvement and realization of civic and military duties and responsibilities. By and large, the discussions of Lyons and Jackson on the life of Saladin were centrally focused on how he came to be the iconic civic and military leader that he was.

            In order to support Lyons and Jackson’s discussions, narratives, and arguments in the book, the authors utilized both primary and secondary sources, from biographies written about Saladin, historical narratives about major events in the Arab territories, which Saladin was known to have become involved in, critiques and reviews of books and other sources, and so on. I do think that the sources or references utilized to substantiate the ideas, discussions, and narratives in the book were appropriate since they were instrumental in determining how Saladin has influenced history through his civic and military leadership, and in part, Saladin’s character and personality. Aside from the efficiency and expediency of the primary and secondary sources utilized, they were also valid and reliable references because most of them were written by Eastern writers who have one way or another, experienced how Saladin has influenced the social and political landscape of the Eastern or Arab territories.

            The sources or references utilized in the book were cited through Chicago referencing by inserting numbers in cited quotes, sentences, and ideas, and then listing them in one of the few last pages in the ‘Notes’ section. From the ‘Notes’ and ‘Bibliography’ section, the references utilized proved to be contemporary or timely during the period that the book was written. Lyons and Jackson also successfully integrated the ideas, narratives, and discussions from the sources in an unbiased and evenhanded manner.      The discussions made by Lyons and Jackson were unbiased since they worked with a great number of sources and their book constituted a fusion or synthesis of aforementioned sources, and then a contribution of their critical analyses of these sources. Furthermore, the book is unprejudiced because all of the ideas and information written by Lyons and Jackson were supported by either primary or secondary sources.

            By reading the book written by Lyons and Jackson, I was able to learn about Saladin’s life set against the backdrop of his civic and military involvements as he rose to power, claimed the credit and leadership for the capture and control of many Arab and Eastern territories, and was known as one of the strongest and most influential adherents of Islam. Furthermore, I was able to obtain facts and information on Saladin’s military history that has made him one of the most powerful Islamic leaders. Lyons and Jackson made it a point to discuss Saladin’s motivations, leadership and management styles, and so on, and emphasizes how he was able to rise into power through his realization of civic and military duties in the conclusion, which fully represented the authors’ narratives and discussions in the body of the book.

The Book of Saladin by Tariq Ali

            “The Book of Saladin” by Tariq Ali is a novel that not only recounts the life of Saladin as a political and military leader and a strong adherent of Islam, but also a narrative of how the Islamic civilization grew and developed against the backdrop of the conflicts and struggles between adherents of Orientalism and the Fundamental Islam. Like Lyons & Jackson’s work, however, the novel is also a retelling of how Saladin, as a political, military, and religious figure have contributed to the development of the history of the Islamic civilization, primarily on how Saladin has successfully utilized his civil and military powers to conquer and then unshackle Jerusalem from foreign rule.

            Ali “is a novelist, historian, political campaigner, and one of New Left Review’s editors.”[4] Aside from “The Book of Saladin,” Ali has also written several novels such as “The Duel,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Rough Music,” “Speaking of Empire and Resistance,” etc. All of the books were novels tied to specific political, economic, social, and cultural issues that have happened. Perhaps his immense experience in writing and his role as a historian would make him a reliable source of the narration of Saladin’s life, as well as the history of the Islamic civilization. However, the structure and contents of the book have provided some reasons why the book is not entirely a valid and reliable source of information on Saladin. The reasons for this argument shall be discussed in the remainder of this discussion.

            In order for Ali to write down a clear and compelling novel about Saladin, he utilized facts and information that he has gathered from numerous sources about Saladin in order to develop the main character in the novel. Ali said, “The principal male characters of this story are based on historical personages. They include Salah al-Din himself, his brothers, father, uncle and nephews.”[5] By and large, Ali’s approach to providing a novel about Saladin was to obtain information about real life characters who were involved with Saladin, as well as Saladin himself, in order to create a fictional novel that represents real people and events in the history of the Islamic civilization.

            The book by Ali differs from that written by Lyons and Jackson since the author failed to list down and cite the references utilized to develop the character o Saladin and his family or relatives. The novel was merely told from the author’s perspectives of what he had read about Saladin and the major historical events, particularly military and religious in nature, wherein Saladin was involved in one way or another. Furthermore, the character of Saladin was told in first person, such that the speaker in the novel was the character of Saladin according to how Ali saw him as a human being, a military and seemingly political leader, an adherent of Islam, and a member of his family.

            The structure, content, and the type of approach utilized by Ali to complete the book are the primary reasons why it is an invalid, unreliable, and debatable historical reference. First, the reference utilized to support the characterization of Saladin and the historical events narrated in the book were not properly cited. Second, the character of Saladin and the reasons, motivations, and causes behind historical events mentioned in the book were primarily based from the points of view and perspectives of Ali, perhaps from other sources and references that he read or saw about Saladin. This rationalizes why the concepts and ideas presented in the book were unreliable and prejudiced.

            On the other hand, the admirable thing about the book was Ali’s capability to present information, despite its invalidity and unreliability, creatively and through a different and inimitable structure. Unlike most primary and secondary sources not only on Saladin but on famous historical icons and historical events, this particular book sought to recreate Saladin’s life, constituting his family, career, and achievements, Ali’s book was a little bit more creative, interesting, and personal. These were the reasons why it would most likely draw the attention of readers, as opposed to the one-stranded and formal approach of authors and researchers in writing most books about history.

            In terms of this book’s importance to historical researchers and its contribution to scholarship, I do believe that the book lacks validity and reliability due to the absence of sources or references that would substantiate the claims of Ali on the character, points of view, and perspectives of Saladin, as well as the events following his life and his involvement in several wars and political and religious struggles. However, from Ali’s novel, I have learned to understand Saladin on a more personal level as his inner being or person was explored in the book. Ali has succeeded in dissecting the mind of Saladin, although it was based on his personal perspectives and interpretations, and presenting his life as well as the history of Islamic civilization in an inventive and unorthodox manner as opposed to traditional historical literature.

Comparing the Two Books

            By reading and analyzing the major themes, concepts, purpose or objectives of the authors in writing the books, and so on, I was able to determine the value of Lyons and Jackson’s book in helping researchers develop and prove their theses, assumptions, or arguments about Saladin and the historical events following his realization of his civic and military tasks and responsibilities. First, Lyons and Jackson’s book was substantiated with several contemporary and appropriate sources or references. Second, the arguments, narratives, or discussions by Lyons and Jackson were unbiased or unprejudiced. Furthermore, the book has successfully a well-structured narrative wherein the events and information were arranged chronologically and the authors chose to stick to one aspect of Saladin’s life in order to provide a clear thesis.

            Ali’s book, on the other hand, is not recommended for research purposes since it was written in a prejudiced manner. Ali has not cited sources and references in the book in order to substantiate how he developed Saladin’s character in the novel and the reasons or causes for the occurrence of some major events in the history of the Islamic civilization. However, Ali’s book would be useful for readers who are interested in reading about fictionalized realities of famous historical, political, and religious figures, and historical events.

Works Cited

Lyons, Malcolm Cameron and Jackson, David Edward Pritchett. Saladin: The Politics

            of the Holy War. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Ali, Tariq. The Book of Saladin. London, UK: Verso, 1999, pp.xiv.

Ali, Tariq. “Tariq Ali.” (accessed 09 May 2009).

Alibris. “BOOKS by Malcolm Cameron Lyons.” Alibris.

  ,%20Malcolm%20Cameron,   %20and (accessed 10 May 2009).

[1] Malcolm Cameron Lyons and David Edward Pritchett Jackson. Saladin: The Politics of the Holy War (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984), Foreword.
[2] Alibris. “BOOKS by Malcolm Cameron Lyons.” Alibris.,%20Malcolm%20Cameron,%20and (accessed 10 May 2009).
[3] Malcolm Cameron Lyons and David Edward Pritchett Jackson. Saladin: The Politics of the Holy War (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984), pp. 3.

[4]Tariq Ali. “Tariq Ali.” (accessed 09 May 2009).
[5] Tariq Ali. The Book of Saladin (London, UK: Verso, 1999), pp.xiv.

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