In a work "aimed squarely at the general reader", Phillips tells the story of the Crusades from 1095 to Bush's response after 9/11 that alienated moderate Islam. As Phillips reveals, earlier crusaders were better informed
. Frederick II of Germany took Jerusalem "without striking a blow" in 1229 by "charm backed up by substantial military force". Phillips's narrative is packed with startling incidents, such as the French crusaders captured in Egypt in 1239 when they stopped for a picnic.
The book's cast is dominated by the "mercurial" Richard I and the strategic genius, Saladin. Both cast long shadows. A statue in Westminster commemorated the former in 1860; the latter was celebrated in 1898 by Kaiser Wilhelm with a "grotesque shrine".