RfP cover art copy copy.jpg

The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).

In 1099, when the first Frankish invaders arrived before the walls of Jerusalem, they had carved out a Christian European presence in the Islamic world that endured for centuries, bolstered by subsequent waves of new crusaders and pilgrims. The story of how this group of warriors, driven by faith, greed, and wanderlust, created new Christian-ruled states in parts of the Middle East is one of the best-known in history. Yet it is offers not even half of the story, for it is based almost exclusively on Western sources and overlooks entirely the perspective of the crusaded. How did medieval Muslims perceive what happened?

In The Race for Paradise, Paul M. Cobb offers a new history of the confrontations between Muslims and Franks we now call the "Crusades," one that emphasizes the diversity of Muslim experiences of the European holy war. There is more to the story than Jerusalem, the Templars, Saladin, and the Assassins. Cobb considers the Arab perspective on all shores of the Muslim Mediterranean, from Spain to Syria. In the process, he shows that this is not a straightforward story of warriors and kings clashing in the Holy Land, but a more complicated tale of border-crossers and turncoats; of embassies and merchants; of scholars and spies, all of them seeking to manage a new threat from the barbarian fringes of their ordered world. When seen from the perspective of medieval Muslims, the Crusades emerge as something altogether different from the high-flying rhetoric of the European chronicles: as a cultural encounter to ponder, a diplomatic chess-game to be mastered, a commercial opportunity to be seized, and as so often happened, a political challenge to be exploited by ambitious rulers making canny use of the language of jihad

An engrossing synthesis of history and scholarship, The Race for Paradise fills a significant historical gap, considering in a new light the events that distinctively shaped Muslim experiences of Europeans until the close of the Middle Ages.

"As Paul Cobb demonstrates in his splendidly detailed and timely narrative, lslamic authors and writers in Arabic showed a keen interest in the medieval Christian interlopers into the Muslim world, in political events and in the ideology of jihad that these conflicts revived. Cobb provides a useful corrective to ill-informed assumptions about medieval Islam and later Muslim recollections of the Crusades. ... Paul Cobb's case is elegantly and well made, a trenchant and welcome contribution to a discussion that is more than academic." --The Times Literary Supplement

"Cobb brings this history alive in a way that will interest both casual readers and experts alike... [The] multidisciplinary approach illuminates the experience of invaded societies in their chaotic and climactic contacts with the Other." --Publishers Weekly (starred review) 

"This is an excellent book--lucid, insightful and informative. Cobb brings a fresh perspective to contact between Muslims and Christians during the medieval period, energetically transporting us across Islamic lands from Cordova to Baghdad, via Palermo, Cairo, Jerusalem and Damascus. Sharply-chosen anecdotes cleverly illuminate life beyond the confines of holy war to give a broad and rewarding understanding of the true context and multi-faceted nature of this complex and highly important relationship." --Jonathan Phillips, author of Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades

"Thoroughly researched, highly original and above all a pleasure to read--a superb overview for the general and the specialized reader alike that sets the Crusades within the larger framework of Islamic history." --Konrad Hirschler, SOAS, University of London; author of The Written Word in the Medieval Arabic Lands

"Paul Cobb's The Race for Paradise proves why medieval European history is not the only domain for Crusades study. With a fluid style and superb knowledge of sources, Cobb masterfully enshrines the Islamic narratives, reflecting several genres of scholarship, as fundamentally informative for Crusader history, and that the latter ought to be seen also as reflective of dynamics within the Islamic world. Indispensable for anyone interested in understanding the Crusades and the Muslim World at that time." --Suleiman A. Mourad, Smith College

"Lively and enjoyable reading, Paul Cobb's Race for Paradise also offers new insights into the well-worn territory of Crusades history, particularly by showing how the Crusades were part of a broader penetration of Latin Christian powers into the Mediterranean world in the second half of the eleventh century." --Hugh Kennedy, SOAS, University of London