Piers Paul Read studied history at Cambridge University and has written twelve acclaimed novels and three works of nonfiction. His novels have won the Hawthornden Prize and the Geoffrey Faber, Somerset Maugham, and James Tait Black awards. He lives in London.
The Knights Templar are not very well known today; but many of those who know them consider them as a corrupt order of monks who administered a citadel in Jerusalem during the Crusades. Arguing that the Templars deserve a better reputation than this, Read's balanced study judiciously synthesizes the history of this important religious movement. Formed in the aftermath of the First Crusade, the Templars were members of a monastic order who helped protect Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land. Although similar to military orders like the Teutonic Knights and the Hospitalers, the Templars weren't, for the most part, warriors. When Christian forces held the Holy Land, most Templars aided them by managing the European estates that supported the military activities of the order. After the fall of the Crusader states, the Templars lost their military importanceÄbut because their economic importance continued to grow, the pope and the king of France engineered their downfall through what Read considers to have been a miscarriage of justice. Templar leaders confessed, under torture, to all manner of sinful behavior and the order was destroyed. Best known for Alive (his best-selling account of cannibalistic survivors of a plane crash in the Andes), Read uses his keen eye for detail and facility with language to good effect here. Though he draws mostly from secondary sources, he enlivens his account with visual details; as he considers the larger political and religious significance of the Templars, he also describes the conditions of the monks' lives what they ate, where they lived, how they resisted sexual temptation, etc. But more compellingly, as he considers the rise and fall of this order Read tries to make their stories resonate in our own age (for instance, he notes that "the attitudes of many Muslims in the Middle East to the modern state of Israel is very like that of their ancestors to the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem)Äand he occasionally succeeds. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.