The Knights Templar remain the most glamorous, but also the most mysterious, of all religious organizations. Romanticized by Walter Scott in his novel Ivanhoe and by Wagner in his opera Parsifal, the Templars have been both celebrated as ascetic martyrs, dying for the greater good of Christianity, and condemned as deviant heretics, thieves, and sodomites who sold the Holy Land out to the Muslim Infidels. In his carefully researched study The Templars, the acclaimed novelist Piers Paul Read investigates the truth behind the myth. Placing his account of the rise of the Templars within a wider historical and political context, Read argues that "The Templars were a multinational force engaged in the defence of the Christian concept of a world order: and their demise marks the point when the pursuit of the common good within Christendom became subordinate to the interests of the nation state."
This approach takes Read back into the Dark Ages and the context for the first Christian Crusade, which culminated in the capture of Jerusalem in 1099. In an attempt to hold on to Jerusalem and one of the holiest sites in Christendom, the Temple of Solomon, the Templars were formed as a strict religious-military order, committed to poverty, chastity, and the protection of pilgrims en route to the Holy Land. Read charts their rise to political and financial power and influence throughout Europe and the Holy Land, and their bloody (and ultimately unsuccessful) conflict with the forces of Islam over the subsequent two centuries. Read's account is painstakingly recounted, but often lacks the verve and pace demanded by the colorful cast of characters, including Saladin and Richard the Lionheart. The best sections of the book deal with the shockingly cynical destruction of the Order by Pope Clement V and King Philip the Fair in 1312, preceded by the torture and death of hundreds of Templars who had already fought bravely for the cross in the Holy Land. The Templars are fascinating, but in his attempt to avoid the more colorful and conspiratorial stories associated with the Order, Read's book may strike some as a little turgid, despite its admirable historical detail. --Jerry Brotton, Amazon.co.uk