> Skip to content
About the book
  • Published: 7 May 2019
  • ISBN: 9781847926012
  • Imprint: Bodley Head
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 496
  • RRP: $35.00

The Life and Legend of the Sultan Saladin

The riveting and definitive biography of the Islamic world's most famous military hero

An epic story of empire-building and bloody conflict, this ground-breaking biography of one of history’s most venerated military and religious heroes opens a window on the Islamic and Christian worlds’ complex relationship.

When Saladin recaptured Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187, returning the Holy City to Islamic rule for the first time in almost ninety years, he sent shockwaves throughout Christian Europe and the Muslim Near East that reverberate today.

It was the culmination of a supremely exciting life, fraught with challenges but blessed occasionally with marvellous good fortune. Born into a significant Kurdish family in northern Iraq, Saladin shot to power far way in Egypt under the tutelage of his uncle. Over two decades, this warrior and diplomat worked tirelessly to build an immense empire that stretched from North Africa to Western Iraq. His even greater achievement was political: uniting this turbulent coalition of people from a bewildering variety of religious and ethnic backgrounds behind his assault on the Holy Lands. And yet the capturing of Jerusalem was by no means the end of Saladin’s epic and confounding story.

Drawing primarily on Arabic as well as European sources, this is the most comprehensive account yet written not just of the man but of the legend to which he gave birth, describing vividly the relentless action of his life and then tracing its aftermath through culture and politics all the way to the present. It reveals the personal qualities that explain his enduring reputation as a man of faith, generosity, mercy and justice, even while showing him to be capable of mistakes, self-interest and cruelty. After Saladin’s death, it goes on to show how in the West this Sunni Muslim acquired the status of a chivalric hero, even while throughout the Islamic world he became – and continues to be – the greatest jihadist ever to have lived.
The Life and Legend of the Sultan Saladin shows how this one man’s life takes us beyond the crude stereotypes of the ‘Clash of Civilisations’ even while his legacy explains them: an intimate portrait of a towering figure of world history that is thrillingly relevant today.

  • Pub date: 7 May 2019
  • ISBN: 9781847926012
  • Imprint: Bodley Head
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 496
  • RRP: $35.00

About the Author

Jonathan Phillips

Jonathan Phillips is Professor of Crusading History at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is the author of Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades; The Second Crusade: Extending the Frontiers of Christianity; The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople; The Crusades, 1095-1197; Defenders of the Holy Land, 1119-1187 and the co-editor of three academic essay collections on the Crusades. Phillips is the co-editor of the academic journal Crusades, writes for BBC History and History Today and has made numerous radio and television appearances.

Also by Jonathan Phillips

See all

Praise for The Life and Legend of the Sultan Saladin

“An authoritative and brilliantly told account of the life of one of the world’s greatest – and most famous – military leaders. Jonathan Phillips leaves no stone unturned in this impressive and lively history of the genius who was Saladin”

PETER FRANKOPAN, author of The Silk Roads

“Outstanding. Jonathan Phillips has written a compelling account of arguably the most inspirational of Islamic military heroes”

CHRISTOPHER DE BELLAIGUE, author of The Islamic Enlightenment

“This illuminating and fascinating biography of Saladin could not be timely. Today political figures often inspire little admiration, but Saladin’s career at the height of the Crusades reminds us that moral charisma and integrity can be recognised and honoured by people on both sides of a vicious conflict. His concluding account of the intense emotion that the memory of Saladin still inspires in the Middle East today reveals the sensitivity and pain that underlies so many of the region’s unresolved problems”

KAREN ARMSTRONG, author of Fields of Blood

“Vivid and authoritative, with glistening details on every page. Phillips explains Saladin’s ability to mesmerise not just through the achievements of his lifetime but through his inspiration of Arab leaders, including Nasser, Assad and Saddam Hussein, ever since”

JAMES BARR, author of A Line in the Sand

“Beautifully researched and authoritative, Jonathan Phillips's very fine biography of this fascinating historical character underlines how serious history made accessible to the general reader is invaluable if we hope to understand our world today”

JASON BURKE, author of The 9/11 Wars

“Fascinating, authoritative and intelligent”


“Jonathan Phillips explores new themes and makes use of various underused or wholly neglected Arabic sources… topographical and archaeological detail provides a vivid and convincing background to his account… The portrait of Saladin is not an idealised one”

Robert Irwin, Literary Review

“The Life and Legend of the Sultan Saladin… is, first, a conventional biography, superbly researched and enormously entertaining. That by itself would make this one of the outstanding books of the year… Phillips…is clear, concise and illuminating, shedding light on animosities in the Middle East today”

Gerard DeGroot, The Times

“Superb, highly readable and definitive biography. Phillips is one of the world’s leading crusades scholars… He has the rare gift of writing scholarly history for a popular audience, and he is on fine form here”

Dan Jones, Sunday Times

“More than just a biography ... this book paints a rich, absorbing picture of the 12th-century Middle East ... gives expert accounts of the many hard-fought battles and sieges ... vividly describes the Crusader fightback ... One major lesson of this book is that the facts about the distant past are much, much more interesting than the opportunistic uses made of them by anyone in the present”


“Phillips produces an absorbing, readable narrative… an excellent introduction to the life of Saladin by a scholar who is respected around the world for his work on the sultan and the crusades… an invaluable guide”

Helen Nicholson, BBC History

“Phillips’s careful scrutiny of the surprisingly numerous contemporary sources underlies an impressive piece of historical reconstruction”

Michael Prodger, New Statesman, *Books of the Year*

Related titles