This is an excellent, sober and balanced primer on what has been the subject of hysterical writing in the last few years, especially since the release of The Da Vinci Code.
Sean Martin has written a very well structured book. It's divided into four main sections: the origins, activities, and fall of the Templars, as well as an additional section on the current mythology surrounding The Order.
It lays out the whole history of The Order, from Hughes de Payen's offer to the King of Jerusalem, to Bernard of Clairvaux's lobbying to the Council of Clermont, the first crusade and then on to the eventual downfall of the Templars with Jacques de Molay's execution in 1314. I won't enumerate all the details because if you're reading this review, you are probably a Templar buff, in which case you know all this. For those looking for an introduction to this subject, this is THE book to get.
Sean Martin has an elegant, simple writing style, making the book a very easy read (which is bad news, because you finish it too quickly).
Too many history books are written in too scholarly a tone, resulting in a very tedious read-you only need to check some of the weightier volumes on the Crusades. The writing style of this book makes you feel part of the events unfolding page by page. Occasional dry humor that comes out in the writing adds to the enjoyment (bottom part of p83 had me in stitches, if that is not too irreverent a reaction for what is a serious subject).
A bonus is that the storyline of the Templars in this book is weaved faultlessly with that of the Crusades, so that it also de facto becomes a primer on the latter. Not too many books on the Templars do this well-Gordon Napier's "The Rise and Fall of the Knights Templar" is one of a few that comes to mind.
Some maps, a chronology of Templar history, the list of Grand Masters (for you conspiracy theorists, this list ends with Jacques de Molay and not someone living today) and the list of formal charges against The Order rounds out what is a great little book.
Being a Pocket Essentials book, it is smaller than most works on this subject, but in my opinion, it is one of the best and if you are interested in the Templars or the Crusades, this is one book you should definitely have in your library.
in veritate victorias