Okay, overall, it is by no means a bad overview of the history of the Hospitallers. And unlike Dan Jones’ The Templars, it has the bonus that you won’t find all of this in any one other place about a broader subject.

In fact, this book is very informative about their time on Rhodes. And while the centerpiece of the later history is what you’d expect the (the Siege of Malta in 1565), there’s a very useful discussion of how they came to Malta, and problems of time and money when applied to fortifying the island. Sadly, Rhodes does not get the same amount of attention on that subject, but there is some discussion.

The book stays with the ‘active’ part of the order, and doesn’t go much into the workings of its European connections, the properties they administered there (and how that changed over the centuries), and recruitment of new members. This isn’t too surprising, considering its a lighter book, and it has a long time span to cover, but is still slightly disappointing.

A very interesting bit is the fall of Malta to Napoleon. It reminds me very much of the end of Norwich’s Venice, where a proud, independent state just can’t manage much more than some hand-wringing in the face of a historical force of nature.

The Shield and the Sword was certainly written with the cooperation of the Order of St. John, and takes a positive view of their activities throughout. The Knights’ attacks on Muslim shipping are presented as part of the defense Europe instead of just part of a cycle of violence on the Mediterranean. There’s some justice to this view, thanks to the larger context of the time, but it is an example of where the blinders are.

Still, there’s going to be very little out there for a better one-volume history of the Order.