De Crespigny's first degree was European history and his main interest was the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Afterwards he began studying Chinese under Hans Bielenstein, a historian specialized in the restoration of the Han Dynasty. During his first year as a student under Bielenstein De Crespigny was given the Brewitt-Taylor translation of Luo Guanzhong's Romance of the Three Kingdoms and developed an interest in the Later Han. De Crespigny wanted to found out what really happened during the period; what is fact and what is fiction? De Crespigny first concentrated on Wu and devoted his 1964 seminar dissertation to it called "The Development of the Chinese Empire in the South; a discussion of the origins of the state of Wu of the Three Kingdoms", he also translated the biography of Sun Jian and would later write the monograph Generals of the South. His interest in Wu possibly stems from the fact Luo Guanzhong took away many of their merits and gave them to Shu-Han in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, making Wu an interesting kingdom for comparing facts and fiction. In his Generals of the South, chapter 9, Rafe de Crespigny discusses the expenses of Wu in favour of Shu-Han, particularly Zhuge Liang's achievements at the expense of Zhou Yu.
Shu-Han seems to have been the least interesting kingdom to Rafe de Crespigny. As he once said in an interview with Medievalists.net: “I am somewhat ashamed to say that I have never really cared for Liu Bei – high-minded rhetoric to justify treachery and double-dealing.” Furthermore De Crespigny never released a book or article about Shu-Han. After his studies on Wu he became more involved in the question of what went wrong with Han itself: why and how did the empire fall? This may have been when he started working on works such as Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling and To Establish Peace. Two translations of Sima Guang's Zizhi tongjian, which, together with Achilles Fang's The Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms give a great insight of the chronological events of Later Han all the way to the fall of the Three Kingdoms. Three must reads for any Three Kingdoms enthusiast.
His latest masterpiece, Imperial Warlord: A Biography of Cao Cao, as well as other works such as A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms shows his wide array of knowledge regarding the Later Han and Three Kingdoms period.
Rafe de Crespigny has arguably become (one of) the best English sources for Later Han and Three Kingdoms information. Gongjin's Campaign Memorials frequently references to De Crespigny and without his work this Wiki would not have been what it is today.
- Imperial Warlord: A Biography of Cao Cao 155-220 AD (2010)
- A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23-220 AD) (2007)
- To Establish Peace (1996)
- The Three Kingdoms and Western Jin: a history of China in the Third Century AD (1991)
- Generals of the South (1990)
- Man from the Margin: Cao Cao and the Three Kingdoms (1990)
- South China under the Later Han Dynasty (1990)
- Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling (1989)
- South China during Han (1988)
- Northern Frontier: The Policies and Strategy of the Later Han Empire (1984)
- Politics and Philosophy under the Government of Emperor Huan 159-168 A.D. (1980)
- Portents of Protest in the Later Han Dynasty: Memorials of Hsiang K'ai to Emperor Huan in 166 A.D. (1978)
- China: The Land and its People (1971)
- The Records of the Three Kingdoms: A study in the historiography of San-kuo chih (1970)