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Alfred the Great [Paperback]

Justin Pollard
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
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Book Description

29 Jun 2006

Alfred is the only English king ever to be called 'Great'. It was not a title given by political supporters, not the sycophantic gift of an official biographer, nor a self-styled title. It was the gift of history. Justin Pollard's enthralling, authoritative account befits Alfred - a soldier, a scholar and statesman like no other in English history.

His rule spanned troubled times. His shores were under constant threat from Viking marauders and he faced turmoil at home. Soon after he began his rule a conspiracy erupted and he was hounded out of his kingdom into solitary exile in forests and fens. But his ambition was not felled by adversity. Alone in this damp, dangerous, half-world of bogs and quicksand Alfred looked within and found the motivation to create a new type of nation.

Drawing on the latest historical, textual and archaeological research Justin Pollard radically reassesses the key moments in Alfred's life. He offers a new interpretation of what caused this most remarkable king to begin the formation of England and how it coloured the subsequent history of the Western World down to the present day.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray (29 Jun 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719566665
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719566660
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 13 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 17,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'This is the story of England's birth, a great story and beautifully told' (Bernard Cornwell)

'A boisterous portrait of the only English king to earn the epithet 'Great'' (Bettany Hughes, The Times)

A delicious historical treat (Stephen Fry)

'Fascinating' (Sunday Telegraph)

'Compelling .. impressive in coveying the outlook of the ninth-century man' (Daily Telegraph)

'Lucid and gripping' (Mail on Sunday)

'Pollard writes with a historian's accuracy and sensitivity to context' (Sunday Herald)

'Pollard's admiration and enthusiasm for his subject helps to bring this distant figure to life' (Tablet)

'Pollard gives us a readable narrative, enhanced by a strong visual sense of place and he takes trouble over the Continental background to insular events' (Times Literary Supplement)

Book Description

In an era darkened by the terror of the Viking invasions, England's first and greatest king was a beacon of light.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating 14 Nov 2012
By Albie
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Wow, wasn't life tough in 9th Century England? As if there wasn't enough of a problem feeding yourself you might get dragged away from your fields and be told to fight some Vikings - and there was a good chance you might never make it back to your fields.

Alfred the Great is always fascinating and, in places, utterly riveting. It changed my notion (admittedly based on my ignorance of history) that the time in between the Romans leaving and the Norman invasion was chaotic and lawless. But one of many things that struck me about this time was the mix of culture and barbarity. How did Churches flourish, how did people get time to make splendid jewellery and write books against this persistent background of violence? How could a Pope hundreds of miles away exert so much influence on our history here, especially when Rome wasn't exactly the powerhouse it had been.

As for Alfred - I was impressed by all his achievements and felt saddened that in general we in the UK don't know more about him. But he could equally be called Alfred the Lucky. If Guthrum's fleet hadn't been wrecked in a storm and if Alfred hadn't just managed to escape the Viking fleet off the Anglian coast, our history might now be much different.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The man behind the myth 11 May 2007
Justin Pollard's strength is the canny way he brings ancient stories to life by focussing on the human, emotional drivers that set his protagonists into action. The social and political context of Alfred's world is dealt with sensitively and non-judgmentally, leaving the reader to draw his/her own conclusions with the assistance of Pollard's meticulous research.

An excellent work: a readable and informative benchmark for the subject matter. Pollard's thesis, that Alfred was the greatest Englishman, is highly persuasive.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alfred the Great by Justin Pollard 1 Sep 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was my main vacation read this year, and I found it to be outstandingly good. Well written, historically accurate but never losing the story, which made me want to keep reading. What came over to me was the relative humanity, spirituality and phenomenal intelligence and intuition of the man, breaking the mould of the usual push, rush and massacre military style of the age. What particularly moved me was that the epithet "Great" came about in the sixteenth century on account of his literary works and translations, not that he created the framework of England, which we see diluted even today. "In the midst of prosperity the mind is elated, and in prosperity a man forgets himself; in hardship he is forced to reflect on himself, though he be unwilling." (Alfred the Great) A psychologist or a ninth century Saxon King? Read this book.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alfred the Great 14 Nov 2009
Justin Pollard reveals a very lively character in the only Engish King called Great.
I was impressed by his assessment of the famous 'burnt cake' incident.
His attention to the study of ancient texts is also well documented. He shows clearly Alfred's passion for the introduction of wise directed learning amongst his fellows. Also Alfred's novel 'defence policy' against the sea-borne Vikings in his 'burgh system' .
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Alfred the Great 17 April 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A concise and absorbing paperback, I found the information in the book very educational and stimulating.
The photographs could be of a better quality.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in 9th-10th century Britain
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cyning sheal rice healdan 23 Jan 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Like another reviewer, I have found this to be riveting reading and I haven't finished the book yet (!) The author paces it well, explains the background without going OTT on the details and addresses successfully the intelligent lay reader. He also brings in some meaty and thought-provoking stuff, in particular the coup mounted against Alfred at Chippenham. This brings me to the title of my review, which, translated from the original Old English and therefore contemporaneous with Alfred's period, means "the king shall hold the kingdom". The author makes it clear that the nature of an "elective" king entailed the potential loss of this status if it were perceived by the "major players" in the kingdom that the king had failed precisely to do this. It also underlined the difficulties that Alfred personally faced (not just his debilitating illness) and how he had the strength of character to ultimately overcome them. If he hadn't, it's almost certain that English history would have become a much more Scandinavian history. A thoroughly enjoyable read.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Even "Greater than Great" 1 Mar 2007
Perhaps only in England, could such a truly Giant of history, be almost ignored and taken for granted , and shunted down the cul-de-sac of being a cake burner ! Alfred's achievements are staggeringly important and impressive, well nigh impossible even.

This book does an excellent job in re-establishing Alfred in our minds, as the only one of all our monarchs to be labelled "The Great".

The book is quite detailed, but not dry or too academic. It is well paced and very readable, doing it's subject great justice. Highly recommended.

Thing is, we should have Alfred as our patron saint, rather than the ridiculous one we have at that would give England some interest and national pride, to rival the other Home Countries.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The greatest English king 18 Mar 2014
After Bede this is the man with the vision of bringing the English kingdoms together as one.A man of great courage and concern for his people,and whose story has been told by Justin Pollard in this fascinating book.Along with the Penguin edition of Assers life of Alfred this book belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in how our nation came to be.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very interesting.
Published 19 days ago by zaza
5.0 out of 5 stars A very good book. Well written & very informative about Alfred's ...
A very good book. Well written & very informative about Alfred's life. Afterwards I felt I knew much more about Alfred the man as well as the king
Published 1 month ago by marmar
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyable
An easy read shedding light on the 'dark-ages' which are rarely discussed in history. Thoroughly enjoyable.
Published 1 month ago by Mr. H. E. B. Leighton
5.0 out of 5 stars An uncomplicated introduction to Alfred and the Anglo Saxon world.
I couldn't put this book down. The material is nicely presented in an easy to digest format and I felt that I had a picture of the nature of kingship in the early middle ages. Read more
Published 8 months ago by P. L. Shelley
4.0 out of 5 stars Be transported in time
This biography really made me feel that I got behind the character of the man and understood what drove him.
Published 9 months ago by Charles Richard Sinclair
4.0 out of 5 stars Far more than just the Man Who Burned the Cakes...
I've always thought it criminal that Alfred, the king who did more than any other in creating what we know today as England, is these days almost solely remembered for his mythical... Read more
Published 9 months ago by C. Ball
5.0 out of 5 stars A Page Turner
Wonderfully written, this historical biography of an incredible man and an incredible time is distinguished not just by the quality of the scholarship, but by the compelling prose. Read more
Published 10 months ago by A. Fabrizio
5.0 out of 5 stars Our greatest king
This biography of King Alfred the Great is endlessly enjoyable, thrilling and excellently researched. Read more
Published 12 months ago by RachelD
4.0 out of 5 stars Great history, great fiction 4,5 stars
This is the life of a long dead king, who lived and died in the "dark ages", when everything was terrible, and suffering was the daily bread of most part of the population. Read more
Published 16 months ago by RAMON
5.0 out of 5 stars A thorough and lively guide
This is a terrific book. Thoughtful, articulate and very easy to read, this wonderful book is much more than just a carefully conisdered life of Alfred, also discuss his immediate... Read more
Published 18 months ago by William Axtell
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