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The King in the North: The Life and Times of Oswald of Northumbria

The King in the North: The Life and Times of Oswald of Northumbria [Kindle Edition]

Max Adams
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)

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Product Description


'A triumph. The most gripping portrait of 7th-Century Britain that I have read ... A Game of Thrones in the Dark Ages' Tom Holland, The Times.

'An engagingly populist and evocative book that makes a bold and effective attempt to bring a particularly obscure period in northern British history to the general reader' Literary Review.

'This early ruler had a life, and a legacy that rivals any fable' Independent.

'Gripping, hugely enjoyable and deeply scholarly.' History Today Books of the Year.

Product Description

Oswald Whiteblade lived one of the most influential and colourful lives in early English history. Before his death in battle against the pagans of Mercia cut short his reign as king of Northumbria (634-42), he remodelled his northeastern English homeland as a Christian kingdom, founded the monastery of Lindisfarne, introduced a culture of learning which influenced all Europe, and became the most powerful ruler in Britain.

Max Adams's thrilling account rescues Oswald from Dark Age obscurity to reveal an unjustly forgotten English hero - a king whose return from exile to reclaim his birthright was the inspiration for J. R. R. Tolkien's Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. But THE KING IN THE NORTH is more than just a biography of the first great English monarch; it is a stunningly researched, wide-ranging, beautifully written and revelatory portrait of early medieval England in all its aspects.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2814 KB
  • Print Length: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Head of Zeus (29 Aug 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00CGOD5K0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #21,679 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Website: for updates, news and other writing matters.

The King in the North is the first ever biography of a brilliant but obscure warlord and saint who straddles the transition between pagan and Christian worlds. Oswald was famed across Europe both before and after death: a powerful symbol of Dark Age heroism even though the reality of his life was brutal and short; a real life Beowulf or Aragorn. I have tried to construct a geography and political history of Britain in the 7th century to bring Oswald's dynasty, the Idings, to life. In doing so I hope readers will begin to see how the English state was born of their attempts to impose an idea of a rational kingship on a landscape of political chaos. The book has been beautifully produced by Head of Zeus: there are ample maps; genealogies to help fathom the complexity of unfamiliar names; and timelines to clarify the chronology. In a colour picture section images evoke aspects of Oswald's world - the world of the Lindisfarne gospels, of Sutton Hoo and the Staffordshire hoard.

An archaeologist turned historian, I was born in London in 1961, though for the last fifteen years or so I've lived in the North-east of England. My interest in Collingwood came about because I was asked to make a film about him. When I went to buy a book for my research I found there hadn't been one for forty-odd years: he was either very dull or very neglected. I'm glad it was the latter - few biographers still admire their subjects when they have spent years with them.

John Martin, the painter of seemingly lunatic biblical apocalypses and brother of the man who tried to burn down York Minster, is another neglected Geordie, but he turned into something rather different: the hub of a social and intellectual circle which included his friends Turner, Constable, the Brunels, Michael Faraday, Charles Babbage and William Godwin. When Karl Marx came along dressed as Prometheus I had my story. It took ages to get a publisher, but Quercus rescued me; we were rewarded with a very flattering Guardian Book of the Week review which adorns the new paperback.

My third historical biography,The King in the North , featuring the Dark Age Northumbrian King and saint Oswald Whiteblade, is to be published by Head of Zeus to coincide with the return to the North-East of the Lindisfarne Gospels in Summer 2013. In Summer 2012 I walked from Durham to Glasgow, in part tracing the route of the early saints and kings through the Anglo-Scottish Borders. It's my third serious walking expedition after the West Highland Way and the notorious Corsican GR20. See my website for more on these travels.

I am currently a Consultant Fellow with the Royal Literary Fund. My new book, called The Wisdom of Trees, is released in October 2014; my next project is called In the Land of Giants. It's a series of ten journeys through the Dark Age landscapes of Britain, for release in October 2015.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading 14 Sep 2013
By Gareth Wilson - Falcata Times Blog TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
An historical title and one that whilst I had heard of the subject (Oswald) was not one I knew too much about and to be honest in a culture where a lot of the heroes we get to read about are from invaders such as the Anglo Saxon's Beowulf, here we get the story of a home grown hero, a man who took his birthright, brought his kingdom under Christianity and won as well as lost his kingdom by the sword alongside having influence throughout the UK.

It's a tale that is an absolute epic on its own and deserving of the time to be brought to the fore. What Max does is sort out fact from fable, delves into the historical writings and brings this to the modern reader in a friendly as well as understandable manner. All round a great book and one that, whilst it took a while to get through, was one that I was more than happy I spent the time reading. Great stuff.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Much more than only about Oswald... 19 Jun 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
King of the North is supposed to be about “the life and times of Oswald of Northumbria”, as the book subtitle hints at. Written in an entertaining way and targeted at the general reader, this book is much more than that, with Oswald of Northumbria being almost a pretext for telling a much wider story over a much longer period than the mere eight years during which this warrior-king reigned. In a way, this is just as well, given how little real historical information we can really rely upon.

This is perhaps the first merit because the author, who clearly knows his topic and has done his research, manages to tell the story of most of Anglo-Saxon England over a period of about four centuries, with a special focus on its northern parts, while still being able to link this to Oswald. Part of this is achieved through the pretext of providing necessary context while events subsequent to the warrior-King’s death are also described as part of the King’s legacy or as part of the growth of his legend.

Another interesting feature is the provision of chronologies for each of the book’s major sections. While these may be tentative than the author cares to admit, and also largely reflects his assumptions, choices or even educated guesses in some cases, there is no denying how helpful they are for the reader who would very likely be confused or even lost in their absence.

A third focus and strong point of this book, although there are many others as well that I will be unable to mention in this limited review, is the emphasis put on the King or, perhaps more accurately, the paramount warlord. The author clearly shows to what extent the king’s power was essentially personal.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A view from the north 16 Sep 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Max Adams very readable biography of Oswald is steeped in a long love affair with the subject and region and an enthusiasm to share that with others.

In presenting his story he doesn't ignore the difficulties of the paucity or contradictory nature of his sources and draws deeply on his background in archaeology. I finished the book with a far better understanding of a fascinating period in the regions history and Oswald's place in it.

A minor point. As Old English names and words crop up frequently in the book, not least in the epigraphs which head each chapter, it would have been helpful to have a short pronunciation guide.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic tale 24 Sep 2013

Some non fiction reviewing for a change: A great book on the subject of Oswald Whiteblade, amazingly someone I knew little about, and that is a bit of an embarrassment for me and more so for the Historical education provided to me at school. The World of Historical fiction opens us up to so many tales about so many rich and wonderful periods and people, i'm amazed that not one writer has taken on the rich tapestry that is Oswald. A man so influential in his time that he inspired Tolkien to create the character Aragorn one of the most notable names in Fantasy fiction, converted a kingdom to Christianity, became the powerful figure in Britain. Truly a man to span the genres.

Now I like many can steer away from non fiction at times as a bit dry and detailed, with no prose worth the description. But this book is beautifully written, in such a style its very easy to forget its non fiction, to get swept up in the history, the people and the period, to call it an epic tale would not be going too far, an epic tale written for the average reader, never talking down to you, sifting the fact from the fiction and painting a vivid clear image of a man, a king and a forgotten legend.

What i need now is someone to write the fictional account of his life.... there is a whole series here guys!


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Light on the "Dark Ages" 1 April 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A very well researched, and written, exploration of the events and people in an age which is generally very little understood, or even discussed, in our own times.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't miss this. 28 Nov 2013
By kt
I don't have a lot to add to the previous reviews, except to say that this is such a readable book. I admire it (and also earlier books by Max Adams) for the elegant combination of good history and a fluent and chatty style.
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This is a decent and very solid account of Northumbria and the relations between its kings and external powers in the 6th and 7th centuries. The book emphasizes the coming to power of Oswald and his brother and draws parallels with fictional characters like Aragorn implying that Tolkien may have based Aragon's story on that Oswald which is by no means impossible as Tolkien was an expert on these times.

I have a couple of reservations - firstly in this book Oswald is cast is the role of a hero retaking his birthright after being wrongly deprived of it by his uncle Edwin. the author rather brushes under the carpet the fact that Edwin in turn had his throne usurped by Oswald's father, Aethefrith. In truth these individuals are mixed and grey and both heroic and scheming in equal measure. That could have been expressed a bit more clearly perhaps. My other concern is that the author treats aethelfriths invasions of about 593 as a historical fact and did not debate the fact that it could have taken place as late as 603 changing Edwin's expulsion from that of an infant to that of a teenager. A pendantic point? Well this is a historical biography so a passing mention about the historical debate and uncertainty would have been expected.

This is a biography of OSwald and his successors and so I can forgive the author's bias a bit on that count. There is no doubt that Oswald had a major role to play in the development of NOrthumbria and in turn the history of the English race. This book gives a pretty good overview and is a welcome addition to a poorly understood period.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A cracking read
Brilliantly researched..packed with absorbing read
Published 38 minutes ago by stephen paul copping
5.0 out of 5 stars clear, lively and informative
This is a erudite and enjoyable book. I am no historian but Adams is skilled at manipulating facts and applying insight to create a picture of how life probably was in these... Read more
Published 8 hours ago by Cillet Bang
5.0 out of 5 stars good read and reference
Had read previously on kindle but best in print for reference.
Published 8 days ago by jminelly
4.0 out of 5 stars I am finding this book quite difficult to read, ...
I am finding this book quite difficult to read, a little dry and some of the names are awkward to remember, and fit in the run of things, carry on, persevere, and I'm sure it will... Read more
Published 10 days ago by Johnw
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
Could not get into it.
Published 10 days ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Ideal for the historian but complex for the average reader.
Published 19 days ago by Frederick Alan Bousfield
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting history record.
This is very enlightening, history in my schooling was nothing but names of kings/queens and dates, very boring. This book is a really good read.
Published 20 days ago by fred bloggs
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth a read
Fascinating, illuminating, and written with flair.
Published 27 days ago by Rachel Wright
3.0 out of 5 stars not really about Oswald...
What I learned from this book was much less about Oswald himself than about the fabric of early medieval England and the mechanisms by which its rather ephemeral polities were... Read more
Published 28 days ago by Nick Jones
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
An interesting take on a character in Anglo-Saxon history; but it's NOT Games of Thrones!
Published 29 days ago by Peter
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