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After Bede, it's a bit of a let-down!
on 21 April 2002
...Primarily, of the 368 pages which make up the book, around 180 pages are notes on the numerous sources covered. This is a necessary evil I suppose, but it's extremely irritating to have to refer to the back of the book every five minutes, and you do feel as if the editors had been a little too extravegant in detail. Secondly, Asser, the Welsh clergyman who actually wrote 'The Life of Alfred' uses a very scratchy form of expression, and the language is not at all captivating, even though he's writing over 150 years after Bede. Also, the Welshman is very economical with detail, in that he'll mention something and leave it at that, without even attempting to expand. This is the same as the 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' entries included, although they don't actually strive to be a biography, just a record of events.
On the other hand, there are many good points about this book...
Firstly, Asser's work..., does give us a glimpse of one of the greatest humans ever to grace English soil, and lend us an insight into the type of man Alfred was, as a ruler, a soldier, a scholar, and a friend, as well as his being a religious man. The 'Chronicle' entries compliment this, as do 'Alfred's Will' as well as his own prefaces to numerous religious works like Pope Gregory's 'Pastoral Care'. As well as this, the reader has to forgive Asser his short-comings, as he was writing in a Viking-infested age, where the threat of war seemed ever-present.
To sum up then, this book is a bit of an enigma. If you can do without it, try to, but don't be afraid to use it for research. Alternatively, this is not a light read, and if you've already read the 'Historia Ecclesiastica', you'll be a little disappointed.