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Alfred the Great: Asser's Life of King Alfred & Other Contemporary Sources (Penguin Classics) Paperback – January 3, 1984


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Alfred the Great: Asser's Life of King Alfred & Other Contemporary Sources (Penguin Classics) + The Anglo-Saxons + The Ecclesiastical History of the English People; The Greater Chronicle; Bede's Letter to Egbert (Oxford World's Classics)
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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (January 3, 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140444092
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140444094
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,968 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English, Latin (translation)

About the Author

Little is known of Asser beyond this work. Simon Keynes is Reader in Anglo-Saxon History at Cambridge University. He is the author of The Diplomas of King Aethelred 'the Unready' and of numerous articles on Anglo-Saxon history. Michael Lapidge is Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Cambridge University and a Fellow of Clare College. He has translated the Latin writings of Aldhelm and is the author of numerous books on Latin literature.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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This book provides a great deal of insight on his life and accomplishments.
Christopher R. Travers
One fact which comes shining through, for example, is that he viewed his kingship as a personal and moral responsibility and approached it with great seriousness.
E. A. Kinzel
These inconsistencies were all noted by Alfred Smyth in his book "King Alfred the Great".
W Greenhalf

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 75 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
The author of this book (Asser) was a contemporary of King Alfred's and was brought to Wessex (Alfred's kingdom) in the ninth century as part of Alfred's plan to improve education and culture in Anglo-Saxon England. The text is highly readable and gives students an eyewitness account of Alfred's kingship: military successes and failures (esp. fighting the Vikings), advancement of English culture and education, consolidation of the seven kingdoms, and cultivation of Christian kingship in the Early Middle Ages. This kind of book is especially fun for students to read as it shows us "real history," including things such as Alfred's 20-year fight with some sort of intestinal disorder. We see Alfred as a man, not just an aloof, wooden figure that died long ago. This edition also includes maps, geneological charts of the Carolingian (i.e., "French") kings and the English kings up to Alfred, and a 29-page introduction by Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge, which provides excellent background on the period in which Alfred and Asser lived. Also included are excerpts from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which was begun in Alfred's reign, extracts of Alfred's own writings and translations, and miscellaneous primary sources such as letters, books, and documents of the era. These items make good backgrounding for teachers. When this biography is read together with the Arthurian legend, it helps students to compare the real and the ideal kings of the Middle Ages.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By E. A. Kinzel on August 28, 2009
Format: Paperback
I am very fond of Penguin Classics, which combine a primary text with a thorough scholarly background. Sometimes I read part of the supplementary material, or none at all, or I read parts of it at my leisure later. In the case of this book, I read it in its entirety, from cover to cover.

Alfred was an extraordinary character. He had lifelong health problems of an unknown nature, yet was a proven and tenacious warrior. He reorganized his country's system of defense, and even designed a new type of ship to combat the Vikings (the details of which are tantalizingly unknown to us), yet he was also deeply interested in religious and literary matters, and fostered a renewal of learning and literacy in his kingdom.

When he took the throne, in 871, he was 23 years old, and the internal and international situation was deeply troublesome. Most of the petty Saxon and Angle kingdoms had "made peace" with the Vikings, a euphemistic term for paying them protection money in exchange for being left unmolested by the Viking armies. At the time of Alfred's ascension to the throne, in fact, a Viking army was more or less living year-round in Wessex. After a period of battling for survival, Alfred patiently gathered his strength for several years, finally uniting under his rule all English territories outside of the Viking Danelaw.

This book has more than 40 pages of introductory material, dealing with the historical background of Alfred's reign, including a portrait of his biographer Asser, as well as the numerous maps and genealogical tables one has come to expect from Penguin. The volume also includes extracts from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which are relevant to King Alfred, as well as from various charters, wills, and laws promulgated by him.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Christopher R. Travers on July 18, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Alfred the Great is most popularly known as the king who burned the cakes. However, he was also the king who saved England from being entirely overrun by the Vikings, and he laid the groundwork for his daughter's campaigns which conquered the Viking settlements and territory in England. This book provides a great deal of insight on his life and accomplishments.

This book contains an extensive introduction which is substantially longer than any of the sources provided in the book, as well as the key contemporary sources regarding the life of Alfred the Great. These sources include the biography written of him by Bishop Asser, the relevant portions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, translation of key religious works translated into Old English by Alfred the Great himself, and finally various legal documents authored by him.

The book also includes an appendix which examines the authenticity of the cake-burning story among other things, and extensive end-notes that make up approximately half of the volume.

All in all, this is a well put together sourcebook regarding the life of what was arguably England's greatest king. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John E. Horisk on January 3, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I am not a historian.
Seemed like a good read that offers a contemporaneous look into the man about whom this period likely revolves. I will come to know more as I read more (reading Bede's "Ecclesiastic History of the English People" now). Although there are may acknowledged limitations in both this and Bede, it is a beginning and worth the effort and cost to me.
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