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Charlemagne Hardcover – June 6, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Christian warrior, scholar prince, pilgrim saint and emperor, Charlemagne (742–814) has influenced modern rulers from Napoleon to Charles de Gaulle. As acclaimed British historian Wilson (Tudor Tapestry: Men, Women, and Society in Reformation England) points out in this fast-paced biography, the Frankish king who was named emperor by the pope brought civilization and peace to Europe in the Early Middle Ages. An acquisitive king intent on expanding Francia's borders and connecting politics and religion, Charles the Great, according to Wilson, is responsible for the shape of Europe as we know it today. Wilson deftly chronicles Charlemagne's military exploits, political intrigues and religious devotion. In addition to his military leadership, the emperor initiated a revival of humane learning (the Carolingian Renaissance) and the establishment of a clerical hierarchy that could preach, administer the sacraments properly and oversee matters of the empire. Although, as Wilson points out, Charlemagne's sometimes megalomaniacal personality drove his armies to the brink of disaster, he fostered a unity and a culture in his empire that have lasted to modern times. Maps. (On sale June 6)
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From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–A fascinating introduction to the ruler and his world. Several features help readers navigate this complicated era. A genealogy of the Carolingian dynasty helps keep track of Charlemagne's large family. A time line from his birth (742) to the division of his empire (843) lists significant events in Francia, the Byzantine Empire, Western Christendom, and the Islamic world. Nine maps trace the changes in the borders of the empires and the routes of invaders, and 16 pages of color pictures show how legends about Charlemagne captured the attention of artists and craftsmen through the ages. Using a variety of primary and secondary sources, Wilson's account reads like an adventure story. The author comments on the reliability of his sources even as he faithfully quotes them. Charlemagne's intellectual pursuits, his ideas about faith, and his visions for his empires are also covered. Wilson shows how Charlemagne's image changed after his death and over the centuries. Sometimes, he was revered as the world's greatest warrior; at other times, as a saint or a philosopher king. Each age re-created him in a new light, and Wilson demonstrates how the empire he built led to the development of the European identity.–Kathy Tewell, Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (June 6, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385516703
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385516709
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #560,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Derek Wilson is a leading historian of the Tudor period whose acclaimed works include: 'Henry VIII: Reformer and Tyrant', 'The English Reformation: How England was transformed by the Tudors', 'After the Storm: The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther', 'Uncrowned Kings of England: The Black Legend of the Dudleys' and biographies of Thomas Walsingham, the Earl of Leicester, Hans Holbein and Thomas More. He is currently working on 'Mrs Luther's Sisters: What Women did for the Reformation and the Reformation did for Women'.

His current fiction writing, under the name D.K. Wilson, is a series of mid-Tudor whodunits, 'The First Horseman' and 'The Traitor's Mark', featuring London goldsmith Thomas Treviot.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 60 people found the following review helpful By David Roy on June 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The nations of Europe have been homes to various wars for centuries, until a bunch of the countries got together after the Second World War to create a common economic market, and perhaps prevent any more of these conflicts. It created a form of European identity that has now become the European Union. But the *idea* of Europe, a unified area of diverse cultures that nevertheless falls under the rule of one authority, can be traced back to Charlemagne, the Frankish emperor of the late 8th and early 9th centuries. In his new book, Charlemagne, Derek Wilson examines the emperor's life, but he also examines the myth of Charlemagne through the ages. He looks at how subsequent rulers have used the Charlemagne for their own ends, and how his attempts to conquer and hold together as much of Europe as possible, to have one Europe, has been a precursor to what we have now. Many rulers have tried to duplicate his achievements, but none of them have done so as completely, or perhaps as fairly, as Charlemagne did, even if it was done through conquest.

Charlemagne is a fairly short book, but it does pack a lot of information into it. Wilson begins by giving a short history of Europe up until the time of Charlemagne's birth, including an interesting set of maps, one of which is the European Economic Community in 1957 and one that is the extent of Charlemagne's empire in 814. The two look very similar, with only the southern part of Italy not being included in Charlemagne's area. Food for thought, but Wilson goes on to say that, while Charlemagne's story demonstrates this desire for unity, it is basically a story, full of military actions, barbarian invasions, and political/religious intrigue.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful By L. Berlin on November 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I found Derek Wilson's book on Charlemagne fascinating, not so much for the life of Charlemagne which is interesting, but for his ability to put Charlemagne into context. The biographical part of this book is quite short and does not provide a huge amount of detail. Rather it is a well-written review of the life of the true and mythical figure that has become Charlemagne.

Wilson's ability to put the life and myth of Charlemagne into context is excellent. It begins with the placing of Charlemagne into the battles and debates of his own life. It continues through the immediate successors of Charlemagne and the split of his "empire." His chapters on the use of Charlemagne in literature and the other arts after his death is fascinating. The use of Charlemagne for dynastic legitimacy is also made clear on multiple levels- beginning with the political and religious.

The book sheds light on many facets of the middle ages and early renaissance through these explorations. As a result I was left with a few overwhelming impressions. First the vibrancy of a period commonly referred to as the dark ages. Second, the amazing ability for idea to travel even before modern printing, easy roads, and the paper-let alone the internet. Man's ability to expand his horizons, or impair them, becomes apparent. The book also brought up many questions for future exploration in my mind, such as the role of Byzantium, the fourth crusade, the establishment of dynastic power post-Charlemagne and the papacy and reformation. I consider this a positive.

In the end, to summarize, I recommend this book to those interested in Charlemagne, his legacy, and the development of a modern Europe.
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful By lordhoot on June 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Derek Wilson's biography on Charlemagne proves to be well written and nicely researched book. Its pretty short but to the point. The life story of Charlemagne related to this book probably won't add much to those who got a good background on his life already. It basically geared toward novice readers on the subject. However, what make Wilson's book bit more interesting was how he related Charlemagne's concept of an European empire into today's context. The book spent much time discussing the elements of modern European Union concepts and how it traced back to Charlemagne's. The book also followed the mythology of Charlemagne as each secceding would-be European conquerors would used him as an example, guide or symbol to their own needs. In some ways, the author made this ruler of Dark Age Europe, important to the way we see the economic and political unity of Europe today.

Thus, I can joined the previous reviewer in saying that I whole heartedly recommended this book to anyone who have a slightest interest in this subject and maybe,that reader might gain some insight as well on the concepts of the origin of European unity.

(Reason I didn't give "five" stars was that biographically wise, there wasn't anything truly new written here.)
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Will on September 10, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There have been numerous more reviews since I bought this book, and although most are highly positive, it is important to note that this book is not a biography, and is generally quite disappointing. Rather, it reads like an Op Ed piece, with many claims having little in supportive evidence or references (e.g., Europe was defined by the Carolingians, the Papacy and Celtic missionaries?), and references to modern history (3rd Reich and Co.). The book does not flow smoothly, with many forward references and jumps in time. Not recommended.
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