This incredible biography, without question the best ever written about Charlemagne in the English language and one of the greatest biographies of the 20th century, is a thrilling and poignant chronicle of the greatest of Medieval kings. We follow the young king in his early years as he assumes control over a divided kingdom, as co-ruler of the Germanic Franks along with his brother Carloman. When Carloman dies, Charlemagne assumes sole ownership of the crown and immediately begins his expansionist policy, first subduing the Lombards in Italy, then taking on the savage pagan Saxons. As his empire grows, Charlemagne proves himself a genius at military and civil administration. The Byzantine Emperor and Caliph of Baghdad held him in high esteem and acknowledged him as the successor to the western Roman emperors. But it was his great Christian faith and compassion that marked him out for greatness. He was a first rate scholar-humanist and surrounded himself with the greatest minds of Europe. As a fervent son of the church, it was Charlemagne more than anyone else who charted the course of the Catholic Church. As never before or since, Charlemagne held an empire in thrall as both its temporal and spiritual leader.
©1954 Estate of Richard Winston; (P)2004 Audio Connoisseur
"It remains the best life of Charlemagne in English." (The Saturday Review)
This was an exceptional audiobook. I knew a little about Charlemagne going in, but this is a comprehensive biography that is very colorful and highly interesting. I did not know that Charlemagne had such an influence on the church. I also didn't know what a lady's man he was. The writing is as good as you could want in a biography like this, scholarly but not pedantic. The author keeps it interesting, though he really packs a lot into this work. The description of his struggle with the Saxons was memorable to say the least. Don't miss this if you like medieval history. Great narrator.
This book makes fascinating reading of medieval history, and manages to create a highly human overview of Charlemagne's reign from what must be rather meagre pickings after 1200 years, at least with respect to the personal letters and evidence of internal family happenings of such an heroic figure. The author takes great pains to convey where he may have questionable historical footing about his assumptions; thus the majority of the book rings solid and true. I would recommend it highly to anyone wishing to have a broader understanding of European history -- for me it was an important bridge from the Roman times to the history of England and Europe beginning with 1066. It is far easier to study this history with a human subject as a focal point, and this book builds heavily on that approach.
The printed book may well have a list of characters which would be very helpful to keep all the unusual names straight. If it were possible to do so with copyright issues being raised, it would be great if Audible would provide some backup information for a book like this one.
I can't say enough great things about this book. If you are used to reading biographies of modern statesmen, you may be a bit put off at first, because obviously you will not find as many direct quotations or independent accounts of a ruler from the 8th century. Nonetheless, the author somehow manages to bring Charlemagne to life for us, creating not only a strong sense of personality but also a sense of the way that personality changed as the young ruler matured.
I also admire the way the author combines scholarship with humility. There are occasional points at which he lays out a mystery, gives some of the contending theories, and then reveals his own view -- always based on reasonable inferences from the available evidence, and always presented as hypothesis rather than fact. Many writers would not show so even a hand.
I once heard a professor of history remark that the whole idea of the "Dark Ages" was a modern conceit, and that it was important to remember that people who lived in those times had minds just as philosophically subtle as our own, even if they didn't have electricity or antibiotics. This book drives that point home in spades.
The effort in this terrific book is in becoming familiar with Germanic names. Events I suffered through in college over 40 years ago came alive and took on the meaning for me my teachers could only dream about. In some ways the book is a study in true leadership as well as the revelation of an extraordinary person in an extraordinary time. The details in this biography are welcome enhancements to the story, rather than mere historical events. The writer bridges the gap of more than 1300 years so well that the book actually seems modern. I look forward to a second listen.
"From the Hammer to the Cross". This audiobook is EXCELLENT. The author narrates with great responsibility and precision the life (and times) of Charlemagne from his ancestor (The Hammer) to his disappointing heir (The Cross). The main character is brought to life in a very special way: he seems like one's close acquaintance once you get to know him. We are, unwittingly, familiarized with the whole world history of his time (at least the one that matters): Empress Irene and successors in Constatinople, Harun-Al-Rashid in Bagdad, The kings of Mercia and the petty kingdoms of northern Spain. Another interesting feature is the portrayal of the ambivalent and complex relationship between our character and the popes (Stephen, Hadrian and Leo). It's like a novel, only better because it isn't. Buy this audiobook, it will make you a better person (or at least better informed).
This book takes a bit of work to listen to. The reader has an English accent, an echo is added to the quotes, and there is medieval filler music between chapters. The effect is a bit like watching a filmstrip or movie in high school, between the production style and the stories of unfamiliar people like Pepin, Charles Martel, and the like. This does make it educational, however and overall the book is pretty good. Being the biography of an emperor it emphasizes political history more than social. I'm finding that I like social history better, but there were enough nuggets of information on regular life that the book was good for me. Specifically, I always wondered why you couldn't just live on your piece of land and be left alone. Now I know.
If you are interested in Charlemagne and the history of his time, the book is worthwhile but plan on working some to get through it.
When I bought this title, I was thinking, "This will be good for me to learn; it might even be interesting at times." I was surprised to find the book never had any dull spots. I did learn so many interesting things that helped set a great backdrop for the roots of France and Germany, feudalism, the history of education, the Vikings, the Ottoman Empire's rise, and even the Norman invasion of England in subsequent centuries. That I was able to become so much more knowledgable about a time and person we only hear little about while enjoying a biography that was so readable was wonderful!
This audiobook successfully brings to life the politics of the middle ages, a period that is little studied in secondary or post-secondary institutions. You get to know Charlemagne ... Charles ... the dynastic machinations, complex relationship with the Vatican, incessant warring among the former "barbarian" groups that overthrew Rome a few hundred years before. I think I would have benefitted by having a map of the period in front of me, since I struggled to understand what was happening where. But that is my own fault, not the book's fault. The narration was peculiar ... with the quotations delivered as if in an echo chamber, to differentiate it from the regular text. But I found that endearing, not irritating. This is a fairly heavy history volume, and the style of narration made it much easier to take that is sometimes the case with other history audiobooks.
I felt this was the best historical account from the middle ages I've ever heard/read. I recommend this book to anyone interested in history and to anyone with questions about the Catholic Church, Charlemagne, or the Byzantine Empire.
The quality of the production was very good. The content was even better. I knew very little about Charlemange prior to listening to the book. Now I know more than I can remember. The author was thoughough and thoughtful. Except for the occasional speculation regarding the internal thoughts of some of the historical figures, I really enjoyed listening.
I was bit doubtful about this because of the comments in other reviews about it being dry and about the narrator's voice.
I didn't find it dry at all - it was a very easy, engrossing listen.
I too though found the narrator's voice distracting. It's very plummy; sounding English, but with some American pronunciations, such as 'dynasty' and a strange pronunciation of Bede as 'beedy' (which may be technically correct, but isn't how he's known today). I found myself thinking at times about where the narrator is from rather than listening to what he was saying.
That said, the distraction wasn't enough to put me off the book
"Dry but informative"
This book is slow and meticulous but very informative. Having never known much about the medieval Europe, I am certainly now much better informed about at least one aspect of it. At times I rather chafed against the length of the book, at other times I felt very soothed by the gentle exposition of political history. When it finished I rather wished there had been more of it. I was certainly left with a deep respect for Charlemagne himself.
"strange accent, old fashioned history"
I wish I'd read the reviews first. I really think that audible should warn you that a book is over 50 years old. The way the history is handled is very old fashioned: full of confident assertions about people's character and motivation, very little about economic and cultural factors. Sources aren't evaluated very seriously and we are treated to the author's confident view of what happened and why with hardly any suggestion of alternative readings. The narrator's accent is weird too; it's a kind of stage RP, but moves into a more marked form in places ("awf" for "off" etc.) a's sometimes become o's and along with other oddities "sycophant" ends up as "psychofont". I wonder how long ago the Saturday Review said this was the best biography of Charlemagne in English.
"Made an interesting figure dull"
The writing could have been less fancy. The author had that unpleasant historian quirk of placing trying to sound clever above trying to sound clear.
Probably some fiction to cleanse the palatte eg "Dangerous women" anthology or a science book eg "the inexplicable universe". Something that moves along fast and is focused.
His overfly flowery pronunciation of words - particuraly his insistence on pronouncing vowels so they sound like other vowels. I guess it matched the style of writing though.
While I didn't enjoy the writing style and found many aspects tedious there were still some enjoyable moments especially when the author came to life while dispute contentious interpretations of history.
"Slightly dated but enjoyable nonetheless"
Probably not, but only because I think I've absorbed from it all I can/ need to.
This is a history, not a drama, so the 'high points' are those experienced by Charlemagne himself. The most important is probably his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor, after a campaign of many years to acquire that title. The book puts this event into a setting that helps the reader understand what it meant to Charlemagne, and why.
Dated but not offensive. Many others have criticised Griffin's performance, and I understand why: he sounds like a supercilious throwback to the 1950's (a BBC announcer or university lecturer, perhaps). However, this book is a creature of that time, with many assertions about Charlemagne's state of mind, thoughts etc which are clearly the author's projections; and once I hit on the idea of thinking of this as an account spoken by someone like a history don from the 1960's (it was written in 1968), I found Griffin's delivery a coherent and even enjoyable part of the overall presentation.
No; it's a factual history which is not intended to arouse emotion. However, it is not just a recitation of facts, but rather an attempt to present Charlemagne in context, and to give some insight (albeit mainly speculative and perhaps rather superficial and uncritical) into his personality and mind.
This book (and the performance) reflects the historical approach of its time, but is none the worse for that as long as you realise it. I found it an enjoyable and worthwhile book from which I learned a lot about Charlemagne and the individuals around him. We would probably not write history this way now, but I found the book laid out very well the scope of this extraordinary man's achievements.
The narration style makes it nearly impossible for me to listen to it, shame because the content is fascinating
A less breathy and urgent style. It sounded like someone trying to enthuse a bored audience of teenagers in a topic the narrator believed to be boring
The 'set' questions offered for reviewers are inappropriate for this type of book. The book covers a fascinating period of history and a remarkable character who played an important part in the development of Europe. It deserved better narration
"Interesting but of its time"
Written in the 1950's in quite a high blown style. If you've read Winston Churchill's "This Sceptered Isle" you'll know what to expect. It's a very heavily researched, comprehensive study of Charlemagne and as an Englishman with a shamefully thin knowledge of European history I found it interesting throughout. However, the narration is a bit disconserting in its oratorical style and the periodic sound effects, while demonstrating that the producers were really trying to add the experience, just serve to reinforce the fact that this now seems a very stylised and slightly anachronistic piece.
"dramatisation - not an audiobook"
This is not a reading of a text, but rather a dramatisation complete with gregorian chanting in the background (and other sound effects), and a narrator who would be more at home on in radio play. I found these very irritating and gave up after 20 mins. I can't comment on the content as I couldn't get past the sound effects...
"great book poor naration"
The content was very good but was spoiled by the narration. Charlton Griffin appears to have done many audio books but narrates with no intonation, pitch, variation or context reference to the text, reading every word as if unconnected to the others around it. this made the book difficult to listen to despite its' content.
A fascinating historical figure no doubt, but enjoyment of this book ruined by the narrator Charlton Griffin who cannot pronounce simple worlds like 'envoy' (despite a plummy hammy accent) and horrible special effects such as 'echoes' when quoting ancient authorities. The book is definitely dated and I wonder if there is a more modern English biography that uses more up to date research and is a little less dominated by the cultural prejudices of the mid 20th century.
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