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Becoming Charlemagne: Europe, Baghdad, and the Empires of A.D. 800

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Becoming Charlemagne: Europe, Baghdad, and the Empires of A.D. 800 Cover

ISBN13: 9780060797072
ISBN10: 006079707x
Condition:
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On Christmas morning in the year 800, Pope Leo III placed the crown of imperial Rome on the brow of a Germanic king named Karl—a gesture that enabled the man later hailed as Charlemagne to claim his empire and forever shape the destiny of Europe. Becoming Charlemagne tells the story of the international power struggle that led to this world-changing event, illuminating an era that has long been overshadowed by myth.

For 1,200 years, the deeds of Charlemagne inspired kings and crusaders, the conquests of Napoléon and Hitler, and the optimistic architects of the European Union. In this engaging narrative, Jeff Sypeck crafts a vivid portrait of the ruler who became a legend, while evoking a long-ago world of kings, caliphs, merchants, and monks. Transporting readers far beyond Europe to the glittering palaces of Constantinople and the streets of medieval Baghdad, Becoming Charlemagne brings alive an age of empire building that continues to resonate to this day.

About the Author

Jeff Sypeck teaches medieval literature at the University of Maryland. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, among other publications. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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OneMansView, July 1, 2010 (view all comments by OneMansView)
Minimalist account of the period and Charlemagne (2.5*s)

This minimalist popular work of history, written by a medieval literature professor, attempts to shed some light on a larger than life figure from the late eighth century, the Frankish king Karl, later known as Charlemagne. The book is at best an overview of the powerful forces and individuals of the times, be they religious or military, with cursory depictions of the nature of basic life, harsh as it was, ranging geographically from northern Europe and Italy to Constantinople and Baghdad.

The author acknowledges that there is only a scanty record of Charlemagne’s life, consequently he, in the manner of historical fiction, often relies on recreation of scenarios as he imagines them or creative interpretations of the writings of various poets and religious figures, most of all of whom wrote in a flowery manner largely worded to flatter the king Karl. Charlemagne remains more an enigma than not. He appears to be a Frankish warlord of above average ability, who had a penchant for surrounding himself with some of the leading minds of the day – of course, all of whom were religious officials or monks. Karl may have had intellectual pretensions, but apparently was unable to grasp the concept of writing. It’s rather doubtful that he had some grand vision of a united Europe; he had his hands full putting down constant threats from regional rivals, especially the Saxons. The best evidence for the lack of such a vision conceived by Karl is the return to the old splintered order just years after his death.

The author begins and ends his book with the coronation of Karl as the Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III in 800 AD. The author seems to have ignored the irony of the Pope being protected by descendants of the very Germanic tribes that sacked Rome in the previous centuries. The author also gives some attention to the intrigues of the empress Irene in the eastern portion of the old Roman Empire as well as to the powerful caliph of Baghdad, who felt compelled to send Karl an elephant. Maybe the most interesting bit in the entire book is the origin of “iconoclast,” which refers to the edict of Irene’s predecessor to destroy religious idols or icons.

The book does not succeed as history. The author abruptly jumps from one subject or locale to the next with incomplete or confusing accounts of the matter at hand. In such a short book, the author has attempted to cover far too much of the world as known at that time – historical context suffers as a consequence. Furthermore, the author hardly makes clear the basis of the myth of Charlemagne. He was the most powerful European warlord during a relatively brief period of time to whom others paid homage, including the Pope. However, his influence scarcely lasted beyond his death.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780060797072
Author:
Sypeck, Jeff
Publisher:
Harper Perennial
Author:
by Jeff Sypeck
Subject:
Europe - France
Subject:
Medieval
Subject:
Historical - General
Subject:
Civilization, medieval
Subject:
History
Subject:
Europe History 476-1492.
Subject:
World History - Medieval and Renaissance
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Publication Date:
20071231
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
304
Dimensions:
8.03x5.35x.75 in. .58 lbs.

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Politics » General
History and Social Science » Sale Books
History and Social Science » Western Civilization » Medieval
History and Social Science » World History » Medieval and Renaissance

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