Battle of the Books Alfred the Great by Justin Pollard Vs. The White Horse King by Benjamin Merkle

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: He did more than just whoop the Vikings.

Quick synopsis: Biography of Alfred the Great, England’s first king (well, kinda. It is a super long story about who the first “king” is and well, let’s just assume he is.)

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Alfred the Great was the first English ruler who showed the Vikings who’s boss.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: The book is filled with them. I’ll pick Alfred’s ingenious use of country planning to ensure he could always have a military force in the field by taking into account distance and the harvest.

My Take: Pollard and Merkle have no business making these books so good on so many fronts. The biggest challenge with this time period is a severe lack of documentation and scholarship to pull from. Luckily, Alfred was pretty learned and at least provided more than most. Additionally, I love that Pollard in particular will indicate a story may be apocryphal but doesn’t shoot it down entirely. Let us have some fun!

Both books go chronologically through Alfred’s life and builds a clear portrait of the would-be king. Both books take all the stories told about the young Alfred and gives us a three-dimensional character who is not without his faults but is also clearly special for his time.

Most people will remember Alfred for extinguishing the Viking threat (just kidding, only nerds know that). Pollard and Merkle give us plenty of detail in this regard both good and bad for Alfred. I was personally impressed how well everything flowed throughout both. They do not drag.

And seriously, it should drag when Pollard starts explaining the non-warfare changes Alfred made to England. But it doesn’t! I never thought I could care about how a burh came into being but here we are. I won’t spoil it from you.

Verdict: Read either book. Even if you don’t necessarily like this time period, Pollard and Merkle make it worth your while.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Michael Jones, The Black Prince: England’s Greatest Medieval Warrior
  • Kristin Downey, Isabella
  • Robert K. Massie, Peter the Great
  • Robert K. Massie, Catherine the Great
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Battle of the Books Alfred the Great by Justin Pollard Vs. The White Horse King by Benjamin Merkle
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