The Wise King: A Christian Prince, Muslim Spain, and the Birth of the Renaissance

Simon R. Doubleday. Basic, $29.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-465-06699-5
In this insightful biography of Alfonso X of Castile and León (1221–1284), Doubleday, a professor of history at Hofstra University and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies, illuminates the complexity of society in 13th-century Spain and, through the figure of the king, “exorcises the myth that medieval Europe was mired in a dark age.” Doubleday recounts Alfonso’s life in roughly chronological order while giving each chapter a theme—hunting, friendship, medicine, etc.—that contextualizes medieval Spanish society. Alfonso, known as the Wise, acquired and wrote books, and he ordered translations from Arabic, Hebrew, and Latin into Castilian, even commissioning a version of Muhammad’s night journey to Jerusalem. But Doubleday doesn’t paint Alfonso’s reign as utopian; much of it was spent continuing the conquest of the Muslim kingdoms, though he did join forces with them as allies when necessary. Alfonso also taxed his subjects dry to support his attempts to become the Holy Roman emperor, and at the end of his life his sons rebelled against him. Throughout, Doubleday pulls quotations from the many books that Alfonso read and wrote, letting readers into the mind of the thoughtful, devout, flawed king who desired wisdom and good governance above all. Agent: Deirdre Mullane, Mullane Literary. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 10/05/2015
Release date: 12/01/2015
Open Ebook - 336 pages - 978-0-465-07391-7
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