cover image Charlemagne


Derek A. Wilson, . . Doubleday, $26 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-385-51670-9

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)