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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

The Hand Of God In Medieval England

Alfred the Great: The Man Who Made England - Justin Pollard

Pollard's biography of Alfred is classic narrative history. There is just enough context to give meaning to the central character's actions but not so much as to upstage him. The focus is always on Alfred's personality, his mistakes, his insights, and the impact he had on the England that he helped bring into being.


Alfred's story is, of course, also the story of the Vikings and Pollard is particularly good at depicting his attitude to the cunning and ruthless Norsemen whom Alfred must have believed had been sent by God as a scourge upon an age that had failed to live up to its responsibilities.


The medieval mind-set is often difficult for the modern reader to fully take on board.  The hand of God in perceived in every twist of and turn of the plot; the imminence of divine judgement is always just around the corner; and in a world where life-expectancy was as much as thirty-five years less than for contemporary people, perhaps that is not so surprising. All of this, Pollard incorporates into his story. It forms the background against which the portrait emerges of the only English king to be given the soubriquet "Great". From Pollard's account it would appear to be a title justly deserved.