The best books on King Alfred the Great

Many authors have picked their favorite books about King Alfred the Great and why they recommend each book.

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By Seamus Heaney,

Book cover of Beowulf

Beowulf is fascinating because it was written in Angle-land, probably Suffolk, probably in the 900s AD, when the Angles (Southern Scandinavians) held sway, with the Danes in Northumbria and Mercia, before the Anglo Saxons began to create the first truly English dynasty in Alfred the Great. It tells of a hero from Geats (in modern Sweden, possibly in the 600s AD) who rids the king of the Danes of the monster Grendel. Of all the translations Seamus Heany is the most vigorous and beautiful, and I often return to it as a reference.

Who am I?

I write about mythology, history, art, music, and cosmology. I also write science fiction. Mythology for me is an expression of a people trying to explain the world around them within the limits of their own knowledge. We are the same. Our search to understand the origins of the universe are limited by our language and mathematics, as were the Scandinavians who discovered countries for the first time, always expanding their horizons and adapting their legends accordingly. The Vikings had a rare vitality that sprang from every mythic tale and I love to explore both the deep origins of their worldview, and their influence in the cultures of today.

I wrote...

Norse Myths

By Jake Jackson (editor),

Book cover of Norse Myths

What is my book about?

Vikings are probably the greatest warriors of the Western world. A fierce, passionate people the various tribes that spearheaded the Scandinavian invasions harried and burned a path through Europe and far beyond. From the early Medieval years, they fundamentally affected the culture of Russia, France, Britain, and sought gold, trade, and farmland as far as the Americas and Arabia, North Africa, and Asia. They were deeply religious with powerful Gods such as Odin, Thor, and Loki whose muscular exploits have fuelled the superhero phenomenon of today, with their classic heroic themes of conquest, friendship, fate, and loyalty.

This book is an excellent introduction and part of a series on popular mythology offering the dramatic tales of myths from traditions around the world.

The Last Kingdom

By Bernard Cornwell,

Book cover of The Last Kingdom

Cornwell’s books still never fail to entertain me. His descriptions of battle scenes are without peer and the narrative never lags. If one can accept Cornwell’s delightfully honest admission that he sometimes plays fast-and-loose with the historical facts (he did this in his earlier Sharpe series, as well), then the reader will have a thoroughly fun read.

Who am I?

I am a retired professor of anthropology. I was first drawn to archaeology after a high-school presentation by a Classics master on the ruins of Paestum. I have enjoyed exploring the past but have a special passion for Greece. Because of my working-class origin in Liverpool, England, class struggle and the fight for human dignity has been a leitmotif of first my academic and now my fiction writing. My books explore how war inevitably changes the lives of the characters. I have bachelors and graduate degrees from Cambridge University and the University of Calgary. I'm a Fellow of the Society of Antiquities. I hope you enjoy the books on my list!

I wrote...

The Village: A Novel of Wartime Crete

By Philip Duke,

Book cover of The Village: A Novel of Wartime Crete

What is my book about?

The Nazi war machine steamrollers its way through Europe, but an obscure Cretan village stands in its way and says no!

A Cretan village confronts the Nazi juggernaut sweeping across Europe. A village matriarch tries to hold her family together...Her grieving son finds a new life in the Cretan Resistance... A naive English soldier unwillingly finds the warrior in himself...And a fanatical German paratrooper is forced to question everything he thought he believed in. The lives of four ordinary people are irrevocably intertwined and their destinies changed forever as each of them confronts in their own way the horrors of war and its echo down the decades.

Lords of the North

By Bernard Cornwell,

Book cover of Lords of the North

This is the first book I read in the series but had no trouble understanding and following the story. As soon as I finished it, I went out and bought books one and two so I could get better acquainted with Uhtred Uhtredson Ragnarson. The Lords of the North was filled with action, adventure, revenge, and triumph.

I love Bernard Cornwell. I’ve read many of his books and could recommend several. All of them are excellent historical fiction that brings you right into the time period and leaves you there. I can’t put his books down and I read and reread them frequently.

Who am I?

My book, No Safe Haven was written about the American Civil War, most specifically about the Battle of Gettysburg. It was a story I came across while on vacation in Gettysburg. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and History and the historical novel genre is one I love. It gives me an opportunity to explore past worlds and try to learn the lessons of the past to apply to the present and hopefully to the future. When I learned about Tillie Pierce’s experience surviving the Battle of Gettysburg, I knew I had to tell her story.

I wrote...

No Safe Haven

By Angela Moody,

Book cover of No Safe Haven

What is my book about?

Spunky, fifteen-year-old Tillie Pierce loves her life just as it is and considers her family safe from the Civil War—until Confederate soldiers overrun her hometown of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Sent to “safety” on a farm, she seeks shelter right in the battle zone. The next few days test not only her beliefs and friendships, but also her instincts and attitude. Does she have the gumption to trust a God who could give her hope? How can she when He allows such tragedy?

The Anglo-Saxon World

By Nicholas J. Higham, M.J. Ryan,

Book cover of The Anglo-Saxon World

The Anglo-Saxon World is the best introductory survey for students of Anglo-Saxon history. Experts in their field, the authors flesh out the traditional narrative account with insights from archaeology, numismatics, and DNA analysis. The book is splendidly enriched by almost three hundred colour photographs, tables, maps, and diagrams, while box-out sections in each chapter delve into interesting topics or debates. The authors also outline the historiography for readers who want to know how scholarly understanding of the period has developed.

Who am I?

Tom Licence is Professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia and a former Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. He teaches Anglo-Saxon History to undergraduates and postgraduates.

I wrote...

Edward the Confessor: Last of the Royal Blood

By Tom Licence,

Book cover of Edward the Confessor: Last of the Royal Blood

What is my book about?

Edward, in the past, was regarded as a weak king whose policies led to the Norman Conquest. This new biography dismantles the old argument and reassembles the evidence to show that Edward was a conscientious ruler, and that others were to blame for the conquest of 1066.

Aelfred's Britain

By Max Adams,

Book cover of Aelfred's Britain: War and Peace in the Viking Age

This is a book about much more than just the most famous of the Saxon kings, Alfred the Great. The narrative begins in 789 and runs to 955, and charts not only the ‘beginning’ of England, as we know it, but also the ‘end’ of the smaller kingdoms of Northumbria, East Anglia, and Mercia. One of the more recent of my book recommendations, Max Adams simply thinks about Saxon England the way that I do, and he’s able to weave a narrative that’s conscious of both the narrative sources for the period and recent archaeological advances. I often pick up his books (he’s written two others about earlier Saxon England) to make use of his timelines and maps. He has a lightness of touch and flair that makes even the murkiest of topics, engaging and more importantly, comprehensible.

Who am I?

I’m a writer of novels set in Saxon England. I studied the era at both undergraduate and graduate levels and never meant to become a historical fiction writer. But I developed a passion to tell the story of the last century of Early England through the eyes of the earls of Mercia, as opposed to the more well-known, Earl Godwin. I’m still writing that series but venture further back in time as well. I might have a bit of an obsession with the Saxon kingdom of Mercia. I’m fascinated by the whole near-enough six hundred years of Saxon England before the watershed moment of 1066, after which, quite frankly, everything went a bit downhill. 

I wrote...

Son of Mercia

By MJ Porter,

Book cover of Son of Mercia

What is my book about?

The once-mighty kingdom of Mercia is in perilous danger. Their King, Beornwulf lies dead and years of bitter in-fighting between the nobles, and cross-border wars have left Mercia exposed to her enemies. King Ecgberht of Wessex senses now is the time for his warriors to strike and exact his long-awaited bloody revenge on Mercia.

King Wiglaf, has claimed his right to rule Mercia, but can he unite a disparate Kingdom against the might of Wessex who is braying for blood and land? Can King Wiglaf keep the dragons at bay or is Mercia doomed to disappear beneath the wings of the Wessex wyvern? Can anyone save Mercia from destruction?

The Viking Wars

By Max Adams,

Book cover of The Viking Wars: War and Peace in King Alfred's Britain: 789 - 955

Sometimes you have to walk a mile in another warrior’s boots. The Viking Wars tells the history of Britain in the Viking period, and shows how they weathered the storm. Being an Englishman, this book really made me feel like I was standing in a muddy field, facing the oncoming storm. The heroes of the history books become the protagonists in a life or death drama that literally helped shape the world we know today.

Who am I?

Ian Stuart Sharpe likes to imagine he is descended from Guðrum, King of the East Angles, although DNA tests and a deep disdain for camping suggest otherwise. He is the author of two novels set in his alternate Vikingverse, the All Father Paradox and Loki’s Wager. He once won a prize at school for Outstanding Progress and chose a dictionary as his reward, secretly wishing it had been an Old Norse phrasebook. It took him thirty years, but he has finally realised his dream.

I wrote...

Old Norse for Modern Times

By Ian Stuart Sharpe,

Book cover of Old Norse for Modern Times

What is my book about?

Have you ever wanted to wield the silver tongue of Loki, or to hammer home your point like a Thundergod? Old Norse is the language of legends and the stuff of sagas, the inspiration for Tolkien and Marvel, for award-winning manga and epic videogames. It is the language of cleverly crafted kennings, blood-curdling curses, and pithy retorts to Ragnarök. Old Norse for Modern Times gives you the perfect phrase for every contemporary situation:

Battle-cries to yell on Discord: "Do I look to be in a gaming mood?" Sýnisk þér ek vera í skapi til leika?"

Mead hall musings: "This drink, I like it! ANOTHER!" Líkar mér drykkr þessi! ANNAN!"

With over 500 phrases inside, it is the perfect guide for Vikings fans, whether they are re-enactors, role-players, or simply in love with Ragnar.

In Search of England

By Michael Wood,

Book cover of In Search of England: Journeys into the English Past

Wood is known for his stellar television documentaries, but he’s also a prolific and talented author. This gem of a book delves into some of the most famous legends of English/British folklore, ones that still capture the popular imagination. He then examines some key historical events and people from the earlier Middle Ages, and their importance even now. Written in an engaging style, it’s an excellent introduction to the roots and origins of so much British culture.     

Who am I?

Described as a “literary raconteur” and a “virtuoso,” Tim Rayborn admits to nothing, but it’s true that he’s a versatile writer, award-winning editor, and an acclaimed musician. He’s written dozens of books, appeared on more than forty recordings, plays scores of unusual instruments, and visited five continents. Tim lived in England for nearly seven years and has a Ph.D. in medieval studies from the University of Leeds, which he likes to pretend means that he knows what he’s talking about. He has written a large number of books and magazine articles about history, music, and the arts. He will undoubtedly write more, whether anyone wants him to or not.

I wrote...


By Tim Rayborn,

Book cover of Qwyrk

What is my book about?

Qwyrk is having a bad day; several, in fact. One of the Shadow folk tasked with keeping an eye on humanity, she’s ready for a well-earned break in Yorkshire, but now she’s (literally) run into a girl, Jilly, who just saw something quite supernatural and truly awful happen in her town. As Qwyrk tries to unravel the mystery, layers of villainy are exposed, and she’s stuck with an assortment of unlikely folk that she’d rather not have “helping” her. Together, they confront ancient magic, medieval conspiracies, and the possible end of the world (that again?). It’s not the holiday Qwyrk was hoping for!

Qwyrk is the first book in a series about the adventures of a group of misfits at the edge of reality in modern northern England, a world of shadows, Nighttime Nasties, sorcery, folklore, tacky nightclub attire, an abundance of sarcasm, and even elves… though they are a bit silly.

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