Eleanor Shipley Duckett’s biography is a useful introduction to Alfred the Great, the Wessex monarch who effectively created the kingdom of England. She begins with a description of the politics of eighth-century England, a world of maneuvering between regional kingdoms and invading Viking armies. It was in this dangerous and fluid environment that a young Alfred came of age, watching his father and two elder brothers deal with the threats Wessex faced before gaining the throne at the age of 22. From here her focus is on his struggles against the Danes, though other chapters also address his kingdom, his education, and his years after his many martial triumphs.
While enlightening, the book suffers from an excessive focus on narrative. As readable as Duckett’s prose is, Her focus on recounting the chronological development of events too frequently comes at the cost of a clear understanding of Alfred’s character and the significance of the developments of his life. Readers wanting to familiarize themselves with the basic details of Alfred’s life will find this a useful and enjoyable book, but those seeking a more comprehensive analysis of the great Anglo-Saxon king would be better served by Richard Abels’s more recent Alfred the Great.