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Becoming Charlemagne: Europe, Baghdad, and the Empires of A.D. 800

3.47 of 5 stars 3.47  ·  rating details  ·  186 ratings  ·  37 reviews
On Christmas morning in the year 800, Pope Leo III placed the crown of imperial Rome on the brow of a Germanic king named Karl—a gesture that enabled the man later hailed as Charlemagne to claim his empire and forever shape the destiny of Europe. Becoming Charlemagne tells the story of the international power struggle that led to this world-changing event, illuminating an ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published December 18th 2007 by Harper Perennial (first published 2006)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 364)
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Robert Hill
The history during the time of Karl Magnus, or Charlemagne was quite interesting.(around 800 ad) He was the first ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. During his rule, he directed monks to copy and preserve knowledge in books. He directed that bibles would be copied but also some of the pagan beliefs of the time. He planned to cultivate knowledge in the service of religion. He was the first ruler in history to send Christian and Jewish emissaries to the Muslims of Baghdad. The structure of the Christ ...more
Bethany
Not exactly what I expected--very pop history, Sypeck does a great job of making history interesting & bringing it to life--but I wonder how historically accurate the work is. The comments like "Karl probably sighed and sat down" got obnoxious and contrived and very quickly.

That being said, Sypeck did a good job of painting a vivid picture of this part of history, and for my "I'm going to Germany soon & I should probably know more about German history than I think it was called Prussia o
...more
Adam  McPhee
Had a bout of insomnia last night and stayed up to read this. There's not a whole lot going on, it's short and doesn't get too in-depth, mostly focusing on the relations the Franks had with the Byzantine Empire, the Abbasid Empire and the Pope. There's only a couple of sentences about Roland, sadly.

The author has this way of speculating about how the players must have reacted physically. "Charlemagne must have sighed and sat down," or whatever. It's really annoying at first but I think I've come
...more
Kathy
"The landscape of history is not alone the solid earth of fact; above must spread the rolling cloudbanks of imagination."

-- Donald J. Grout, Preface to the First Edition of A Short History of Opera

"Becoming Charlemagne: Europe, Baghdad, and the Empires of A. D. 800" is a surprisingly suspenseful and beautifully written account of the years immediately preceding the Christmas morning in A. D. 800 when Karl, King of the Franks, became Charlemagne, the "first emperor in Rome in nearly 400 years."

I
...more
Marc Towersap
Was rather disappointed. While it was about Karl, former king then emperor of Rome(!!), it seemed kinda like skimming without digging in. I'm still not sure why King Karl was so great, seems like he was always battling the Saxons, lost heavily to the Basque, yet the book kinda felt to me like he was Forrest Gump, a nice likeable guy who seemed to be in the right place at the right time. It seemed he went here, then there, then over there, then back, but did anything significant happen here, ther ...more
Lucas
This is a challenging book to give a star rating to because while it really is not all that good, it is not to bad that I want to condemn it to two stars. Essentially, this book is about exactly what the title describes. Although the focus is on Charlemagne and his coronation in 800 AD, Sypeck takes his readers through the courts in Constantinople and Baghdad. This grand focus is the greatest strength of Sybeck's book because he does a fantastic job of making a particular period (ca. 796-800) fe ...more
Linda C.
Jul 10, 2007 Linda C. rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in history
I've read many books on the Medieval period and Charlemagne in the last two years. This is now one of my favorites.

Jeff Sypeck put the events of the period in a context which allows the reader to understand the various political forces competing against one another during that era, and the skill used by King Charles which ultimately led to him being referred to as King Charles the Great or Charlemagne.

I had read mentions of Empress Irene of the Byzantine Empire, but her villainy and treachery ne
...more
Ken
An interesting look at Charlemagne, as he truly was. The book is short, and very much focused on perhaps the last ten years of his life, from the eve of his coronation as emperor to his death. I'm impressed in that regard that the author knows what story he wants to tell and doesn't get bogged down in biographical detail. Indeed, his telling of the story of Charlemagne becoming emperor focuses as much on the supporting cast as the king himself. It was a wonderful glimpse into the reality of the ...more
Paul
A lot goes on in a quick 200 pages here. Sypeck introduces us to Karl, the earthy and canny king who raised a united Europe out of the ruins of the Roman empire, as well as to the legend of Charlemagne, which each generation recasts to suit itself. He devotes a chapter to Alcuin, Abbott of Saint Martin monastery in Tours, Karl's confidant and adviser. The book is at its best, however, when Sypeck focuses on the interplay among the great figures of the turn of the ninth century: the newly-elected ...more
Daniel
Dec 22, 2007 Daniel rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who like history, but don't want to be overwhelmed by dates and facts
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm still working through this one, but so far it's been a good read. My main complaint is that he switches between the areas he's focusing on--Francia, which will go on to become the Holy Roman Empire, Constantinople, and Baghdad--seemingly at random, which makes it a bit hard to follow [much like the work of Janet Martin]. The book is written as a narrative history; not quite a novel, but easier to read and generally more entertaining than a textbook or straight biography. I wouldn't recommend ...more
Arieltsmith
"Becoming Charlemagne" is definitely history light, and a quick read which seems almost more like a historical novel than a stab at a history book. Sypeck spends a great deal of time trying to recreate what sights and sounds of places like Charlemagne's rural mountainside court in Aachen, or the colorful, corrupt streets of Constantinople. While these recreations are mostly fun to read, by the end of the book I felt like I had been reading more of Sypecks flights of imagination than actual histo ...more
David Gorgone
I rarely get into history. Either the amount of information is so overwhelming or the narrative is lacking. This book had a good enough balance of both I didn't feel burdened to keep too many names straight while the narative kept my interest. the only reason I gave it 3 stars is because the title lead me to believe there would be some revelation where he becomes Charlemagne. it appears he always was Charlemagne the whole time. Or just good old Karl. Either way I felt it a tad of a let down. I s ...more
Anna Hanson
For what it promises - the processes by which King Karl of the Franks becomes Holy Roman Emperor Karl the Great - this books delivers a fascinating account! Reading almost more like an adventure tale, the scenes and people of Karl's time come to life in vivid detail. Don't expect a full biography - this book is concerned only with his ascension to Emperor and the after-effects. An extra treat for me, living near Aachen, is being able to visualize so much of the city in the descriptions. Enjoy it ...more
Bob Duncanson
This is a good overview of the three empires around 800 A.D. centred in Aachen, Constantinople, and Baghdad. It is the story of King Karl of Francia and his relations with the other two empires. It attempts to disentangle King (later Emperor) Karl from the myths and legends that have grown up around Charlemagne. Although accurate and true to its purpose, I found the book superficial. As such it is a good introduction to the period and the person but further reading is indicated.
Autumn
I wanted more about Charlemagne. The book starts out interesting enough. But then it diverges into other topics of the time period that I felt I knew well enough; the Jews in Europe, the state of Rome at that time, the empress of Constantinople, etc. The book is about HOW Charlemagne became the Holy Roman Emperor, the forces that allowed it to happen not really about HIM. Yes, I should have known that from the title I suppose...
Nick
This short history is more a summary of Charlemagne's life and an outline of the state of Europe, Byzantium and the Muslim world around the year 800 AD than it is an exploration of the process by which Karl, king of the Franks, became the legendary Charlemagne. It is, however, a great read, with interesting details and stories that made the people and places in the book seem very real.
Ari
Jul 06, 2010 Ari rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ari by: mom
A biography of Charlemagne, particularly focused on the years right before his ascent to the Imperial throne. Good stuff.

Doing popular history that's also well-documented isn't always easy, but Jeff Spypeck has done it. The author is a UMD medieval history professor -- I was struck at how the preface and front-matter seems to almost conceal this. (It's in the "about the author".)

Robert Clay
Well written account of Karl, king of the Franks, who was to become known to posterity as Charlemagne. Sypeck weaves his story amid the backdrop of "the empires of A.D. 800" - Byzantine, Abbassid, and Carolingian - and all the court intrigues, diplomatic scheming, and everyday toil that went on within and between them. A scholarly book that reads more like a creative fiction.
Marcie
Dec 15, 2007 Marcie rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history lovers
Shelves: historical
Very enlightening and in depth look over a period of a few years of Charlemagne's reign. The author also includes background chapters on Charlemagne's contemporaries-both friends and foes. Very interesting regligious time in history, also unlike what I had come to expect from history in school.
Terry
This is a captivating story that provides the reader with drama, intrigue, pageantry, and adventure that are seldom associated with medieval history.

To read our full review, go to The Reading Tub®.
Randy
I just felt as if a lot of Charlemagne's story was left out, as much of this short book focuses on the years just before and after he was crowned emperor. I'd like to know how he became such a powerful king, and more about what Europe was like.
Dan Vock
A really enticing idea that turned out to be more tease than substance. It was hard to tell if that's because Sypeck was dumbing things down for a general audience or because there just isn't enough information available.
Bill Tucker
I had placed this on my "read" shelf, but I'm almost certain that I've never even seen the book before let alone finished it and given it 4 stars! Started it today (2/18/12), and it looks like a keeper.
Miriam
Author brings together Muslim, Christian and Byzantine worlds in 800 through life of Charlemagne, Empress Irene and Muslim leaders. Fascinating view of the world at the beginning of the Medieval Period.
Tom K
I'm there are more in-depth scholarly works on Charlemagne and his era, but this was good enough for my purposes. A quick easy read. It gave me some ideas for other topics to research in more depth.
Sarah
Read for a class, better than I thought it would be. I felt however that it could have focused more on Charelmagne, rather than everyone else. It kept my attention though!
Jennifer
Pretty decent book about Charlemagne, whom I knew nothing about. It describes his rise to power and his interactions/relationship with the Pope and with the Arabic leaders.
Abe
A more critical text, focusing on the differences between the man as he was seen when alive and the legends that were built around him later
John
A nice title was misleading - nothing really that significant in this brief treatment of Charlemagne's impact on world history.
Trine
Essential reading for anyone interested in European history or the Carolingian Age and the Age of Charlemagne.
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