Book of the Month – September 2019

Athelstan by Tom Holland

Athelstan by Tom Holland

The formation of England happened against the odds - the division of the country into rival kingdoms, the assaults of the Vikings, the precarious position of the island on the edge of the known world. But King Alfred ensured the survival of Wessex, his son Eadweard expanded it, and his grandson Æthelstan finally united Mercia and Wessex, conquered Northumbria and became Rex totius Britanniae.

Tom Holland recounts this extraordinarily exciting story with relish and drama. We meet the great figures of the age, including Alfred and his daughter Æthelflæd, 'Lady of the Mercians', who brought Æthelstan up at the Mercian court. At the end of the book we understand the often confusing history of the Anglo-Saxon kings better than ever before.

A scribe in Ulster, recording the death of Athelstan, certainly had no doubts as to the stature of the King of the English. He had been, so the chronicler declared, nothing less than “the roof-tree of the dignity of the western world."

Read it? Loved it? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using #HayBookoftheMonth.

Buy the book

Listen to Tom Holland speaking about Æthelstan at Hay Festival 2016

Tom Holland

Further reading...

The night that saved England, The Spectator (2014)

What England and Scotland share politically and morally, New Statesman (2014)

Caligula, vampires and coping with death threats, The Guardian (2015)

About the author

Tom Holland is an award-winning historian, biographer and broadcaster. He is the author of Rubicon: The Triumph and the Tragedy of the Roman Republic, which won the Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize; Persian Fire, his history of the Graeco-Persian wars, won the Anglo-Hellenic League’s Runciman Award in 2006; Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom, a panoramic account of the two centuries on either side of the apocalyptic year 1000; In the Shadow of the Sword, which covers the collapse of Roman and Persian power in the Near East, and the emergence of Islam; and Dynasty, a portrait of Rome’s first imperial dynasty. Holland is the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Making History. He has written and presented a number of TV documentaries, for the BBC and Channel 4, on subjects ranging from ISIS to dinosaurs.

About Hay Festival's Book of the Month

Hay Festival's Book of the Month is our monthly recommendation of a title we've loved and think holds added resonance today. While many recommendations celebrate the new, this is a chance to celebrate great works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry – new and old – that reaches through time to touch the present.

Throughout the month, we'll share interesting links and articles relating to our selection on social media using #HayBookoftheMonth and invite you all to get involved with your questions and comments.

Over on Hay Player, a special playlist of talks to view online offer additional perspectives on the books from some of the greatest writers and thinkers around the world.

If you'd like to recommend a book for consideration, please email publicity@hayfestival.org.

Happy reading!