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Heart of Europe

A History of the Holy Roman Empire
Narrated by: Napoleon Ryan
Length: 34 hrs and 3 mins
Categories: History, European
3.5 out of 5 stars (11 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The Holy Roman Empire lasted 1,000 years, far longer than ancient Rome. Yet this formidable dominion never inspired the awe of its predecessor. Voltaire quipped that it was neither holy, Roman, nor an empire. Yet as Peter H. Wilson shows, the Holy Roman Empire tells a millennial story of Europe better than the histories of individual nation-states.

Heart of Europe traces the empire from its origins within Charlemagne's kingdom in 800 to its demise in 1806. By the mid-tenth century, its core rested in the German kingdom, and ultimately its territory stretched from France and Denmark to Italy and Poland. Yet the empire remained abstract, with no fixed capital and no common language or culture. The source of its continuity and legitimacy was the ideal of a unified Christian civilization, but this did not prevent emperors from clashing with the pope over supremacy. Though the title of Holy Roman Emperor retained prestige, rising states such as Austria and Prussia wielded power in a way the empire could not. While it gradually lost the flexibility to cope with political, economic, and social changes, the empire was far from being in crisis until the onslaught of the French revolutionary wars.

©2016 Peter H. Wilson (P)2017 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"Hugely impressive...Wilson is an assured guide through the millennium-long labyrinth of papal - imperial relations." ( Literary Review)

What members say

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Deep dive into The Holy Roman Empire

Very enjoyable linkage of the history of the church and empire at start. Given the vast expanse of the history of the emperor it has a number of interesting interactions with the history of the reformation, the conceptualisation of imperialism and the French revolution. Overall does much to counter the narrative of the Empire being an institution that long outlasted it's usefulness. The 20th century historical interprations have come at the Empire with a nationalist focus or a nation state interpretation nor a progressive constitutional center of reform. well worth a read I certainly walked away knowing far more and being far more interested in the subject matter overall

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

An extremely detailed appraisal of the Empire

The book has a classical structure where a premise or point of conjecture is examined in detail that doesn’t always lend itself well to an audiobook. Narrative elements are subordinate to this examination of facts which can, at times, become quite tedious for the casual listener. Despite this and other peculiarities of the book I did quite enjoy it, particularly for the greater perspective on European history it engenders. Its summary chapters regarding the EU bring the book’s meticulous conceptualisation of the Empire into the present day are particularly well-conceived.
I’ve read a great deal of criticism regarding Napoleon Ryan’s narration, and I too found it a bit off-putting at first. But his pronunciation of German is refreshingly good and I found his narration suited the work quite well. In fact, by the time I finished the book I found that I rather liked his eccentric style, and missed it when I started on another book.

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  • Zac
  • 13-08-2019

Thorough and detailed

A truely indepth analysis of the Holy Roman Empire. If you want a simplified chronological history this is not the book for you.
The level of information given regarding the sociopolitical, economic and religious history of the HRE and its impact on Europe is enormous.
It can be fairly dry at times and doesn't lend itself well to intermittent listening, but overall its a very informative listen.

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    1 out of 5 stars
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Absolutely disjointed, pointless, mind-numbing

Dull and mostly irrelevant jumpings from this to that with no congruence

Not even interesting. Droning narrator doesn't help much either.

I cannot go on I must return this title and get Durant or something instead.

Disappointing

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  • Cody L. Jones
  • 19-01-2018

Non-Linear, Dry

What disappointed you about Heart of Europe?

I normally like dry history books but I found it very difficult to get into this one. Rather than tell the story of the Holy Roman Empire from start to finish as would have made sense to me it constantly jumps around, talking about events in the 9th century and events in the 14th century in the same paragraph throughout the book. Sorry you lost me. Would have liked to hear more about the characters and their lives.

21 of 22 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Ambrose Seymour
  • 19-09-2017

Mixed feelings on this one.

I enjoy the material, and the work is solid overall. But there are occasional lazy swipes at parallel history that undermined my confidence in the scholarship. One specific example, his brief discussion of Empress Matilda of England massively oversimplifies the facts and the context of her conflict with Stephen of Blois, saying effectively "Matilda defeated her enemies in England" - which just isn't the case. Matilda's son eventually fought to a negotiated conclusion of this early English civil war, but her enemies were not "defeated" and to the extent that they were, she had already left.

Not to go over-granular, but this is one example of several where things happening on the margins of the HRE are reduced in ways that distort the relevant history.

I also didn't love the narration, but that's often a matter of taste.

35 of 38 people found this review helpful

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  • Mike Johnson
  • 24-12-2017

Brilliant Work

The subject area is so broad a shelf full of books would hardly be adequate but if YOU are truly interested in a deep understanding of the HRE then and now what you are seeking is within this work and other very interested directions are pointed out. If you are more the trivial sniveler type this may not be for you. You have to be interested and YOU have to be able to think- verbalized emotions are not thoughts.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Blane Richoux II
  • 11-02-2018

Decent book, Narrator Easy to Tune Out

This book is not as bad as some of the other reviewers are saying. Because of the range of time and distance that this book challenges itself to cover, if it were laid out in a straightforward, chronological manner, it would be thousands of pages loner and likely a snooze fest. The author actually does a good job with the performance, and I never though he sounded monotone or uninspired. However, something in the timbre of his voice lends itself to tuning it out. I would frequently find myself having missed a few lines of text when listening in the car simply because his voice just blends in with the background noise of the world. I don’t think it is his fault or that there is anything wrong with the performance. Worth a listen for those interested in the HRE, but do not expect to walk away having memorized each line of Kings and all major historical events. The format of this book simply does not make any one person or event particularly memorable. You simply walk away with a sense of understanding about why the HRE existed, the space and time period it occupied, and the factors that led to its demise.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Austin Hill
  • 30-12-2017

A Great Work

A very detailed and informative volume on many facets of an immense subject. It is not a linear narrative but more of a series of analyses ranging from daily life, law and order, governance, etc. that jump from century to century. The author was very thourough and tried to convey a objective light on what has and continues to be a nationalistic topic.

I would highly recommend this book to any lover of European history.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Dan B.
  • 29-11-2017

Interesting Period of History Ruined by Narration

I was really looking forward to listening to this book until I started it. I hate to say it, but the narration is simply awful. I had to stop midway through and will be getting the print version.

10 of 14 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Pardubak
  • 11-10-2017

Not engaging

This is one of the driest and most tedious books I listened to. I personally did not like the narrator either. Worse than any textbook I ever had the displeasure of plowing through. Just fact after fact, no dimension. I only got through 20%.

10 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Tot
  • 15-03-2019

WEW LAD

WEW! I mean, you come across your fair share of sub-par in audibles history section. Sometimes it's an underwhelming performance by the orator, sometimes it's just too political, sometimes its too light to the point its inaccurate, etc. But rarely, rarely do you get to watch a work totally crash and burn this intensely.

First things first, try that audible sample. Over-acting community theatre actor does the HRE. Sometimes I burst out laughing just thinking how much he reminds me of Matt Berry when he's trying to make fun of people like this.

Now for the serious part. I'm not one of the people hating on this one for the unconventional set up, nor the amount of detail, this is history, I'm here for the in depth analysis, and not everything needs to have a paint by numbers narrative.

In fact though, it's the exact opposite of a factual overload, this book is fact lean, opinion heavy. Every other sentence out of this guys mouth is an unsubstantial and imprecise claim. Every paragraph he's making extremely aggressive normative claims a proper historian would spend several academic journal articles attempting to prove. The shear density of theses that he brings up, before moving on without so much as a corroborating primary source is really almost to be admired.

Well researched and time honored truisms about the HRE are constantly throw out the window. Which is great! If you can back it up. But Mr. Wilson's idea of "backing it up" is him simply saying "well actually, it was this way" and then moving on. And all the while I'm just sitting here cringing imagining the very disappointed look on my collective professors faces if I had submitted something like this.

This one is truly astounding to me. He attempts to cover one of the most convoluted subjects a historian can attempt (HRE), deciding to try and cover its 1000 year history in a single work, not even limiting himself to a specific focus (economy, cultural, military), in the most difficult way imaginable... and all this while going against the orthodox position and playing the revisionist on literally every single position he could. The ego is pretty unreal.

I don't think he admitted once in the 10s of hours I've been listening to a weakness in the imperial model. To him, every universally accepted weakness is actually a cleverly disguised "strength". Of course it all becomes clear and you get the closure you needed in the end. The lack of evidence, the revisionism, the inability to remain impartial, the constant need to gloss over.

He's a big fan of the EU, thinks nationalism is evil, (his words) and wants to paint the HRE as a successful model (despite even the most liberal historians giving it at best a pained grin) for a stateless Europe.

Quelle surprise. Another "historian" with an agenda. I specifically got this after encountering the same thing from a right-wing historian's account on Mao, hoping going back a little further I could avoid the right-left dogmatic diatribe that poisons good history. Seems the lefties are up to the same game. Silly, silly me.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • J. Grzeskiewicz
  • 02-10-2017

Well written & read,, if a touch on the dry side.

Enjoyed it, but am stunned that Prince Eugene of Savoy didn't receive a single mention.

4 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Life out of Mind
  • 05-09-2017

info dump

What disappointed you about Heart of Europe?

Just unloads information on you and expects you to remember which Otto or Henry is which when they are mentioned again an hour later without any reference points.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

dissappointment

8 of 15 people found this review helpful

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  • Andrew
  • 28-09-2017

Rather plain, not going to win any converts.

This is a book written in a moderately academic manner. Not terrible, but certainly not a populist style.
The reader, although clear , does not show any warmth for the subject, and it is presented in a faintly pleasant but emotionless tone. Its not a monotone by by means, but all the facts are presented without any real emphasis.

The result is a fairly characterless listen that while not awful is rather plain. If you are specifically in need of something that covers this exact subject for a professional or academic study, you will find it useful and it certainly could be worse.

However, if you have a more general interest in either historical audiobooks or just audiobooks in general , there are large numbers of such out there that are considerably better and I would recommend trying any number of those over this.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Thomas
  • 05-02-2018

Probably better to read than to listen

Really fascinating and well narrated audiobook, lots of well researched information with well balanced interpretations and conclusions. However I would prefer to have read it physically I think. Because of how hard it is to flick back and forth, I find more linear history audiobooks easier to listen to, whereas this one was arranged by themes, and timelines were hard to follow at times. Still, a good book overall, well worth investing some hours into!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • John Thomas
  • 19-03-2018

A comprehensive history of the HRE.

What three words best describe Napoleon Ryan’s performance?

I have no idea why the narrator insists on pronouncing some words very rapidly in a mock German accent, as if he is a cartoon general. It's really frustrating when these are titles of characters and institutions as it makes it hard to understand some fairly complex German.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Riff
  • 23-03-2019

A tragic rendition of an interesting history

This audiobook has a great, but sadly deeply unfulfilled potential. An interesting, intelligently thought out history of one of Europe's untold nation-empires, it is completely ruined by dreadful narration and voice work.

Whilst Wilson's book seems to be an accessible academic work of history, the narration by "Napoleon Ryan" is truly awful. Ryan does a worse than bad impression of Jeremy Clarkson in his delivery, putting pauses where there should be none, and overrunning them when he should not. It gives... a staccato effectthatmakes... comprehension very... difficult. Worse, and perhaps the most unforgivable sin is he clearly used a voice activated microphone, resulting in the first couple of letters or word after a pause is not audible or comprehensible. This renders the entire audiobook unlistenable, and uncomfortable to follow.

The real tragedy of this is that a very interesting work is ruined by shoddy production standards and it cannot be recommended until it is re-recorded.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Sam
  • 15-08-2018

Great history, dire narration

This is a detailed and compelling history of the Holy Roman Empire, ruined by truly terrible narration. It's so bad it would be funny, except you've spent money on a performance that would shame a 12 year old's drama recital. Do yourself and favour and buy the actual book - you just can't get into it otherwise

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Kamtar
  • 18-04-2018

Bad narator and not really suited for audiobook

Any additional comments?

Two problems:
- Narator sounds artificial like from an action movie trailer.
- Lots of jumping between names and one period to another, it's hard to keep track if you are not closely familiar with history of HRE.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 27-09-2017

confusing!

very detailed but presents a confusing picture of empire. not helped by poor and over dramatic reading.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • smetters
  • 18-08-2019

Stuffy and Pretentious

I love the Holy Roman Empire. It's scullduggery, and intrigue at its historical best. It is very complicated to be sure but this book makes it a snoozefest. It also jumps about a lot and does not dig into the Church enough. I returned it. Did not like the narrator either. It seemed elitist and intellectually snobbish to boot. Shame really. It is a subject much ignored and yet pivotal to European History.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon customer
  • 05-08-2019

"The Holy Roman EMMMpiiire"

I really wanted to hear and absorb this audiobook, but all hope of this was cruelly obliterated by the bizarre and clumsy narration. I am fascinated by this topic and I will probably read a hard copy of the book, but I had to abandon the recording, due to the absurd, melodramatic delivery of the narrator. Once you hear his jarring overemphasis of the word "empire", you never want to hear that word again; in a book about the HRE, this becomes something of a problem!

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Manish
  • 08-06-2019

The Holy Roman Empire

This is essentially the 1000 years plus history of the Holy Roman Empire which as we are told is not Roman, not an Empire and not Holy! I don't think this was a good choice for an audio book for me. It is a great story but there are many unfamiliar places and names that need a bit of delving into to provide context. Not even the pause button would be good as it disrupts the listening. I would read this book due to the mass of information rather than listen