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Heart of Europe

Heart of Europe

A History of the Holy Roman Empire

Peter H. Wilson

ISBN 9780674244863

Publication date: 06/02/2020

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An Economist and Sunday Times Best Book of the Year

“Deserves to be hailed as a magnum opus.”
—Tom Holland, The Telegraph

“Ambitious…seeks to rehabilitate the Holy Roman Empire’s reputation by re-examining its place within the larger sweep of European history…Succeeds splendidly in rescuing the empire from its critics.”
Wall Street Journal

Massive, ancient, and powerful, the Holy Roman Empire formed the heart of Europe from its founding by Charlemagne to its destruction by Napoleon a millennium later. An engine for inventions and ideas, with no fixed capital and no common language or culture, it derived its legitimacy from the ideal of a unified Christian civilization—though this did not prevent emperors from clashing with the pope for supremacy.

In this strikingly ambitious book, Peter H. Wilson explains how the Holy Roman Empire worked, why it was so important, and how it changed over the course of its existence. The result is a tour de force that raises countless questions about the nature of political and military power and the legacy of its offspring, from Nazi Germany to the European Union.

“Engrossing…Wilson is to be congratulated on writing the only English-language work that deals with the empire from start to finish…A book that is relevant to our own times.”
—Brendan Simms, The Times

“The culmination of a lifetime of research and thought…an astonishing scholarly achievement.”
The Spectator

“Remarkable…Wilson has set himself a staggering task, but it is one at which he succeeds heroically.”
Times Literary Supplement


  • If, like most people, you know little more about the Holy Roman Empire than Voltaire’s bon mot—that it ‘was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire’—then this is the book for you. In his masterly study of the original ‘1,000-year Reich’ (Hitler’s was merely a grotesque caricature), the Oxford professor Peter H. Wilson condenses a great deal of modern scholarship while wearing his learning lightly… Wilson’s account is distinctive in treating the empire neither as a sequence of obstacles on the path to national self-determination, nor as a blueprint for the European Union. Instead, he seeks to understand how and why it worked.

    —Daniel Johnson, Sunday Times


  • Peter H. Wilson is the author of Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire, an Economist and Sunday Times Best Book, and The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy, winner of the Distinguished Book Award from the Society of Military History. He has appeared on BBC Radio and has written for Prospect, the Los Angeles Times, and the Financial Times. President of the Society for the History of War and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Wilson is Chichele Professor of the History of War at the University of Oxford. His work has been translated into Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, and Spanish.

Book Details

  • 1008 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press

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