The other day I saw an ad for the new television show about the Vikings, and I have to admit I really want to watch it. But before I got sucked into bad history TV, I wanted to do a little research of my own. So I could be educatedly annoyed at inaccuracies. Really, we history majors derive great joy from this.
Now there was a decent selection of books on Vikings at my local library, but this one stuck out at me because of the author. I had heard of Neil Oliver before because of his BBC affiliation, but hadn’t read any of his books. After reading The Vikings, I am definitely adding his other books to my list based simply on his writing style.
Unlike the stereotypical history book, the writing is not dry at all. Neil mixes in anecdotes and stories from his own visits to many of the historical sites. Neil describes staying overnight in a recreated home, sailing on a replica boat, as well as visiting some of the archaeological sites. Having the point of view of how you or I would see the event and practices really breaks up the information and gives the historical events a good frame of reference for the modern reader. Not to mention it gave me a bit of wanderlust and the urge to go visit many of these places myself! Not simply for this historical value, but also for the modern culture and scenery that Neil describes.
Other than the writing style, one thing that I really enjoyed about the book was how other cultures and powers of the same time period were incorporated. A culture is not made in a vacuum, surrounding peoples and cultures influence it to varying degrees. The interplay was fascinating to read. Especially how different peoples and cultures from what are now Russia, Scotland, and Ireland as well as the Roman Empire were brought into Viking culture. Just as fascinating was how Viking culture influenced these areas and cultures as well (such as town names in Scotland that retain Nordic names to this day).
Overall I give this book two spoons up. With the caveat that you have to like history to an extent. This is not a novel, there is still an element of “history book” to it, but it is by no means a stereotypical history text.
Love and a plundering we go,