A fascinating history of the Viking age and its complex culture and influence
The emergence of the Viking age at the end of the eighth century ushered in a new era in the history of Europe, one in which the paganism of the conquering tribes of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark was swept aside by the Christian values of those they defeated. With the technological genius of their longships and their vigorous spirit, the Vikings ranged widely through Europe, introducing their distinct culture along with their much-vaunted maritime prowess.
In this definitive history, Robert Ferguson presents the extraordinary story of the Nordic warriors and explorers who have long held our imagination. He sets the Viking age (c. 790-1100) within the context of European history and illuminates how this era of plunder and trade ultimately enhanced the development of political and cultural ideas in both Scandinavia and post-Roman Western Europe.
Drawing on the latest research, The Vikings at once acknowledges the terrible violence of conquest while expanding our view of the humane depth of Nordic accomplishments in the arts, commerce, government, and far-flung exploration from Constantinople to the New World.
Ferguson (Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun; Henrik Ibsen: A New Biography) offers a comprehensive overview of the Viking age, covering mythology and tradition alongside the many bloody forays Viking warriors made into Europe and the North Atlantic between roughly 790 and 1100 C.E. Although Ferguson often notes how incomplete the source material is, he tells a full and lively story and is transparent about where records or interpretations diverge. The narrative occasionally threatens to get bogged down in a confusion of Olafs, Olavs, and Olofs, but Ferguson keeps the pace up with numerous fascinating tidbits. He describes Viking words still used in modern English, the Viking origins of major British cities, and the dark rituals the community hung onto as Christianity crept into Denmark, Scandinavia, and Iceland, eventually bringing the population into a more peaceful modernity. VERDICT Ferguson has produced a readable and accessible book that will serve as a solid introduction to Viking history, even for those with no previous knowledge of the subject.—Elizabeth Goldman, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont.\