You would think that a book on history and Christianity would appeal to me. Add in the fact that I used to live near York, formerly known by the Viking name of Jorvik, and this should be a book I find fascinating. My introduction to the Vikings was through the Jorvik Viking Museum in York, a museum that seemed impressive 30 years ago and even more so when I last visited in 2014. Despite those visits, I wasn’t sure how much I knew about the Vikings before starting this book. It turns out I knew quite a bit but had forgotten it over the years!
The Vikings: From Odin to Christ spans over 500 years of global history. It’s a lot to cover in one book. It starts with a timeline, the names of key people, and a list of terms including Gaelic and Scandinavian words. This is a useful document, particularly when it comes to names. There is more than one person named Olaf in Viking history, and more than one Harald and Sigurd as well. Chapters are divided by region. For example, one chapter is The Christian Vikings of Denmark, while another is Christian Vikings of the North Atlantic. The father and daughter writing duo also try to keep things in chronological order, so the final chapters circle back around to the British Isles and the decline of Viking power and culture.
This was a difficult book to get through. It took me well over a week. Because of the amount to cram in, it isn’t as detailed as I’d hoped. There are no illustrations or photographs, a loss when it comes to the discussion of Viking art and runes. I ended up searching elsewhere for visuals and consequently was often sidetracked. I went on similar searches for information about a couple of places mentioned, including Uppsala in Sweden and Kirkwall in the Orkneys. Because the book focuses on those Norsemen who traveled, it looks only slightly at the inhabitants of the places they visited and conquered. We don’t get much of an idea of how life changed for the ordinary person. I feel each chapter could’ve been a complete book in itself.
It’s also a fairly dry read, reminding me of a textbook. Despite that, there were some interesting stories of individuals such as Cnut, who gets a chapter to himself, and repeat appearances by men such as Harald Finehair and Olaf Tryggvason. I would’ve loved to see in-depth chapters focusing solely on the history of men such as these. I was also reminded that William of Normandy, the Conqueror, was descended from Vikings.
Overall, with the chapters and index, this is more of a reference book rather than one to read straight through. It’s good for showing how some Vikings converted to Christianity due to faith while others did it as a matter of practicality. It’s good to counter the image of pagan warriors in popular media. It’s a good introduction to various Viking personalities. Just don’t go expecting great visuals because you won’t find them.
Disclaimer: I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not required to write a review, and the words above are my own.
Publisher: Lion Hudson
Publication Date: 15 March 2019