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Bloodtaking and Peacemaking: Feud, Law, and Society in Saga Iceland New edition Edition
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Yes, it was interesting and yes, it was fun, but man! were my eyes opened as to how much I had to learn about the sagas and about the culture within which they were written.
There are two main reasons to read this book. First, to learn history. The history of ninth to fourteenth century Iceland is incredible, and the culture fascinating. Theirs was a culture that knew no central or even local government, no law enforcement infrastructure, and no arms control. And yet the Icelanders developed a complex system of law, essentially codifying the blood feud (which tradition still governs dispute resolution in places like Afghanistan and rural Macedonia), according to which civil injustice could be roughly corrected. Their example has much to teach us about human nature unadulterated by the State.
Second, Bloodtaking is an unparalleled gateway into the sagas as literature. Despite my intimate familiarity with every line of, for example, Hrafnkel's saga, until I read Miller's book I had only the most inadequate appreciation for how tightly it is constructed, how elegantly and efficiently it was drafted. The sagas are only vaguely comparable to the very best English-language short stories; the skill that went into them is comparable to that of a Dante or a Shakespeare.Read more ›
Iceland is unique in that it had no centralized government for hundreds of years so it essentially lived in a state of anarchy. There was one exception, a fully formed and complex legal system designed to deal with every possible issue. There process differed from ours in that they included blood feud as another instrument in regulating society and legal outcomes. Essentially, if you weren't interested in instituting "self-help" then the ultra-masculinized courts had little sympathy.
This work also delves deeply into the everyday minutiae of pre-feudal society. At turns you can see these stories on an episode of "Jerry Springer" and others show the depth of human bravery and logic.
The book pulls from primary source and is surprisingly well paced for such an academic work. A definite read for those interested in cultural studies, jurisprudence, nordic studies, anarchist theory and power dynamics.
Highly unique and one of the most compelling reads out there.