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The Long Ships (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – July 6, 2010

4.6 out of 5 stars 299 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"It's terrific fun, the kind of book that moves the fustiest of critics to pronounce it a rollicking yarn or something to that effect. Translation for us mere mortals: There are no boring parts to skip...Bengtsson writes the most delightful version of historical fiction...Here is the buried treasure, readers, newly unearthed. Now, go forth and read." --The Christian Science Monitor

"The literary equivalent of an action- and intrigue-filled adventure movie that won't insult your intelligence...Orm is a charismatic character, and Bengtsson is an infectiously enthusiastic and surprisingly funny writer — even readers with zero interest in the Europe of a millennium ago will want to keep turning the pages. All novels should be so lucky as to age this well." --NPR

"A household name in Scandinavian literature since its publication during World War II, the title The Long Ships is recognizable to English-speakers, if at all, from a tenuously related 1964 epic with Sidney Poitier. New York Review Books reckons to remedy that with this 500-page hunk chronicling 20 years in the life of Red Orm, a son of Skania, born during the reign of Harald Bluetooth, who first goes a-viking as a teen....And if the company of so many burly, bearded heroes can weary, Bengtsson's clear-eyed witnessing of a new world dawning does not." —L Magazine


“This extraordinary saga of epic adventure on land and sea…is a masterpiece of historical fiction…The Long Ships should be a rare delight. And not least of the rewards of reading Mr. Bengtsson's gorgeous romance is the sly humor that is sprinkled through it.” -Orville Prescott, The New York Times


Bengtsson “keeps his readers eager for the next chapter. He has a sharp eye for the picturesque and the comic in daily living, and though his style is sophisticated he often writes with a kind of festive abandon.” -Hudson Strode The New York Herald Tribune


“This is a lusty man's book that women, too, will enjoy.” -Margaret Widdemer, The Philadelphia Inquirer


“The Long Ships has many virtues of the true story-teller's art…Under the merriment and the fighting there is a great deal of scholarship as sound as it is imperceptible. Reading this marvelously good-humored ale-broth of a book, you say: this is how it must have been to be a Viking chief a thousand years ago. And not such a bad life at that.” -Burke Wilkinson, The New York Times


A “wonderful adventure novel…” -Phillip French, The Observer


“Offers lusty Vikings lusting and looting, bedding and battling across Europe from the Ebro to the Dneiper.” -Time Magazine


“A splendidly robust saga of the Vikings…crackles with humour.” -Daily Telegraph


The author and his excellent translator bring that old, warrior world alive with such vigorous enjoyment and simplicity that the deeds of those men roving about the world in their dragon ships seem as marvelous as those of our atomic age.” -Daily Telegraph


“A boldly illuminated picture of the Northmen…confidently recommended.” -The Times (London)


“A remarkable panorama of a vanished way of life.” -Times Literary Supplement


“A banquet of adventure by sea and land, with man-size helpings of battle and murder, robbery and rape.” -New Statesman


“Lusty and uninhibited…a tour de force.” -Evening News


“Still the king of books about Vikings…the Vikings liked to row and sail and fight. That's what they do in this action-packed epic.” -Bookmarks Magazine


"Even though The Long Ships was first published in 1941, it remains the literary equivalent of an action-and intrigue-filled adventure movie that won't insult your intelligence...Bengtsson is an infectiously enthusiastic and surprisingly funny writer--even readers with zero interest in the Europe of a millennium ago will want to keep turning the pages."

--Michael Schaub, NPR.org

“Since I finished The Long Ships, I’ve been kicking myself for not having succumbed earlier...a book [of] many pleasures."—Cheston Knapp, Tin House 

About the Author

Frans G. Bengtsson (1894–1954) was born and raised in the southern Swedish province of Skåne, the son of an estate manager. His early writings, including a doctoral thesis on Geoffrey Chaucer and two volumes of poetry written in what were considered antiquated verse forms, revealed a career-long interest in historical literary modes and themes. Bengtsson was a prolific translator (of Paradise Lost, The Song of Roland, and Walden), essayist (he published five collections of his writings, mostly on literary and military topics), and biographer (his two-volume biography of Charles XII won the Swedish Academy’s annual prize in 1938). In 1941 he published Roede Orm, sjoefarare i vaesterled (Red Orm at Home and on the Western Way), followed, in 1945, by Roede Orm, hemma i oesterled (Red Orm at Home and on the Eastern Way). The two books were published in a single volume in the United States and England in 1955 as The Long Ships. During the Second World War, Bengtsson was outspoken in his opposition to the Nazis, refusing to allow for a Norwegian translation of The Long Ships while the country was still under German occupation. He died in 1954 after a long illness.

Michael Meyer (1921–2000) was a translator, novelist, biographer, and playwright, best known for his translations of the works of Ibsen and Strindberg. His biography of Ibsen won the Whitbread Prize for Biography in 1971.

Michael Chabon is the author of ten books, including The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, The Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Klay, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, and Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son. He lives in Berkeley, California.

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (July 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590173465
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590173466
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (299 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #93,219 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Having heard so much about this saga-type novel I sought it eagerly & finally broke down & bought it via amazon uk (after a long & fruitless hunt stateside). Rather expensive for this paperback w/lots of typos & editing problems, I thought. But the book, I judge, was worth it in the end. The tale of Orm Tostesson & "friends", this book follows the adventures of this typical late tenth century viking through nearly all the high-points of vikingdom in the period. From raids & servitude on the coasts of Moorish Spain, to visits with Irish monks and dinner with the Danish King, Harald Bluetooth, and his assorted guests, including no less a worthy than Styrbiorn Olafsson, the Jomsviking and claimant to the Swedish throne about whom E. R. Eddison wrote so brilliantly in his own viking novel, Styrbiorn the Strong, this book takes us through all the paces. Orm ends up with a very noble wife living in a backwater part of Scandinavia (the borderlands between Sweden and medieval Denmark) but even there he gets no peace since his enemies and adventures pursue him. And in his maturity another and final adventure comes his way when he is summoned to the eastern reaches of far Gaardarike (the country that was to become Russia) to claim an "inheritance" of great value. Along the way, Orm makes some good friends, some bad enemies, participates in some (but by no means all) of the great events of viking history in that period, and finally mellows to become a better man who embraces the new way of thinking while yet feeling at home in the old.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
This book is an eternal classic. Set in the height of Viking Age it tells us how Orm (Snake) is kidnapped by a band of marauding vikings. He then serves as a slave on a moorish ship, he is a mercenary among the muslims, he is marauder in England. He marries royally, settles, and goes on a treasure hunt for stolen gold in Russia. Bengtson uses the laconic language of the vikings to hilarious effects. The translator manages to keep it, which is great. The book is historically accurate with many historical events and persons interwoven in the narrative.
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Format: Hardcover
Every serious reader has had the experience: perhaps by accident --on a library shelf, or in a dusty box at a garage sale-- you stumble across an out-of-print book that seizes your imagination through its author's sheer mastery of the storytelling craft.
And you wonder: why, O why, doesn't the publisher re-issue this in lieu of one or another of the emminently forgettable titles in current release?
Such a book is THE LONG SHIPS by Frans Bengtssen, which crossed the Atlantic from Scandinavia to America in the early 1950s; like Leif Ericson, who made the same trip long before Columbus, this book lingered only briefly here before vanishing with scarcely a trace.
And that is a tragedy for anyone who craves an epic, lusty tale of Vikings and their travels-- told with a sophisticated humor that is both wry and understated and with a sense of historical perspective that blends so subtly into the narrative that one is staggered to later find it is painstakingly accurate. Thank you, History Channel-- but I heard it all first, and far more compellingly, from following Orm Tostesson's exciting voyages, enthusiastic plunderings and thrilling adventures in THE LONG SHIPS.
This book is a delight in every way: certainly, you can read simply for it for the lyrical use of language (it is, by the way, a translation from its original Swedish, and translator Michael Meyer deserves canonization for his masterful rendering of it into English). But it works well on so many other levels --as an action/adventure, or as a character-driven historical novel-- that to attempt to limit this book's sophisticated multi-layered appeal would be a disservice.
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Format: Paperback
English literature began with a Viking story, "Beowulf," but have you ever tried reading it? My own "Beowulf" experience led me to believe Viking literature is right down there with Viking cuisine in terms of digestibility. Imagine my surprise when I discovered a novel about Vikings, written over half a century ago, to be as thrilling, fantastic, and engaging as "The Long Ships."

It's the story of Orm, a farmer's son in southern Sweden in the late 900s who one day finds himself a prisoner of a merry gang of Vikings. They quickly adopt him, and set out for adventures off the northern and southern coasts of Europe. Before the book is half over, Orm has found himself in courts from Spain to England, espoused three different religions, slain several dozen foemen, and found a princess to be his bride.

Frans G. Bengtsson's novel, originally published in Sweden in 1945, showcases two things I didn't expect from a Scandinavian academic, brevity and humor. Sure, the book is nearly 500 pages long, but Bengtsson crams a lot of incident in every page, describing events in broad strokes and letting the reader's imagination do the rest. Bengtsson's style, preserved marvelously by Michael Meyer's 1954 translation, is to consciously evoke the elliptical prose of ancient Viking sagas, but in such a way as to allow for a modern, tongue-in-cheek sensibility to come through, one that reflects a Viking world, however hard-bitten, of great wit and depth.

"The Long Ships" is marvelously quotable: "For no man complains of the weight of the cargo, when it is his own booty that is putting strain upon the oars." Or: "Only poets can win wealth with empty hands, but then they must make better songs than other poets, and competition spoils the pleasure of composition.
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