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The Vikings: A History Paperback – September 28, 2010
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But first, this book's many strengths. Ferguson is especially good at incorporating archaeological evidence in his work. His first chapters deal with Viking burial remains, such as the Oseberg ship, and what such gravesites can--and cannot--tell us about the Vikings. Further chapters discuss the Jelling Stones and the frequency of buried coin hoards. Ferguson also dwells at length on some of the less well-remembered journeys of the Vikings, such as their forays into Russia and Spain, and their gradual assimilation with preexisting cultures in places like Normandy and Russia. His chapter on the Viking presence in late Anglo-Saxon England is exceptionally good, perhaps the best chapter in the book.
The only thing keeping me from giving The Vikings five stars is one of Ferguson's central theses, that the Viking Age began as a reaction to Carolingian efforts to convert continental Viking peoples (i.e: the Danes) to Christianity. Ferguson argues quite strongly in favor of this interpretation, claiming that the targets of Viking raids were pointedly Christian locations like monasteries (Lindisfarne) and other religious centers. The Viking Age, according to Ferguson, was a distinct dichotomy of heathen versus Christian, with the heathens doing the raiding and the Christians praying for it to stop.
This is an interesting thesis but is hardly borne out by the facts. In fact, Ferguson's own book contradicts it repeatedly.Read more ›
"The Vikings" presents its selections of Viking history in part through archeological and literary sources. The result seems almost anecdotal at times, but it is through anecdotes that Viking life, society and history take on added dimensions.
If, for example, you do not know about the raid on Lindisfarne that many say began "The Viking Age" you will learn little of the specifics from Ferguson. What you will learn is how the chroniclers in England saw the raid, how it was perceived by Bishop Alcuin in the court of Charlemagne and, speculatively, why the Vikings may have chosen to attack Christian sites as retaliation for forced conversion of Danish (Viking) Heathens by forces under Charlemagne.
Ferguson covers most of the standard parts of Viking history, the raiding and conquest of Normandy, the trading network through the Russian river system, the settlement of Iceland, the Greenland and North American adventures, the centuries-long struggle for England and the coming of Christianity to Norway. He adds attention to the Vikings in the Mediterranean and Iberia and interactions with Islam.
What sets his approach apart from other writers I have read is the central role of literary sources and archeological data. Instead of telling us what happened, frequently he lets us see the facts on the ground (through archeology) or hear the voices of those affected (throgh quotations from annals, correspondence and the like).
Throughout, the broad sweep of "the forest" is less obvious than the particular "trees," that make it up. A first time reader of Viking history may come away with a confused understanding from a disjointed narrative. One who knows the outlines well will find his knowledge of Vikings and their age richer for the effort.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Engaging history of one of the world's great traveling peoples.
I really liked the author's focus on the long, slow adoption of Christianity, which threw the Viking... Read more
As a historian, I often buy books from within my academic field to see what my coligues are writing. I figured Viking are cool and interesting. This book... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Daniel Ronquillo
The amount of work that went into this historical offering is vast...a great combination of the political and social background of a totally ignored society. I loved it.Published 6 months ago by glen chandler
This book is perfect for anyone with little to moderate knowledge of the Vikings and their ruthless campaign of conquest. Read morePublished 8 months ago by GamigisFTW
A highly readable, well researched short history of Viking culture from its murky origins through its spectacular explosion and metamorphosis into a set of Chritianized monarchies. Read morePublished 14 months ago by Matt Hearn