For acclaimed English historian, author, and professor in the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at one of Sweden's most illustrious universities (Uppsala), The Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings seems like the crowning glory of his lifetime work and studies.
Price has been writing about the Viking era (c. 793 – 1066 CE, however many, including Price, would disagree on such an arbitrary selection of dates, but more on that later) since the late 1980s, and his latest tome is full of his decades worth of careful research, study, and dedication.
The work of a lifetime?
What sets Price's book apart from other wide-ranging histories of peoples in Viking societies (Price, like so many modern historians, reminds us that "Viking" was a job description akin to a pirate and not an "ethnicity" or a "race") is that he traces the history back decades, even centuries, before the first recorded "Viking raid" on an island off the northeast coast of England in 793 CE.
The trends and forces that made Vikings so ripe for outward expansion, by the early medieval period, are discussed with such mastery and detail that any student of his at Uppsala University is a lucky person.
Comprehensive and detailed analysis of Viking society
The detail and research in this book make it perfect for those who have a groundwork of knowledge of the period and people.
However, his "top-down" approach to the Vikings – he sketches out both the cosmology and mythology that many (but not all) peoples in Viking societies believed in whilst trying to get inside their mind too, trying to understand and comprehend their beliefs, their fears and, ultimately, their motivations in life.
Unlike earlier histories, Price packs the book with the most up-to-date archaeological research and discusses issues of gender and identity fluidity.
This helps cut through the "assumed" knowledge of yesteryear, showing that Viking warriors were more than the lazy stereotype of skillful sailor barbarians hell-bent on satisfying carnal desires and a lust for treasure.
The whole Viking "sphere of influence," from Newfoundland in Canada to Baghdad, from the most remote settlement in Greenland to the huge medieval metropolis of Constantinople, is surveyed and visited, leaving the reader almost an expert on Viking society as the 10th-century Arab traveler and author, Ahmad Ibn Fadlan.
Whether your only reference to Vikings is thanks to an Asterix comic book or you know Huginn from Munin, The Children of Ash and Elm is a must-read.
Price's factual narration and decades' worth of research make it easy to see why it won both The Times of London and The Sunday Times' "History Book of the Year" for 2022.
No doubt, next year's students at Uppsala University will have a new book as part of their Viking-era history curriculum.
Verdict: Price, as an author, is about as skillful and masterful as Thor is with Mjölnir. This book is a must-read for all lovers of Vikings.
The Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings by Neil Price is available to buy on Amazon here.
Pssst! Interest in Viking books? You might be interested in our review of Tore Skeie's "The Wolf Age: The Vikings, The Anglo-Saxons and the Battle for the North Sea Empire," available here.
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