From groundbreaking new research that helps us challenge assumptions about the Viking expansions to the origins of how the Vikings created modern Britain, there is a book here for every taste.
1) The Children of Ash and Elm by Neil Price: A History of the Vikings
To understand the Vikings, you must first understand their milieu, culture, and mythology. Luckily for us, Neil Price leaves no (rune)stone unturned as he guides the reader on an educational journey that is as full of color as any Norse saga but with many more historical facts! From a deep dive into Norse mythology and cosmology to what the latest archeological findings can tell us about Viking gender fluidity and everything in between, this is as close as you will get to a university course lectured by Price, a Professor in the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala University in Sweden...at a fraction of the cost! A great read for novice or advanced Viking history nuts alike.
2) River Kings: A New History of the Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Road by Dr. Cat Jarmnan
Dr. Cat Jarman is a modern-day Renaissance woman: a renowned bioarchaeologist, best-selling author, and broadcaster. In her latest book, she helps to shed new light on the eastward expansion of the Vikings, through the various river systems of Eastern Europe, down to the world of the Byzantine Empire, Abbasid Caliphate, and beyond. This eastward push, so overlooked by traditional histories of the Vikings, shows just how interconnected and interlinked the global economy was over a millennium ago. From how a simple bead traveled from India to a grave in England to the excesses of Viking funeral orgies, this book is part of a rethinking of traditional Viking histories.
3) The Anglo-Saxons: A History of the Beginnings of England 400 – 1066 by Marc Morris
The history of the English and the Vikings are so intertwined and interlinked it can, in the early medieval period, be hard to see where one ends and the other begins. Marc Morris details, in great clarity, style, and depth, the origins of a nation forged by successive waves of invasion, including (but not limited to) the Romans, the Saxons, the Vikings, and the Normans. The prequel to Morris's weighty tome about the Norman conquest (see below), this covers many seminal periods of English history in one. From 12 days of feasting between Alfred the Great and his Norse opponent, Guthrum, to what else the British museum found with a Sussex farmer's lost tool, this book is full of detailed research and good humor that make Morris the best-selling author he is.
4) The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England by Marc Morris
Though the Norman conquest may be one of the most studied invasions and conquest in history, Marc Morris breathes new life into what could be otherwise a staid subject. Given the lack of written records, Morris does his best to try to capture the history of one of the most dramatic turning points in English history. Each page drips with verve, color, and rich historical detail that will make you fall head first into this book and grab it with two hands like William the Conqueror was said to have done with English soil when he fell off his boat on an English beach before Hastings.
5) The Wolf Age: The Vikings, The Anglo-Saxons and the Battle for the North Sea Empire by Tore Skeie
Though it is unfashionable now, the so-called "Great Man Theory" of history – where one individual can shape events and change the course of history – could be applied to the story of Viking King Sweyn Forkbeard. Aside from having history's best nickname, Forkbeard was the man responsible for creating a transnational maritime empire uniting the thrones of Denmark, England, and Norway in what has been seen as the high point of Viking influence, power, and prestige during the 11th century CE. Skeie delves into the political machinations and offers up a fascinating insight into how one man could forge such an empire in the "Age of Wolves."
6) The Last Viking: The True Story of Harald Hardrada by Don Holloway
Though he may be remembered for a failed invasion of England, halted by English Harold Godwinson, Harald Hardrada was, without any doubt, the most impressive warrior of his age. From his insecure childhood exiled from Norway after seeing his half-brother slaughtered in battle, through his formative years fighting everywhere (and everyone) between Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, to his employment as head of the personal bodyguard of the Byzantine Emperor, Don Holloway charts Hardrada's storied and interesting life, full of excitement and derring-do. His death, in 1066 CE, sometimes incorrectly bookends the "Viking Age", and it's hard to argue there was a more interesting, or impressive, Viking king, warrior, and poet throughout this age.
7) The Viking Heart: How Scandinavians Conquered the World by Arthur Herman
Sometimes history can get a bad rap. For many, it is just the repetition of a series of dates of battles, deaths, and coronations. For Arthur Herman, it's personal. Very personal. Whilst other Viking books end their story on the battlefield of Hasting, Herman takes the Scandinavian story right up, through the medieval period to the late 19th / early 20thth century CE. It was in this era that his forebears, like so many Scandinavians, emigrated from poverty to make their riches in the United States. Herman links the two parts of this book – the pre and post-Viking history of Scandinavia – with charm, rich detail, humor, and choked full of personal family history.
8) Viking Age Brew: The Craft of Brewing Sahti Farmhouse Ale
Given the recent boom of craft beer and microbreweries worldwide, it was only a matter of time before new research into Viking-era beer would surface. Sahti Farmhouse Ale is now considered a super niche style of beer that even most hipsters and beer-geeks would hardly have heard of. However, in this lavishly illustrated book, the history of this ale, which was drunk widely throughout the Viking world over a millennium ago, is detailed along with a step-by-step guide on how to make this beer as well as many other medieval tipples.
Possibly the first history book to give you a hangover...
The book is available for purchase on Amazon here.
9) Women In the Viking Age by Judith Jesch
Whilst almost three decades old, a classic is still a classic. This 1991 book was an inspiration for a whole new generation of female Viking historians and researchers. It was the first book to seriously look at a women's experience during the Viking Age. Whilst the female voice was cruelly silenced during this period, Lesch pieces together fragments and clues, from runic inscriptions to Old Norse literature, to try and provide a detailed examination and analysis of the varied experiences of Viking-era women. An instant classic upon publication deserves to be read by everyone.
The book is available for purchase on Amazon here.
10) Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them by Nancy Marie Brown
The history of the Lewis Chessman, 93 walrus ivory chess pieces that washed up on a beach in 19th century Scotland, is one of the most unlikely and remarkable accidental archaeological discoveries yet recorded. Yet the story of who carved them, almost unknown by the thousands of tourists who gawk at them at the British Museum annually, is just as fascinating. Brown gives the woman who created them, Marget the Adroit of Iceland, the treatment she deserves by telling her story centuries after she carved these delicate pieces of art.
11) The Real Valkyrie – The Hidden History of Viking Women by Nancy Brown
The latest book by Nancy Brown helps to try and break into the often (sadly) male-dominated study of Viking history and studies. Inspired by a skeleton found in a grave in Sweden, the book weaves some of the history, lives, and lived experiences of a variety of women from the Viking Age (c. 750 – 1100 CE), from queens to mere servants. Unlike other stuffier tomes, Brown's "Valkyrie women" have lives that run the full gamut of experiences for women during the early medieval period, with plenty of humorous anecdotes to add in for good measure. Brown uses the latest archaeological research to help shatter centuries of misogynistic stereotypes about the role and agency of women in Viking societies. Most importantly, though, she helps give a voice to these women who have been silenced and ignored for more than a millennium.
12) The Mästermyr Find: A Viking Age Tool Chest from Gotland by Greta Arwidsson and Gösta Berg
This is a book that should satisfy your inner archaeological needs. A chest discovered on a remote part of the Swedish island of Götland by a farmer in the mid-1930s may not set your pulse racing. However, the authors, Arwidsson and Berg, put, literally, a lifetime of work and research into this fascinating technical book. Decades of careful and methodical research into the more than 300 items found in the Viking era toolbox underpin this book that should be a must-read for any budding archaeologists. Away from all the Indiana Jones-style cliches, Arwdisson and Berg's passion project show just how fascinating real-life archaeological finds can be. Plenty of historical context and research is given for each of the items that were unearthed by a farmer's tractor. This is a fascinating insight into the real-life workings of archaeologists in the field.
13) Swords of the Viking Age by Ian G. Peirce and Ewart Oakeshott
Scholars Ian G. Peirce and Ewart Oakeshott delve deep into the history and development of Viking swords by way of specific examples kept at various museums across Europe, even in private collections. These are analyzed in meticulous detail and photographed from several angles so that the variations of hilt and blade can be discussed at length, bringing into the spotlight Viking sleeping customs and medieval German workshops. Swords are, surprisingly, a little-covered area of Norse history compared to ships or jewelry, yet allowed their bearers to conquer much of Europe and beyond.
14) The Norse Myths - A Guide to the Gods and Heroes by Carolyne Larrington
The Norse Myths should benefit both the curious beginner and the seasoned enthusiast. A series of informative sidebars on subjects ranging from blood-eagle punishments to secret rites allows the author to summarize complex concepts in a few brief lines, just enough to equip the reader with the know-how to better understand these age-old stories.
15) The Viking Way: Magic and Mind in Late Iron Age Scandinavia by Neil Price
There is no doubt why famed author, historian, and Professor of Archaeology Neil Price recently won one of Sweden's most prestigious academic prizes. He has been crafting riveting historical books about all things Viking for over two decades. In this weighty tome, Price helps shed light on a previously little-studied area of Viking society and culture - magic. Using both literary and archaeological sources and records, Price delves into how people in Viking societies thought about and practiced magic, its influences (from Sami shamanism to Christian spirituality), and its complex legacy in later medieval Scandinavia.
16) The Viking Hondbók: Eat, Dress, and Fight Like a Warrior by Kjersti Egerdahl
Learn all about the everyday life of the Vikings through the lens of a Norwegian-American writer who skillfully blends humor and modern-day references into the narrative without compromising respect for her heritage. Raised in Seattle, where her father founded the Scandinavian Language Institute, Kjersti Egerdahl is more intrigued by what Viking sailors consumed during their lengthy voyages than by the battles they engaged in upon reaching their destinations. The latter, including dates and specific details, are already well-known to those familiar with this historical period. Her book is organized into four main sections: The Village, The Kingdom, The Vikings, and Valhalla. It's beautifully complemented by line drawings from artist Josh Lynch.
17) World of Art: Viking Art by James Graham-Campbell
This very Norse edition of the "World of Art" series sees James Graham-Campbell take the reader through a detailed look at the little-known beauty of Viking art. From its ancient origins to its constant evolutionary flux to its later impact – both medieval and modern – this is a tour de force of a softer side of the Viking story. Whilst Vikings get a bad rap for being mere brainless barbarians, people in Viking societies were responsible for six artistic styles. These styles, the history of which provides the book's framework, are beautifully illustrated with photographs of artworks produced, from glittering jewelry and amulets to gigantic but delicately carved Viking ships. This book will help bust the myth that people in Viking societies were not creators but destroyers. This is a must-read for those wanting to brush up (pardon the pun) on early medieval art in Northern Europe and how it still influences art today.
18) The Viking World by Stefan Brink and Neil Price
Whilst we at The Viking Herald are big fans of Professor Neil Price – perhaps one of the most knowledgeable and readable scholars of the Viking Age – it is always good to read some of his earlier work. The Viking World, a book he helped edit and compile, bears all the hallmarks of the quality, approachability, and attention to historical detail we associate with the University of Uppsala Professor. Weighing in at over 700 pages, this is THE authoritative work on Viking history. All the usual areas are covered – the Viking economy, warfare, and links with Christian Europe. Additionally, niche topics are highlighted, such as the influence of the Scandinavian languages on British place names, Viking voyages to Spain and Northern Africa, and the power dynamics of women in sexual politics. This should fill not only a (large) gap on one's bookshelf but also plug a hole in the market for the more highbrow Viking connoisseur, dare we say, academically inclined reader.
19) Gone Viking: A Travel Saga by Bill Arnott
In a modern-day version of a true Viking quest, author Bill Arnott leads us on a global odyssey in Gone Viking: A Travel Saga. Stuffing the reader into his backpack, Arnott takes us on a whirlwind tour of the countries, cultures, and civilizations touched - sometimes peacefully, sometimes not - by people from Viking societies. From the British Isles to the middle of the Pacific Ocean and everywhere in between, Arnott delivers a wonderfully funny and insightful saga, part travelogue, part history lesson. Every phase and aspect of the Viking Age is explored, from its early beginnings with mainly predatory raids, through conquest, colonization, and eventual collapse. Arnott infuses his narrative with humor, ensuring the reader is both better educated and entertained for having journeyed with him on this personal odyssey.
20) Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries by Bill Arnott
From the British Isles to British Columbia via Australia, the Southern Ocean, and even into the Caribbean, Bill Arnott writes with his usual laid-back and carefree style, dotted with poetry and occasional witticisms, and takes the reader on a trip around the world. Again. With much of this written before, during, and after the wild success of his first book, some of the magic and shine has worn off his part travel book, part adrenaline junkie journal. Arnott does his best to bring the reader on another whimsical and lighthearted romp around the globe, full of colorful characters, hikes, and the odd kayak expedition or two. While there are indeed sea-bound voyages – in a variety of vessels – none, however, are anywhere near the Viking ancestral homelands of Scandinavia. Yet, Arnott taps into the "Viking spirit" – the desire to roam and explore, to seek out adventure and action – albeit with a very modern twist.
21) The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman by Nancy Marie Brown
Women were sadly often written out of the historical record, especially during the early medieval period when Vikings roamed. However, Nancy Marie Brown does her best to write one back in... and what a woman Gudrid is! Her life story – the stuff of saga and legend – saw her roam all over the Viking world, even making a pilgrimage to Rome at a ripe old age. As Brown puts it, she mixes science with the sagas, trying to determine whether Gudrid's travels have some historical foundations. From a Viking settlement in North America to a farm in Iceland, Brown traces the life and times of Gudrid with detail, precision, and warmth. Most importantly, however, Brown shines a spotlight on a woman's voice, which is depressingly rare in Viking society. Sifting fact from fiction, the author helps tell the story of a woman whose life would be extraordinary even by today's standards. No doubt Netflix will come knocking on Brown's door soon...
22) The Vikings - Peoples of the Ancient World by Neil Price and Ben Raffield
Written by two professors at Uppsala University, The Vikings is a companion to editions such as The Babylonians and The Trojans in the Peoples of the Ancient World series, providing a comprehensive overview of Norse culture and history in five chapters. Illustrated with 20 black-and-white photographs and five maps, it should serve as a handy, informative introduction for recent devotees of this area of history.
23) Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths by Nancy Marie Brown
Nancy Marie Brown explores the life and times of Snorri Sturluson, whom she dubs "the Homer of the North." Her work is less a traditional biography and more a saga of the man responsible for the rich canon of Norse literature. Whilst Sturluson was undoubtedly a wordsmith, he was also a flawed individual. He amassed significant wealth and political power, spending years in influential circles and mentoring the young Haakon V of Norway. Yet, he was rumored to have been murdered for betraying his country, leading to its integration into the Norwegian kingdom. There's debate about his political role, but his literary genius is universally acknowledged. Brown delves into his life, the myths and sagas he compiled, and possibly embellished. She also discusses Sturluson’s influence on figures like J.R.R. Tolkien, the Brothers Grimm, Carl Jung, and C.S. Lewis, with some arguing his impact surpasses even Shakespeare's.
24) American Vikings: How the Norse sailed into the lands and imaginations of America by Martyn Whittock
In American Vikings, the prolific UK historian Martyn Whittock takes a bold stance on the Norse connection to North America, bringing to light the multifaceted legacy of Viking explorers. This controversial yet imaginative interpretation challenges the narrative of Viking history, questioning long-held assumptions about their settlements and voyages. Whittock's exploration of Norse adventures in the New World does not just dwell on the past; it draws a direct line to the present, examining how Viking tales have woven themselves into the fabric of modern-day political culture. The book subtly implies that these ancient sagas, while romanticized in modern times, carry a more complex and sometimes darker influence on contemporary ideologies and mythologies.
25) Viking Britain: An Exploration by Thomas Williams
There is more to the Viking story in Britain than blood and guts, massacres, conquest, and a list of dates on a page. In Viking Britain: An Exploration, former British curator (the man behind the wildly popular British Museum exhibition Vikings: Life and Legend, which had the British public foaming at the mouth for all things Viking back in 2014) sets about breaking centuries-old stereotypes by delving deep into the history of Viking Age Britain. Williams treats the reader to a history that is just as much about "ideas, objects and places" as it is about knowing your Ragnars from your Rollos. Whilst societies and communities in early medieval Britain were plagued by violence - much of it brought by these "North Sea wolves" - Williams goes about explaining the hidden side of the Viking story of Britain and how their legacy has inspired everyone from Lord Nelson to Oswald Mosely. The story of Vikings in Britain has been told many times, but this is the first time that the Vikings get back some of the dignity that has been lost with centuries of propaganda, spin, and myth. A must for anyone with even a passing interest in British history or the Vikings.
26) Northmen: The Viking Saga, AD 793-1241 by John Haywood
Northmen: The Viking Saga, AD 793-1241 by John Haywood offers an encyclopedic treatment of Scandinavian history with a solid foundation. However, it could benefit from diverging more from the well-trodden academic path. When introducing the book, Haywood notes that the Vikings were a historic phenomenon due to the "vast expanse of their horizons." Like his subject, the author too seems to have broad horizons as he meticulously traces the story of the Vikings and the societies that produced them. Haywood traces the journey of the "Northmen" from their origins in Bronze Age Scandinavia to 15th-century Greenland, passing through the British Isles, Frankish realms, the Iberian Peninsula, and reaching as far as southern Italy and even to the gates of the "Holy City," Jerusalem. Methodically drawing out a socio-political history, this book caters to academics, researchers, and the more dedicated history enthusiasts. "Northmen: The Viking Saga, 793-1241 AD" by John Haywood is available for purchase on Amazon here.
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