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Which books about the Vikings should I read?

There are many books about the Vikings and the Norse world for someone to choose from. Here is a list of books we think are a good reads about the Vikings – ones that are both fairly new and relatively inexpensive.

If you want a quick read then The Vikings: A Very Short Introduction, by Julian D. Richards, is a good place to start. This small and thin book comes in at 152 pages, and offers an overview of many different topics about the Vikings – their raiding, trading and settling. However, it doesn’t have very much depth, so you will soon be left wanting for more.

Perhaps a better introduction can be read in The Vikings and Their Age, by Angus A. Somerville and R. Andrew McDonald. It runs at 160 pages and is the kind of book to be used in undergraduate university courses. Some of the highlights in the book are the biographies they give of about eight individual Vikings, and a section devoted to explaining the primary sources we have about the Norse world. The book is paired with The Viking Age: A Reader, which offers dozens of selected translations from chronicles, sagas and other accounts.

Since being published in 2014, Anders Winroth’s The Age of the Vikings has been consistently popular, and deservingly so – it is an overview of the Vikings, but covers a lot of ground with more focus on actions and events on the eastern side of Europe (most books on the Vikings tend to deal with their interactions with England, France and western Europe – if you want something more like that check out Northmen: The Viking Saga AD 793-1241, by John Haywood).

A book that just came out – and one that deserves to be on many bookshelves – is The Vikings: Facts and Fictions, by Kirsten Wolf and Tristan Mueller-Vollmer. It is divided into 11 chapters, each dealing with a particular myth about the Norse, such as they wore horned helmets, or that they were unhygenic. Each chapter starts by explaining ‘What People Think Happened’, then ‘How the Story Became Popular’ and finally ‘What Really Happened’, while adding in bits of translated primary sources.

One should also mention another book by Kirsten Wolf – Viking Age: Everyday Life during the Extraordinary Era of the Norsemen – which is a simple read covering topics like food and recreation. Another good book for casual browsing is Pocket Museum: Vikings, by Steven Ashby and Alison Leonard. This is one of the books that just looks at particular objects and artefacts, offering short pieces about what makes them interesting and relevant to the Norse world. Visually it’s beautiful.

There are many books that look at the Vikings and their interactions with other parts of the world. The Vikings in England: Settlement, Society and Culture, by Dawn Hadley and Vikings in the South: Voyages to Iberia and the Mediterranean, by Ann Christys, are excellent examples of this. Byzantium and the Viking World, edited by Fedir Androshchuk, Jonathan Shepard and Monica White, is a collection of nineteen essays, and is perhaps the most academic heavy of all the books listed here.

If you want books that are very readable, those by Nancy Marie Brown are highly recommended. She has published three that deal with Norse history – The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman, which examines the life of the explorer Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir; Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths, which tells the story of an Icelandic chieftain and writer named Snorri Sturluson; and Ivory Vikings, the Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them, which examines the history of the Lewis Chessmen. These works are both bestsellers and award winners.

A couple of remaining books to mention: The Norse Myths: A Guide to Gods and Heroes, by Carolyne Larrington, will give you the stories of Odin, Thor and the mythology of pagan Scandinavia, while Viking Attacks on Paris: The “Bella parisiacae urbis” of Abbo of Saint-Germain-des-Prés is a translation by Nirmal Dass of a firsthand account of the Viking siege of Paris in 885. It is a dramatic reporting of warfare during the Viking period.

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