Title: The Vikings: A History
Author: Robert Ferguson
Genre: Non-fiction: History
From Harald Bluetooth to Cnut the Great, the feared seamen and plunderers of the Viking Age ruled Norway, Sweden, and Denmark but roamed as far as Byzantium, Greenland, and America. Raiders and traders, settlers and craftsmen, the medieval Scandinavians who have become familiar to history as Vikings never lose their capacity to fascinate, from their ingeniously designed longboats to their stormy pantheon of Viking gods and goddesses, ruled by Odin in Valhalla. Robert Ferguson is a sure guide across what he calls “the treacherous marches which divide legend from fact in Viking Age history.” His long familiarity with the literary culture of Scandinavia with its skaldic poetry is combined with the latest archaeological discoveries to reveal a sweeping picture of the Norsemen, one of history’s most amazing civilizations. (from Goodreads)
Thoughts: This book is intended to be a general introduction to the Viking Age for the average reader interested in learning more about the people, cultural, religion, and major players of the era. As such, the focus of the book is very wide: it covers the viking raids in England and Ireland and the formation, and end, of the Danelaw, the settlement of the island and conversion of the Icelanders, the settlements in Greenland and North America, the creation of Normandy by Rolf, the viking raids in Spain, Italy, and North Africa, the raids in the East and the formation of the Kievan Rus dynasty, kingship struggles back home in Norway and Sweden, and the eventual conversion of the entire Scandinavian people to Christianity.
Because the book covers such a wide ground it is impossible to cover all these subjects in much detail; each topic listed above usually covers just one chapter. I tend to like non-fiction, and history books specifically, that explore one issue in depth. That way I can really get to know the main characters, the situation, and all the cool little facts pertaining to the topic. In this book such an exploration simply wasn’t possible. While this was partly because of the general focus of the book, this is also because of the lack of native Scandinavian sources for this time period; the only contemporary information from Vikings is generally rune stones with short inscriptions and grave goods. Ferguson must rely on contemporary chronicles from the Franks and Anglo-Saxons to construct his history, as well as from Scandinavian sources composed years after the end of the Viking Age. There is nothing wrong with this per say; I just wanted more information about certain things, specifically the settlements in Greenland and North American, then was given or perhaps was even available to Ferguson as he wrote the book. Part of the reason I read this book is that, besides the Danelaw and Kievan Rus, I was not very familiar with the Viking Age. While this book did a good deal to remedy that, I also found that, because of my lack of general knowledge, I sometimes forgot who people were and the situation Ferguson was discussing when he would return to a topic after a couple of chapters. I very rarely ‘get lost’ in my reading in regards to forgetting important information so that was a little frustrating.
I read this book before I moved and returned it to the library so I don’t have it in front of me for reference and I’m having trouble remembering anything else that really stood out to me. Some of the poetry, thought to be composed during the Viking Age and written down centuries later, that he quoted was nice, and I liked the chapter on Viking religion. Some parts of the book were a bit dry or boring but overall this was a good read that taught me a lot about a topic that I knew only very generally about before. I read this book the week before I moved, reading chapters between packing, cleaning, and panicking about all that we had to get done in such a short space of time which didn’t make for the most relaxing read. Perhaps if I had read this book at a more peaceful time I would have a different opinion about this book but as it stand my overall impression was just OK; it was a good introductory book with some really interesting information in its pages but overall not entirely engrossing.