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Vikings Hardcover – Dec 4 2012
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Looks beyond the cliched impressions of hairy raiders to exhaustively explore their less well-documented maritime and agricultural innovations. LONELY PLANET TRAVELLER this wonderful book is completely worth the effort THE LADY Neil Oliver brings alive another area of British history CATHOLIC HERALD
About the Author
Neil Oliver is a Scottish archaeologist, historian, broadcaster and writer. He is perhaps best known as the charismatic presenter of the award-winning documentary series COAST, as well his two critically acclaimed landmark BBC history series, A HISTORY OF SCOTLAND and A HISTORY OF ANCIENT BRITAIN. He lives in Stirling with his wife and three children.
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This book definitely deserves a place on the bookshelf of anyone with even a passing interest in this turbulent period.
The work gives a very good overview of the history of the Vikings and does so by keeping things in a chronological order, not delving too deeply into technical terms or archaeological jargon or getting bogged down into overwrought supposition. The book starts with an overview of history of the area and its peoples leading up to what could be termed the ‘Viking Age’. The book looks very much at the activities of the Vikings both in the east and in the westm points such as their trading exploits and their impact as far away from their home bases as Constantinople is covered as is the nation state building aspects of what was going on in Scandinavia during this time. The author spends a lot of time talking about his thoughts and feelings and imparting a sense of what it is like to stand in some of these places. Which is probably not the most academic manner of writing but suits the story of the Vikings because so many of the places they travelled to are beyond the usual sort of persons experiences. How many of us have been to the Shetlands, much less the Faroe Islands or Greenland. Even modern nation states such as Iceland evoke a certain frisson.
As the author weaves the story of the Viking push across the Atlantic to places such as the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland (and beyond) it is easy to fall into a sort of unquestioning veneration of, if nothing else, the bravery and derring-do of these people. The harshness of some of these environments is quite epic, the North American bases being a bridge too far and even the Greenland colony eventually petered out (the cause of which the book gives only slim address).
I had feared that when the book dealt with the Viking influence and engagement in the British Isles that it would lose cohesion, so many petty kingdoms and warlords, so many freebooting exploits and very little hard information for some of the events may have caused the book to trail off into a million tangents or made it ponder things for too long for which enough information is just not available. However by keeping focussed on the big picture things are kept on an even keel.
Overall this is a fun read that imparts chunks of knowledge on a human scale and in a personable fashion. It steers clear from flowery prose or attempts at stilted formality. And it contains a bunch of photographs of items, artefacts and geography that provides a nice visual stimuli to proceedings. There are also a few small line drawing style maps.
The bibliography contains a number of volumes that have now made it to my wish-list and the index of important names at the end is a nice touch.
If you like this kind of books, this one if for you. About Vikings and why their history fascinates Neil...