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The Vikings: A History

3.64  ·  Rating Details ·  1,023 Ratings  ·  136 Reviews
The Vikings have a kind of dual existence in popular culture, where the Hollywood image of horned helmeted warriors set on rape and pillage has largely been replaced with a less exciting vision of trade and settlement. Robert Ferguson's new interpretation of the Viking Age, whilst rejecting the cliches aims to return some of the violence to the mix. He argues that the Viki ...more
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published November 12th 2009 by Viking Adult (first published January 1st 2009)
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Jason Pettus
Dec 02, 2009 Jason Pettus rated it liked it
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

Regulars know that I'm a big fan of the so-called "NPR-worthy" history book, in which academic research is combined with a narrative framework and engaging personal style; and for a perfect example of why this deserves a special new term in the first place, look no further than Robert Ferguson's old-
Justin Evans
Jan 12, 2012 Justin Evans rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-etc

I found the reviews of this a bit surprising- I guess it is a bit hard to read at times, with all those names flying around, but given that Ferguson was trying to be a responsible historian, there's not much else he could have done. Viking history has to be seen from the outside, because outsiders were the ones who recorded that history for us. Stranger still are the complaints about his use of the word 'heathen,' a product, I can only assume, of peoples' bizarre inability to understand that whe
Bryn Hammond
Jan 09, 2013 Bryn Hammond rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medieval-other
It didn't wean me off my old Gwyn Jones (A History of the Vikings). Still, I liked that he uses Heathen and Heathendom -- in capitals -- to give conceptual equality with Christianity. Also I thought the specific chapter on 'The culture of Northern Heathendom' was great. The next chapter, 'The causes of the Viking age' was even better: he argues that Charlemagne's religious persecution of the Saxons, and his destruction of their most holy world-tree, directly triggered the first attack on Lindisf ...more
Aug 26, 2014 Ton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: middle-ages
A cultural history of the Viking peoples, about the Viking peoples, their raiding and settlements across Europe, which turns into a “what happened whereabouts” history of the Vikings.

Hampered by the lack of written heathen sources (except for poetry, practically all literary sources are by Christian writers), and the author’s tendency to hop about. About the former point, I have to say Ferguson gives a very clearly argued view when evidence from sources falls short, and he is clearly in his elem
Feb 15, 2010 Jeremy rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: history nerds
I thought this was a fantastic scholarly history book on the Vikings. There were a few idiosyncrasies, but basically I thought it was quite readable for a scholarly work of history. It's a lot of information, more than the casual reader will want. And a few chapters do get weighed down by the needs to grapple with complex data. I gave it 4 stars, but that may just refer to the Kindle version. This book has a complex and vast scope, and desperately needs a good timeline and better maps to make th ...more
Jenny T
Dec 28, 2009 Jenny T rated it it was ok
This book showed such initial promise, and I was particularly fascinated by the discussion of Viking law; however, I couldn't bring myself to finish it, for three main reasons:

1) The author consistently refers to the Vikings as Heathens. While I don't *believe* he intends this in a negative sense, the word *does* have negative connotations that can not be ignored.

2) The organization was poor and the digressions numerous -- within a page, the author had jumped from the importance of horses in Vik
Feb 17, 2011 Rebecca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a brilliantly detailed, well researched, a laid out walk through from the earliest stages of the Viking era through to its demise not just at 1066 but in all the countries the Vikings made land fall and settled (England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Iceland, Hebrides, Shetland, Greenland, North America, Istanbul and the Mediterranean, Russia etc) and of course their home nations of Scandinavia.
The brilliant thing about this book besides it great detail, research, anecdotes and use of a
Mar 17, 2017 Caro rated it liked it
Shelves: vikings
A more academic tome than Oliver's chatty introduction, Vikings, but with some good additional detail (okay, sometimes too much). Ferguson arranges his narrative geographically, which means that the same names come up repeatedly in different chapters and at different dates. A timeline and list of characters, plus more maps, would have helped me. I am still astonished that the Vikings penetrated as far as Russia, Spain and North Africa.
Feb 26, 2013 Max rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a history book. It is not a novel so I will tell a bit more of the "story" than usual.

"Guns don't kill people .. people kill people". Who pulled the Viking trigger? Vikings killed lots of people but were they the merely the Guns. Well thats a bit obtuse. This is a history book about the Vikings based on more recent findings.In Viking history books the major question that is always raised but never plausibly answered, in the past, is "Why did the vikings start suddenly in 793 AD to raid
John Carter McKnight
Jun 23, 2015 John Carter McKnight rated it really liked it
An excellent history of a difficult subject, one where most of the sources are either poets or adversaries. Ferguson's historiography is on display: he's very clear about his source material, the extent to which it might be trusted, and how it cross-checks with a broad range of evidence.

I greatly prefer the breadth of his coverage of the entire Viking phenomenon, from Kiev to Vinland, to more provincial accounts, which tend to focus on the English experience. As this does involve some "jumping
Alex Telander
Dec 09, 2009 Alex Telander rated it really liked it
There have been many books written on the Vikings, and everyone has their own stereotypical – and in most cases, inaccurate – idea of who the Vikings were and what they were like; media has done much to reaffirm these clichés. Thankfully, there is The Vikings: A History by a “leading authority in the field of Scandinavian studies,” Robert Ferguson. Ferguson puts all the misconceived and incorrect notions of Vikings to rest, launching into a comprehensive history of these northern peoples and wha ...more
Ryan Mishap
Nov 06, 2009 Ryan Mishap rated it liked it
Shelves: history
I will give a good review lest the author erect a "shame-pole" taunting my lack of manliness or perhaps become enraged enough to give me the "blood-eagle."

Ferguson attempts a comprehensive history of the Viking Age (roughly 790's C.E. to 11 C.E.) as various groups engage in piracy, the slave trade, exploration, and conquering. He separates the chapters by the areas the Viking raiders engaged. While this perspective split keeps us geographically clear, it makes a linear narrative almost impossibl
Jan 17, 2012 Elizabeth marked it as to-read
Even non-fiction books need some sort of coherent narrative or sense of a plot taking you from the beginning to the end of the story being related. Ferguson's main problem is that he never manages to nail down that narrative thread, and without it the book is more an accumulation of loosely related facts and badly constructed at that. In addition, Ferguson seems to make an already difficult and confusing group of subjects unnecessarily more so through some misguided decisions about how to handle ...more
Sep 16, 2011 Mark rated it liked it
Ferguson's theory is that the Viking Age was less about expansion and "lebensraum" than a culture war between the Odin-ists and the Jesus-ists.
I must say, there's ample evidence than can be read either way, the good thing is that he puts it all together in one book like this, which makes for interesting reading, If only you can keep track of the different Olavs, Olofs, Sigurds, Sitgards, Eriks and Leifs, Haakons and Haralds and Harolds! But to say, yes, he does have a point. So do lots of other
Feb 13, 2013 Lucynell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Unfortunately we know very little about the Viking Age. Robert Ferguson explains why and goes the extra mile to present us with what we do know and what we can somewhat assume. He draws on numerous literary sources as well as advanced archeological methods and what we do find is impressive, definitely not the monolithic impression i personally had before starting this book.
Still, no matter the intention, we know very little and for a casual history reader like myself, this is a bitch to read. U
Aug 07, 2011 Elizabeth rated it it was ok
Ferguson is very clearly Christian and he is unable to look at things objectively because of this. In the space of a page he tells us that the destruction of 'heathendom' in Iceland was a good thing and then because Christianity does not allow for the more egalitarian political system of the allthing Iceland breaks out in civil war over who should be the new supreme ruler and it gets so bad that the Icelanders give themselves up to Norway. Sounds totally worth it. It really impedes the reading o ...more
Court Hansen
Oct 13, 2014 Court Hansen rated it liked it
I made the mistake of listening to the audiobook version of this instead of just reading it, and as a result, I was left confused every now and then since there are so many unfamiliar names. For the parts I was able to keep track of, this was a great introduction to Scandinavian history, and the chapters about the founding of Iceland were particularly interesting.
Jun 03, 2016 Alex rated it really liked it
Solid overview of Viking history and its transformation from bands of raiders to established Christian kingdoms. Covers a lot of ground - and does an admirable job mixing in known history, Icelandic sagas and archaeological evidence to tell the story.
David Greco
Apr 04, 2011 David Greco rated it did not like it
Sorry. I tried but just couldn't make it through this. As one reviewer said, "how can someone make something so interesting so boring." The author seemed to randomly move from topic to topic with no narrative thread and no overall theme as to what he was trying to say.
Ralph Hermansen
Feb 08, 2013 Ralph Hermansen rated it really liked it
Here is a true story about marauders from the middles ages with names like; Ragnar Hairy-Breeches, Harald Bluetooth, Erik Bloodaxe, Ivar the Boneless, and Svein ForkedBeard. It is a story that spans three hundred years and involves most of northern Europe. The Vikings came from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark in their distinctive Viking ships and harassed, plundered, and even settled in many parts of northern Europe. The Vikings dominated the British Isles. They also dominated parts of the Frankish ...more
Neil Halvorsen
Jun 01, 2017 Neil Halvorsen rated it really liked it
This book should be subtitled Christians are awful and ruin everything.
Michael E.
Like a History of God by Karen Armstrong, The Vikings is a repetitive read with names and dates coming back up over and over again, but not in a way that hammers those names and dates into your memory easily. You are stuck trying to remember when the author last mentioned them and in what context. Instead of having a general timeline of events regarding the Vikings (which the is scarce eye witness accounts), you instead get a tornado of information circling in and out at you the reader. Hell it ...more
Dec 18, 2015 Glenn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Even some well-meaning and authoritative portrayals of the Vikings fail to transcend popular conceptions, and many barely scratch the surface of what they were really like. The Hammer And The Cross, by Robert Ferguson, seeks to address the various elements of the Viking phenomenon.

The author looks at Norse mythology and culture, and some of the economic and sociological factors which might have guided or shaped the course of events. There is some illuminating information about shipbuilding and n
Kristen Anton
Dec 20, 2016 Kristen Anton rated it liked it
Some juicy information, but I feel the book got off topic a bit and missed a hell of a lot of good stuff. Good read, but too PC-rated for me.
Sarah Schanze
This was an interesting book. It created connections between concepts I never thought of before, and just plain didn't know about before. Whether those connections are legit is another matter, but it definitely gets you thinking. The author talks about more than just Scandinavia, he talks about almost any aspect of the world the Vikings touched, and how that affected other things. It was definitely thought-provoking, but at the same time it felt like a lot of information.

It also felt like a lot
Lucy Pollard-Gott
Oct 11, 2013 Lucy Pollard-Gott rated it it was amazing
Ferguson writes about Viking history during the period running from about 800-1200, when raids by sea from the Scandinavian countries affected other parts of northern Europe and even as far as Iberia and Russia. Struggles for kingship in Norway and Denmark are part of the story, as are the moves westward into Iceland and Greenland. This book is fascinating but not an easy read--very dense in historical detail--and it did help that a few of the names were familiar from reading Heimskringla: or, T ...more
C.R. May
Jul 27, 2014 C.R. May rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fine and wide ranging modern history of the time commonly referred to as the 'Viking Age' and one of the first which clearly links the beginning of the Scandinavian attacks on north west Europe to the conquest of heathen Saxony by the Christian Francs under Charlemagne in the 780's. The author, rightly in my view, shows that the Scandinavian attacks on Christendom were attacks directly aimed at this aggressive, expansionist and exclusive faith which now extended to the borders of Denma ...more
❄Elsa Frost❄
Jul 15, 2015 ❄Elsa Frost❄ rated it liked it
Shelves: general-study
Wow, I really enjoyed reading this! The only issue I had with this was that I had a hard time keeping up with names and the chronological order of events. So sometimes I'd try to glimpse back to remember who King Olaf was and where he was from--and other times, I decided to just go with the flow to see if it would all come back to me.

But, yeah, this book was great! I just wish the author had provided some chronological timeline or otherwise provided the names of some of the more important people
Adam A
May 16, 2015 Adam A rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book. I wondered, as I read the intro, how what was described as [paraphrasing] sparse information could fill so many pages.

But the story of the Vikings isn't just the story of a people, but of a time in history and the story of those who recorded it. In this sense, Robert Ferguson does maybe one of the best jobs an historian can do in the relation of the story of a people. In this book, Ferguson is neither an apologist for, nor critic of the ancient Scandinavians or the people who des
Andy Ludington
Aug 27, 2012 Andy Ludington rated it it was ok
The Vikings is a decent read. Robert Ferguson clearly did exhaustive research on the era, and you get the impression he could write about the topic forever. But after a while, it started to feel a bit like a pop song. Verse: the story of a specific historical event. Chorus: Ferguson analyzes the event for a page or two. Repeat.

I've seen that format in other histories where it bothered me less, and I'm trying to figure out why. The histories of Hannibal and Genghis Khan I read in the last few yea
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“I don't mean to mock the gods,
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