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The Vikings: A History

3.61 of 5 stars 3.61  ·  rating details  ·  725 ratings  ·  111 reviews
A comprehensive and thrilling history of the Vikings for fans of the History Channel series

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 h
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published November 12th 2009 by Viking Adult (first published January 1st 2009)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,163)
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Jason Pettus
(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

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
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
Bryn Hammond
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
Jenny T
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 15, 2010 Jeremy rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
John Carter McKnight
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
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
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
Ryan Mishap
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
Alex Telander
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
"At a gathering of the tribe a white mare is brought into the ring of people and an act of bestiality involving the king and the mare takes place at which the kind becomes, by association, stallion. The mare is then killed and dismembered and a broth made of its blood and flesh. After the king has bathed in it, he and the other members of the tribe eat the flesh and drink the broth."
-- p. 38, "The Hammer and the Cross," by Robert Ferguson.

This is one of a class of anecdotes wherein things just
Jan 27, 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
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
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
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
History is messy and complicated and it's easy to demand simple views of things. Vikings were savages. Vikings were *noble* savages. Pagans were victims. They were brutes. They were waiting for the enlightenment of Christianity. They fought to enslave others. They fought for their freedom. There is civilization, and there is barbarism.

All these simple views are going to get shaken if you read Ferguson's book. Here is the blood and the romance and the nostalgia and the yearning for the future and
David Greco
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.
C.R. May
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
Adam A
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
Mike Bloom
The subject matter covered in this book is fascinating. It is a basic outline of the "Viking Age" and the available historical bases, much of which is archeological rather than documentary. Details regarding the day-to-day life of a "Viking"--or swashbuckling tales of seaborne conquest--are not included, presumably because reliable historical details of same simply are not available. Readers will have to settle for a general description of the evolution of the culture of the Northern Heathens du ...more
A relatively brief academic history--a bit dry in spots, or very dry if you're looking for a popularized history. And not for you if you're looking for a pseudo-history where women warriors fought alongside men and the fictitious Mother Goddess was worshipped until the eeeeevil Christians came along. No--in this book women don't appear hardly at all, and calling a Christian priest homosexual in a poem results not in a Pride moment but in him hunting you down and killing you. But if you want to l ...more
Lucy Pollard-Gott
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
Slightly addictive and with a very 'us versus them' mentality, 'The Hammer and the Cross' focuses on the Christian conversion of the northern states. Starting with the devastating rule of the hypocritical and cruel Charlemagne, who ravaged Norway, Denmark and Sweden by killing thousands of Heathens, the Christians were genuinely surprised a few years later when the people who ventured south, the Vikings, started to fight back.

The destruction of the Lindisfarne church in England, and the razings
Justin Offermann
Aug 19, 2012 Justin Offermann rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History buffs; Viking enthusiasts
I find myself in agreement with a previous reviewer wondering at some of the less than positive reviews of this book. The author clearly has an extensive knowledge of Viking history, and he incorporates seamlessly both the traditional literary and historical sources as well as the most recent archaeological and genetic research. Given the relative paucity and sometimes suspect historical accuracy of many contemporary or near-contemporary documents of the Viking Age, Ferguson writes compellingly ...more
Cecelia Hightower
This book is about the history of the Viking and the reasons and methods of their expansion from the places we now know as Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. The Viking Age effectively began in 793 A.D. with an attack on the monastery at Lindisfarne England and according to this author ended about 1110 A.D. To me this book did a great job explaining the history of the Viking expansion, their religious conversion from Barbarism to Christianity, and the intrigue and double dealings as they looked for pl ...more
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
Andy Ludington
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
Harry Allagree
This may not be the best book for a introduction to the history of the Vikings, but it's certainly a good one. It's a fascinating explanation of very complex history. To speak of "the Vikings" is quite misleading, for there were all sorts and variations of them. Ferguson uses the term "Heathen", for the most part, in contrast to the "Christian" culture which eventually overtook them: terms actually used in some of the old Scandinavian sagas.

I appreciated Ferguson's explanation of terminology, an
Just A. Bean
Going into this, I knew next to nothing about the Vikings, other than what most people do (793 And All That). For the most part, it was a fascinating read. I'd say I learned a lot, and the massive amount of information, names and dates was presented well enough for me to follow what was going on with one or two exceptions.

I liked how he broke down the history by region then by period, so you could follow one set of characters for a while without bringing 40 other people (inevitably named Herald
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