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A Brief History of the Vikings: The Last Pagans or the First Modern Europeans?

3.65  ·  Rating Details ·  478 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
Between the eighth and eleventh centuries, the Vikings surged from their Scandinavian homeland to trade and raid along the coasts of Europe. Their influence extended from Newfoundland to Baghdad, their battles were as far-flung as Africa and the Arctic. But were they great seafarers or desperate outcasts, noble heathens or oafish pirates, the last pagans or the first of ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 14th 2005 by Running Press (first published January 1st 2005)
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Anne Michaud
Dec 27, 2013 Anne Michaud rated it really liked it
A buckload of details makes this historical recount of vikings one of the most interesting non-fiction read.
Feb 20, 2011 David rated it really liked it
If one is looking for a quick-hit history of the Vikings, this is the book for them. Clements does a good job condensing the age of Viking exploration, conquest, and settlement into a fast-paced book. Viking influence existed before the sacking of monasteries in Ireland and continued beyond the Battle of Hastings in 1066. A battle, ironically, that saw two Viking armies square off against one another to claim the throne of England.

The author makes a not so subtle point that being a Viking is the
Aug 29, 2011 Rebecca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a suprisingly pleasant read and although it says Brief History on the front it doesn't feel like it. Each chapter gives enough details, dates, key characters, key locations etc that you are left satisfied not disappointed when it's time to move onto the next one. I am paritcularly impressed by the second to final chapter he's devoted to a key character not discussed in other history books I've read, Harald Hardrada. It allows you to follow him from his childhood through his years ...more
Josh Gaudreau
Jul 31, 2013 Josh Gaudreau rated it it was ok
I picked up this book because I'd read another from this series many years ago (on the Opium Wars, I believe), and enjoyed it very much. This book, however... not so much.

With a title like "A Brief History..." I expected the book to be less academic than it was. The author is extremely knowledgeable about the topic, but because of that very knowledge seems to forget that some readers will come to the book having little to no knowledge on the vikings (hence, picking up the book). Clements quite
Adrian Stumpp
Aug 29, 2009 Adrian Stumpp rated it liked it
Clements' history has enough interesting details about the vikings to save it from a lower rating. However, Clements never misses an opportunity to denounce the vikings as moral monsters. He reminds the reader on nearly every page that while vikings might be fun to read about, you wouldn't want to meet one. He basically says "Here are all the wonderful things the vikings added to western culture, but they killed a lot of people, so the world would have been much better off without them." This ...more
Selaine Henriksen
Mar 23, 2015 Selaine Henriksen rated it liked it
I've started watching "The Vikings" show, now in its third season and wanted to read more. I'm pretty sure this book, published in 2005, is the base for a lot of the facts used in the show. Although, all studies of the Vikings have to rely on only a few sources. I enjoy finding out how the writer for the show has used known facts to tell a fictional story. For example, he's switched the birth order of Ragnorak's sons. In the show, though, the audience has to relate, and like, the characters so I ...more
Jul 04, 2014 Olethros rated it liked it
-Efectivamente, breve, y además sencillo.-

Género. Ensayo.

Lo que nos cuenta. Retrato de los vikingos, su concepto, sus mitos e historia.

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Jun 02, 2016 Melinda rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A long, but enjoyable read. Lots of history, good stories, facts, truths and fallacies.
Jun 20, 2016 nick rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A decent book but that has some flaws too it denying it a four star score.

First of all I have to point out that the book was well written and is fairly accessible for a non academic or even for those who normally don't read these kinds of book while not dumbing it down or over dramatizing. The work is an excellent overview and is definitely a good starting point to further research the various events and persons of interest mentioned in the book. So why only three stars? Two reasons, one a stra
Apr 09, 2014 Doubledippedchip rated it really liked it
The Vikings, as the title might suggest, is an intriguing book to those interested in Viking history and/or Norse Mythology. Jonathan Clements, the author of The Vikings, does an ample job revealing and explaining the implications of their mythology on their lifestyle and culture, as well as the effects their environment had on the characteristics they attributed to different deities and the nature of their religion itself. From a secular standpoint, he discusses the importance of an aspect than ...more
Guy Grobler
Aug 04, 2011 Guy Grobler rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book and an easy read. A survey of the Vikings, using their demographic movement whether it was for trade, plunder or immigration purposes. Clements writing style makes the book easy to follow.
Having read the book I am left with many questions of what might have been, or could have been if the Vikings we're not to assimilate into the local communities they conquered? or if the Vikings in the Rus (Kiev area, the territory from which Russia would be born) we're to accept cath
Sep 20, 2016 Dan rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
A good introduction and easy read for anyone interested in the Vikings, necessarily told not much from a Viking point of view, since they wrote little, traveling without pen and paper. Of special interest to many readers of the British Isles and others of Scandinavian heritage, many in the upper midwest in the U.S. There are three good maps in the back.
Jun 12, 2015 Stephanie rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, audio
We chose not to visit the Jorvik Viking Centre when we were in York so I took the opportunity to plaster over a few of the gaps in my Viking history knowledge by downloading A Brief History Of The Vikings via Audible UK. I got lucky as this book was included in one of their 2 for 1 credit sales for members so it only actually cost just under 3! The information would easily be worth a full credit though.

A Brief History Of The Vikings is cram packed with names, dates and familial relationships. I
Dimi Balerinas
Oct 20, 2016 Dimi Balerinas rated it really liked it
Shelves: norse-history
This was a light book to go through and easy to read.
It's an easy to read book because it is short on details and focuses on main events, eras and areas.
The book does not miss the chance to mention and analyze events that occurred all over Europe, but it felt like it had a good main focus over 3 parts.
Who the Norse people were and how their culture evolved.
Who the "Vikings" were, what the raiding where about and what their adventured where.
And how Christianity and its political influence came up
May 27, 2013 Clare rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
LOVED this!I have read many book on the Vikings and this little thing that I picked up at a bargain price is probably the best over view I have read of the Viking age and it's main characters. I have a larger more dense book, The Hammer and the Cross that goes into more detail but I found that book badly edited and unchronological. This book will steer you through a couple of centuries with the speed of a longship flying over the North Sea. Its style is informal without being too casual, ...more
May 27, 2013 Clare rated it it was amazing
LOVED this!I have read many book on the Vikings and this little thing that I picked up at a bargain price is probably the best over view I have read of the Viking age and it's main characters. I have a larger more dense book, The Hammer and the Cross that goes into more detail but I found that book badly edited and unchronological. This book will steer you through a couple of centuries with the speed of a longship flying over the North Sea. Its style is informal without being too casual, ...more
A fairly good overview of the Viking period of Scandinavian history. The book mainly follows the exploits of the Viking kings, from Harald Fairhair through such later leaders as Hakon the Good, Olav Trygvasson and St. Olav ("the Stout"), Svein Forkbeard and his descendants, and finally Harald the Ruthless; although it does cover other elements of Viking culture, such as settlement in the Shetlands and Orkneys and Ireland, the founding of Russia, and the exploration of Iceland, Greenland and ...more
Jul 23, 2011 Kari rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Having read the Anglo-Saxon book of this Brief History series I was expecting the tone to be very academic and quite complex. In a way I was pleasantly surprised that the author for this book had taken a slightly different approach. It was still detailed and a fascinating read but the tone was much lighter with an effort made to simplify and explain the complicated family links and power struggles that dominated the Viking age. This was a brilliant read for those new to the subject as it covers ...more
Dec 31, 2013 Thomas rated it really liked it
This really lives up to its name. Don't expect detailed information about the daily lives of any of the characters whose exploits are chronicled within. But for seeing the overall arch of the viking history and a good taste of their far-flung wanderings, you could do a lot worse than this book. Unfortunately, I think I probably walked away from this with less than I could have -- I listened to it in audiobook form, though I do have a copy on my Kindle. In the print and Kindle versions there are ...more
Joshua Allerton
Jun 13, 2014 Joshua Allerton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A marvellous academic book that gives you a brief history of the Vikings. Although it doesn't feel brief, you will certainly walk away having knowledge to take part in a intellectual conversation. This book, however does requires a basic knowledge of the Vikings, maybe not necessary of the history, but at least some awareness. Also, the subtitle, "the last pagans or the first modern europeans?" is not addressed, which is disappointing as the debate would have been enjoyable to read. Other than ...more
Allyson Shaw
May 31, 2015 Allyson Shaw rated it it was ok
This book is saved only by its fascinating subject matter. Tantalising details are glimpsed through a mundane semi chronology of the era, marred by the author's disdain for his subject. He sees Christianity as an advancement and the Norse people as simpletons, the Vikings little more than pirates blundering across oceans, bumping into continents. The moralising of the last few pages is pretty insufferable as is the sexism- The women in the book, some of which have incredible stories, omitted ...more
Jan 15, 2013 Karen rated it it was ok
This is a subject I wanted to know more about, but I found the book's organization and style to be difficult. It seemed to jump around in time and geography - except when it didn't - and though the author tried to make it clear which Harald or Olaf (etc) he was talking about, it was still hard to follow. There are maps, family trees, and lists of kings in the back - those helped a bit. Still, I don't feel as if I have a clear understanding of the time or the people. Also, the book suffers from ...more
Jan 21, 2014 Charles rated it liked it
A very readable history of the Vikings. Like any history book, it gets bogged down in minutia on occasion. The book could benefit from a timeline because Clements discusses multiple simultaneous events separately, and its hard to keep straight what is happening where, when and with whom in relation to each other. I particularly liked how Clements ends his book - rather than finish with the "where are they now," he adds a brief bit of philosophizing that is very apt and insightful, especially in ...more
Jenn (Read Jenn Read)
For being a Brief history and introduction to the Vikings it did its job. The only problem I had with the book was that the author inserted his opinions/judgements all to often. On the positive side, the maps, and genealogical charts were very helpful. This book overall was a good introduction and I went from knowing little about the Vikings to having a base knowledge. I most likely will take some of the further recommendations listed in the back of the book and read more in depth accounts some ...more
Kate Martin
Feb 06, 2014 Kate Martin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted a broader picture of the Vikings than that which we tend to get in the UK. I had heard about the Volga Vikings on an 'In Our Time' episode a while ago and was intrigued by the idea of these northern adventurers meeting the cultural sophistication of the Byzantine and Abbasid courts. This book really gives the sense of the wide range of the Viking experience and counterbalances that very well with more detailed close up accounts of some of the individuals involved. A very enjoyable read.
Jun 02, 2011 Nate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I very much enjoyed reading this book. The subtitle is 'The Last Pagans or the First Modern Europeans'. I feel compelled to point out that the author never really deals with this question at all. At most, there is a brief statement in the closing. However, as an introduction to the history of the viking age, it is quite entertaining and informative. I would recommend it as a good starting point for reading in this area.
Jul 13, 2015 bkwurm rated it it was ok
A really really brief overview of the Vikings. I suppose the problem is the lack of reliable source material but I would have liked greater detail on the Danelaw, the rise of the Normans in Normandy, the Varangians in Byzantium, the Vikings in Ireland or even more on Canute.

As it was, the book simply mentioned most of these events in passing, choosing instead to focus on events in Norway and Denmark, which was fine but surely there was a lot more to tell?
Feb 25, 2013 Nicole rated it liked it
It was pretty good. It gave a pretty good overview of the Viking age, but wasn't so dense that it left your head spinning with facts/ One thing though- Clements never adresses his tagline (The last pagans or first Europeans?), or discusses it in any manner, which I found odd (Why use it if you're not going to cover it?).
Jan 22, 2012 Jane rated it liked it
Jonathan Clements has a very easy to read style which makes this book very accessible to someone who comes with little knowledge of the Vikings. However, I was expecting more social history of the Vikings (covering their transition from paganism to Christianity) while Clements' book focuses more on the key characters, events and personalities of the Viking era. An interesting read nonetheless.
Rick Marmei
Jan 18, 2013 Rick Marmei rated it really liked it
Fantastic read. The Vikings sail as far as Egypt and Asia. England and Ireland. Trading and pillaging. Unstoppable nemeses to many countries in their path. Hundreds of years before Columbus they set foot on American soil.

Their swords were found in Egypt and they mastered the Black art of Metallurgy very early.

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Jonathan Clements is an author, translator, biographer and scriptwriter. His non-fiction works include biographies of Confucius, Marco Polo, Mao Zedong, Koxinga and Qin Shihuangdi. He also writes for NEO magazine and is the co-author of encyclopedias of anime and Japanese television dramas.
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