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A History of the Vikings

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  936 ratings  ·  51 reviews
"An utterly splendid book, quite the most brilliantly written, balanced, and explanative general work on the Vikings ever to appear in English or in any language."-- Scandinavian Studies

The subject of this book is the Viking realms, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, their civilization and culture, and their many sided achievements at home and abroad.
A highly readable
Paperback, 504 pages
Published July 19th 2001 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1968)
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Average rating 3.88  · 
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Solid introductory history, longer and more detailed than for instance The Vikings in History with fairly lengthy quotes in translation from the source material on the Volga Vikings in particular. Deeply OK if probably a bit dated now, on the other hand, excitement about the Vikings is greater than new developments, so older books still can be read with profit, really when it comes down to it even the discovery of a Viking encampment in Newfoundland (this is an old book now!) hasn't changed the ...more
Sep 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
"...the temptation is strong to offer generalizations about the viking himself, produce a 'typical' figure, and prop him against the museum wall with his catalogue number and descriptive label. It is a temptation to be resisted because of its limiting and misleading consequences. Harald Hardradi, who waged war from Asia Minor to Stamford Bridge for thirty-five years, was a viking; so was his father Sigurd Sow, who stayed at home and counted haystacks. Hastein, who led the Great Army of the Danes ...more
Nov 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
My knowledge before reading this consisted primarily of the Viking raids on English coastal areas. It was most interesting to learn that they had permanent settlements, especially into the Baltic area and even Russia. I was also unaware of their long history in Normandy, which shed a different light on English medieval history.

His beautifully worded intro makes the reader feel as though she is about to embark on an incredibly balanced view of the Vikings. For most of the book, Jones manages
Bryn Hammond
Apr 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medieval-other
A dream of a history book: deep, detailed, never a moment's boredom, and, ta-da, with writerly touches. I have a huge gratitude for writerly touches (wit, humour, art spent on a sentence) in non-fiction, that doesn't often bother to be a writer too. It makes the research swim by when you have them nuggets to look forward to.
Sep 06, 2011 rated it liked it
This is a detailed and comprehensive history of the Viking Age, an excellent resource for those wishing to learn more about this fascinating and important era. He covers the origins of the Scandinavians in pre-history through the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 CE. His discussions are broad and encyclopedic, covering political history, explorations, art, religion, and the daily life of the people. I found the book to be an excellent complement to Kenneth Harls Teaching Company Course, The ...more
Erik Graff
Sep 01, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Viking fans
Recommended to Erik by: Einar Graff
Shelves: history
This book serves as a very good general introduction to the history of the Norse from legendary times to 1066.

Interestingly, despite having visited some of the sites mentioned and except for children's books on the subject and the occasional article, I think this was only the first or second real book I ever read about my putative ancestors. They are rather embarrassing.
Oct 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting and informative history of the Vikings, but I really would have preferred to have read a more recent account. This book was originally published in 1968 and a huge amount of archaeological discoveries and reinterpretations have gone on since then, so I couldn't help but wonder how different a modern history would be.

There were a couple of things I didn't like. The author loved describing the pre-Christian vikings as heathens rather than pagans, which I felt was
Mar 02, 2014 rated it did not like it
In the interests of full disclosure, I didn't finish this book but I tried very hard, I'm marking it off as read as I'm never going to finish it and I don't like seeing it constantly sitting on my To Read shelf... So many people had said good things about it and I was really keen to learn some history of the Vikings and this book seemed appropriate to that!

It was written a while ago and the language reflects that but I could cope with that element. What I really struggled with was the
Lauren Albert
Immensely readable, well-written account of the history of the vikings. Jones is addicted to analogies and metaphors and they do help to make the vikings and those who encountered them more "present." My favorite:

"Ireland, England, France were the vikings' Mexico, with learning, arts, wealth, and a civilization superior to those of their northern conquistadors, and a similar inability to defend themselves from a numerically inferior but mobile and energetic foe." 200

She shows that they were not
Colin Darby
Nov 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
I would give this book three and a half stars if I could.

The first few chapters are solid two-star chapters; the author's style defines the word "orotund," and sentence after sentence takes up half a page to convey the simple attitude of "we just don't know." However, once the book gets into the historical period, Jones does an excellent, exhaustive job of cross-referencing sources, and because this is an older work, every single one of them is cited in a footnote. The footnotes, in fact, are so
May 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: european-history
I have to admit, I really struggled to finish this book. It is full of unfamiliar (to me) Viking leaders, many of whom share the same name, and unfamiliar Scandinavian locations and Viking events. I also didnt particularly like the authors writing style. That said, I am now more versed on Viking history, which I knew little about beyond the raids on England and brief settlement of North America.

Before and during the Viking Age, the kingdoms of Scandinavia, except for the far northern regions,
Feb 17, 2020 rated it liked it
Impossibly dry at times. Funny how this was assigned reading in first-year History in MU, but I guess that was to dissuade anyone hoping to cruise through history towards a teaching degree or something of the like. Certainly it is a masterful, lumbering haul of information. An excellent reference book for a thesis or for a scholar of Dark Age or Medieval History hoping to reach the next level of comprehension. Otherwise if read from start to finish it is, though compelling and worth the time, a ...more
Nov 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
An excellent explaination of the history of the vikings.
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned-books
Very detailed but the back and forth between eras can be confusing at times.
Nov 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is one of the definitive histories of the Vikings.
Feb 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: historical
A very lengthy and detailed historical book, I learned a lot from it. The organization of this book is somewhat odd as it breaks into large chapter-chunks various topics based on themes, regions, time periods, etc. It was not chronological and not rigid in its chapter makeup. It was sort of an odd way to break up chapters and made the book difficult to read at times because there was never a sense of progression, you feel as if you are hopping ceaselessly from one topic to the next without ...more
Feb 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting at the onset but quickly became a slow slog of impenetrable looping narratives and unpronounceable names. Harald Hardradi was supposedly quite the badass.
Czarny Pies
May 27, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in European History
Recommended to Czarny by: My sisiter
Shelves: european-history
This is an excellent survey history of the Vikings which may never be superseded. Gwyn Jones managed to learn the entire plethora of languages in which the source documents were written (for example old and middle Welsh). It is not clear that there will ever be another scholar willing or able to learn all these now highly obscure tongues. Archeological finds continue to be made but given that the Vikings built with wood rather than stone, what is found is frequently not very enlightening.

David Newell
Apr 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A fairly detailed and very informative history of the Viking age. Jones balances history with historical theory, legend, and anecdotes to make an incredibly accessible and easy to digest book.

I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone without some basic knowledge of Europe as a whole in this period, but Jones does a good job at providing context while staying in the bounds of the 'Vikings'. And there is a real sense of enthusiasm and excitement about the way this book is written
Christopher Hivner
Apr 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Read this some years ago. It is a very well researched and detailed account of the 300 years when the Vikings were the most feared men in the world. There are accounts of the lives of some of the most famous Vikings as well as cultural facts, and a deep historical study of where the Vikings traveled and settled as well as theory into why. This is a scholarly work and one of the best books on the Vikings I have read
Mar 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A great read on the history of Vikings, it should still be considered the standard history. The problems it has are two fold. One, the author passed over ten years ago and he missed several important archaeological development. Lastly, this is not a casual read, this shit is hardcore scholarly work.
Dec 05, 2009 rated it liked it
Dry, and older. Still serves as a solid introduction to Scandinavia from 793-1104ish. When Jones becomes the most engaged with the subject, his/her writing can become a little unclear. It's hard to figure out when in history events take place. But, Jones clearly loves the Viking Age and some passages are splendidly funny.
Steve Bivans
Jul 13, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, vikings
This is a very good overview of the Viking Age. I have used it as a textbook for a couple of college courses. My one critique is that Jones chose to break up the chronology a bit too much, in order to delve into topics, but that's mostly a pet peeve of mine. All in all, a very good book on the subject.
Apr 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Interesting book about the Norseman. They were better business man than previously though as well as fearsome warrior plus including details about the bleak landscape of the frigid north of Europe in place such as Norway and Sweden as well as Denmark.
Oct 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Incredibly well researched history of the Vikings. But the book can be dense at times, and sometimes it goes a bit too deep into the power struggles of even the minor chieftains of every small kingdom.
Sarah Schanze
Mar 15, 2014 rated it liked it
Some parts were hard to get through, mostly the chapters focusing on specific people. A lot of names get thrown at me and I can't always keep everyone straight, and I'm much more interested in the everyday life of people in this time period than in all the people (men, really) in charge.
Kathryn  Bullen
Dec 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Came across this brilliant and comprehensive guide to the world of the Vikings in a second hand book shop - so much interesting and surprising detail. Definitely the best read on the subject I have come across recently.
Jay Wright
Mar 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very difficult book to read. The names alone will drive you nuts. The work is well researched and has compiled as thorough history of the vikings as I can imagine. It is well footnoted and I recommend you take your time with the footnotes. The sources collected show a wealth of research.
Jul 24, 2011 rated it liked it
This is one of the oldest andstill best books on the Viking society and world. It has laid the groundwork for many of the later books and is used by many novelists as the reference book on the Nordic people of old.
Nov 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The best book about the Vikings, by the expert in the subject. I have a Folio edition version of this, with serpents and runes inlaid on the spine and cover. I don't know how I got through so many books...
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Son of a miner, Gwyn Jones became a schoolteacher, then lecturer, then Professor of English from 1940. He was a novelist and short-story writer, translator of The Mabinogion and Icelandic sagas, founder and editor of The Welsh Review. He became Chairman of the Welsh Arts Council and was awarded the CBE (1965), the Knight's Cross of the Order of the Falcon (1963), and the Commander's Cross (1987) ...more

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