I found this book about The Vikings to be a surprisingly enjoyable read; for the life of me I don’t know how historians can make such a lively subject so boring, but it seems to happen frequently. An unabashed descendant himself, Magnus Magnusson puts the antics of his Viking ancestors in everyday language that moves right along: “‘From the fury of the Northmen, deliver us, O Lord!’ That is probably the most hackneyed line in all the vast literature about the Vikings and their evil ways.” (He tells us that it is apocryphal.)
No, he does not whitewash the Viking violence, but he does make sure we understand the sociological implications of their expansion over Europe: “Their assaults on abbeys and monasteries destroyed not only buildings but also the organization of the extensive demenses of the church. The old-style loyalties to State and Church were breaking down. In their place, rural seigneuries grew up, in which free men offered their services to the lords in return for protection… The Vikings were the midwives of feudalism in France.” He admits this is an oversimplification, but asserts this is the best way to “make sense of the turmoil of the ninth century.” It’s an interesting approach, and throughout the book he does a good job expanding on his theory.
This edition was published in 2003, and I was gratified to see reference to my new favorite Viking: “These brothers (Halfdan, Ubbi and Ivar the Boneless) were said to be the sons of a certain Ragnar — perhaps the Ragnar who attacked Paris in 845.” We get a certain amount of discussion about Britain, and he doesn’t neglect Viking Dublin, Frankia, or Russia. Then we learn about the settlement of the Isle of Man, Iceland, the Faroes, Greenland, and even Vinland. I think he lost some steam during this latter section, but he brings us back to Harald Hardrada and we end the book with Stamfordbridge and his professed end of the Viking Age.
I came out of this reading with a healthy respect for the Viking talent to overcome obstacles, build successful settlements, create beautiful things, make money and survive. It’s a good overall introduction to a diverse set of people, and I would recommend it to readers who have reached any level of research on the subject.