The best books on Vikings through archaeology and research

Tom Shippey Author Of Laughing Shall I Die: Lives and Deaths of the Great Vikings
By Tom Shippey

Who am I?

I’m a retired professor of medieval literature, and taught at six universities, including Oxford and Harvard. I have published widely on Old English, Old Norse, and on my predecessor at Birmingham, Leeds, and Oxford, JRR Tolkien. I think it’s vital for academics to break out of their enclosed communities and engage with the interests of the general public – especially in areas where the public has shown keen interest, like the literature, history, and archaeology of the Vikings, all of which deserve to be taken together.


I wrote...

Laughing Shall I Die: Lives and Deaths of the Great Vikings

By Tom Shippey,

Book cover of Laughing Shall I Die: Lives and Deaths of the Great Vikings

What is my book about?

Its two main themes are the preoccupation, in sagas and poems, with scenes of death, death-songs, famous last stands. It’s part of a mindset, which also includes a pervasive and distinctive sense of humor – humor with a mean streak. Both themes are illustrated by scenes like the death of Ragnar Hairy-Breeks in the snake-pit, the Jomsviking’s practical joke while being beheaded, the death of Harald Hard-Counsel, fighting-mad at Stamford Bridge. Fact or fiction? Not as easy to tell as people think … The book also considers non-academic topics, like what was the take? And what was the way to beat them?

The books I picked & why

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The Viking Way: Magic and Mind in Late Iron Age Scandinavia

By Neil Price,

Book cover of The Viking Way: Magic and Mind in Late Iron Age Scandinavia

Why this book?

Many thousands of Viking graves have now been excavated, and all one can say is, the Vikings were weirder than we ever imagined. They lived in close contact with “circumpolar” people, and their graves show evidence of shamanism, sexual ambiguity, witchcraft, inexplicable rituals. Valkyries, shield-maidens, berserks, weapon-dancers, all come into consideration. Vikings will never seem the same again. 


Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings

By Neil Price,

Book cover of Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings

Why this book?

This is another door-stopper of a book from Professor Price. It begins before the Viking Age, with the development of a “gangster culture”, probably exacerbated by the volcanic eruptions of the mid-sixth century, which may have killed off 50% of the population of Scandinavia: the “Fimbulwinter” of Norse myth. Most such histories are based on the accounts of the Vikings’ victims. This one sees the Vikings as they saw themselves. 


Beyond the Northlands: Viking Voyages and the Old Norse Sagas

By Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough,

Book cover of Beyond the Northlands: Viking Voyages and the Old Norse Sagas

Why this book?

Dr Barraclough not only traces Viking voyages north, south, east and west, she has followed in their footsteps. She was knighted with the penis-bone of a walrus by the Polar Bear Society of Hammarfest, saw the runestones commemorating those who “died in the east with Ingvar,” and mapped saga accounts of Newfoundland. Grisly information about Icelandic “necropants” and the Greenland hero “Corpse-Lodin.” This book has particularly beautiful color plates.


Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ivarr to A.D. 1014

By Clare Downham,

Book cover of Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ivarr to A.D. 1014

Why this book?

This book traces, first, the career of Ívarr the Boneless as recorded in Irish and English sources, and second, the long struggle between his descendants and those of King Alfred, which dominated British and Irish history for 150 years. Dr Downham shows that, without Ívarr, neither England, Scotland, Wales nor Ireland would be the way they are. A challenge to nationalist histories, through the life of an anti-hero.


The Vikings: Wolves of War

By Martin Arnold,

Book cover of The Vikings: Wolves of War

Why this book?

Dr Arnold’s book begins with the grisly cenotaph discovered at Repton, which may well be the burial-site of Ívarr the Boneless. His book combines historical, literary and archaeological sources to give a balanced and comprehensive survey of the Vikings, briefly and at an affordable price. The best book to put into a student’s hands.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in vikings, the Norsemen, and archaeology?

5,810 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about vikings, the Norsemen, and archaeology.

Vikings Explore 78 books about vikings
The Norsemen Explore 17 books about the Norsemen
Archaeology Explore 70 books about archaeology

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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