The best books for understanding the Vikings

The Books I Picked & Why

The Viking Achievement

By P. G. Foote, D. M. Wilson

The Viking Achievement

Why this book?

This is one of the first books of Viking history that approached the Vikings on their own terms rather than their effect on Christian Europe. It illuminates areas of their lives like Viking technology, laws, and social organizations, and then how Viking explorers, traders, and raiders exported those abroad. As I began researching my Viking novels, this was one of the books that brought me into the Viking world the most fully.


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Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga

By William F. Fitzhugh, Elisabeth Ward

Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga

Why this book?

One of the best ways to envision a historical period is to see its artifacts. Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga is a companion to a Smithsonian exhibit of the same name and contains a rich trove of images and descriptions of viking physical culture, along with essays about the archeology of their discovery, and how they were used in the exploration of the North Atlantic, and the eventual journey to the New World.


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Women in the Viking Age

By Judith Jesch

Women in the Viking Age

Why this book?

Myths about viking women abound, but Judith Jesch’s book is grounded in what we can know from the archeological, historical, and literary record. That still paints a vivid picture of the Viking women who remained in the traditional feminine sphere, and those who ventured into men’s. As Women in the Viking Age reveals, Viking women were farmers, housewives, managers of hundreds of servants, explorers, priestesses, rich benefactors, and war-leaders. In many ways, their lives were more varied than men’s.


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Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths

By Nancy Marie Brown

Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths

Why this book?

Snorri Sturluson wrote many of the Icelandic Sagas from which we draw our knowledge of Vikings and Norse mythology. Though he lived in post-Viking 12th century Iceland, understanding his context and remarkable life is key in understanding how we perceive Vikings today. Snorri, as Brown says, is the Homer of the North, but we know a great deal more about him than Homer, from his tempestuous homelife, and his political machinations to his violent end. I picked up this book wanting to learn more about Vikings but ended up both entranced and frustrated by Snorri’s larger-than-life personality.


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D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths

By Ingri D'Aulaire, Edgar Parin D'Aulaire

D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths

Why this book?

Why am I including a children’s book? Because this is where it all started for me, with these beautifully illustrated stories of Thor, Oddi, Freya, Sif, frost giants, dwarves and gods. My father read this book to me before I could read it myself: a wonderful distillation of the myths from the Eddas, full of evocative drawings of its characters and settings, from the opening view of the nine realms, to their fall at Ragnarok.


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