The best books for understanding the Viking mindset and relationship with the world

Who am I?

I'm the granddaughter of a Finno-Swedish immigrant and I grew up on his stories and insights. Because he came from the melting-pot generations of immigrants, he kept very little of the traditions of his origins, but his culture and sense of his ancestral home informed my interests. For as long as I can recall, I've been trying to fill in the gaps in that cultural experience, which led me to researching and writing about Viking and Nordic history and culture, and visiting the Nordic countries whenever I've been able to manage it.


I wrote...

Book cover of All the Windwracked Stars

What is my book about?

The last of the Valkyries has come to the last city at the end of time, to reclaim the ancient swords of her dead brothers and sisters. It all began with Ragnarok, with the Children of the Light and the Tarnished ones battling to the death in the ice and the dark. At the end of the long battle, one Valkyrie survived, wounded, and one valraven – the steeds of the valkyrie.

Because they lived, Valdyrgard was not wholly destroyed. Because the valraven was transformed in the last miracle offered to a Child of the Light, Valdyrgard was changed to a world where magic and technology worked hand in hand. 2500 years later, Muire is in the last city on the dying planet, where the Technomancer rules what's left of humanity. She's caught sight of someone she has not seen since the Last Battle: Mingan the Wolf is hunting in her city.

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The books I picked & why

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

Elizabeth Bear Why did I love this book?

Neil Price was recommended to me by Marissa Lingen, a fellow science fiction author of Nordic descent with a passionate interest in Scandinavian history, and she was absolutely right. I have another of his books, The Viking Way, on my queue right now. 

This book is the modern social history of the Vikings that I always wanted and could never quite find before. It's gigantic, comprehensive, and focused far more on the personal lives of individuals than on endless lists of kings, wars, and begats--which differentiates it from others such as Kenneth Harl's recorded lectures at The Great Courses or Gwyn Jones' A History of the Vikings, which was the first book on this topic I read. 

Price manages to unify archaeology, climate history, written history, and present a sweeping synthesis of the cultures and migrations of the Nordic countries in the late Iron Age and early Medieval period that brings alive individuals and motivations without descending into glorification. He makes the historical Viking culture real and present, makes plain the driving forces behind Viking expansion and their network of trade and reaving--but he doesn't excuse its atrocities. He manages to discuss the archaeological evidence without falling into the trap of presenting Viking navigators as nearly supernatural beings, and he doesn't shy away from 20th-century cultural appropriation of this history by fascists.

This is an excellent overall book that makes plain cultural drives for renown and the intimacy and personal integration with which the Viking world viewed its gods and spirits. It gives a good sense of Nordic fatalism and the idea that fate--wyrd--is not negotiable, but that we are in charge of how we meet that destiny, and that is what we ought to be remembered for.

By Neil Price,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Children of Ash and Elm as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR 2020

'As brilliant a history of the Vikings as one could possibly hope to read' Tom Holland

The 'Viking Age' is traditionally held to begin in June 793 when Scandinavian raiders attacked the monastery of Lindisfarne in Northumbria, and to end in September 1066, when King Harald Hardrada of Norway died leading the charge against the English line at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. This book, the most wide-ranging and comprehensive assessment of the current state of our knowledge, takes a refreshingly different view. It shows that the Viking expansion began generations before the…


Book cover of Last Rituals

Elizabeth Bear Why did I love this book?

This is a modern Icelandic Noir crime novel about a divorced personal attorney in Reykjavik who gets sucked into a horrific mystery at a university. It delves into Icelandic myth and Medieval black magic (the infamous Necropants make an appearance). I think it's very revealing about the frontier mentality that in some ways still persists in Iceland, and which saturates the Sagas. It's got a great sense of place and offers a nice cross-section of life in a modern Nordic country.

Also, it's really entertaining, and a little bit grotesque.

By Yrsa Sigurdardóttir,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Last Rituals as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first Thora Gudmundsdottir novel from Yrsa Sigurdardottir - 'Queen of Icelandic crime'.

'Yrsa is one of the most exciting new voices in the crime thriller world.' - Peter James

A young man is found brutally murdered, his eyes gouged out. A student of Icelandic history in Reykjavik, he came from a wealthy German family who do not share the police's belief that his drug dealer murdered him. Attorney Thora Gudmundsdottir is commissioned by his mother to find out the truth, with the help - and hindrance - of boorish ex-policeman Matthew Reich. Their investigations into his research take them…


Book cover of The Viking Hondbók: Eat, Dress, and Fight Like a Warrior

Elizabeth Bear Why did I love this book?

This is a fun light book on Viking material culture, aimed at kids or adults who like pictures. (Me!) It's a delightful, breezy overview of exactly what it says on the box, and serves as a great entry point for readers who aren't sure what they need to know or where to start.

By Kjersti Egerdahl,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Viking Hondbók as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Vikings, those ancient Norse seafarers, have inspired plenty of pop culture phenomena, from the A&E hit show Vikings to Thor Ragnarok to the ever-expanding world of Viking larp. Known for being skilled craftspeople, accomplished merchants, hardworking farmers, and masters of the sea, the Vikings were a complex and captivating people.The Viking Hondb?k is an engaging, compelling guide -- with a sense of humor -- exploring who the Vikings were and how they lived, from ancient Norse daily life to battles and adventuring. Readers will learn how Vikings ate, dressed, and fought, and even how they weaved the perfect beard braid…


Book cover of Jar City

Elizabeth Bear Why did I love this book?

Another work of fiction, (in fact, another Icelandic Noir), this book explores modern ramifications of Nordic kinship relationships and the limited Icelandic gene pool. It has a tremendous sense of place and is deeply wintry and claustrophobic. An unsettling mystery by a modern master of the form.

By Arnaldur Indridason,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Jar City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An old man is found murdered in his Reykjavik flat.

A cryptic note and a photograph of a young girl's grave are left behind.

DID THE DEAD MAN'S PAST COME BACK TO HAUNT HIM?

Inspector Erlendur discovers that several decades ago the victim was accused, but not convicted, of an unsolved crime. As he follows a fascinating trail of strange forensic evidence, Inspector Erlendur uncovers secrets that are much larger than the murder of one man - dark secrets that have been carefully guarded for many, many years...
'A fascinating window on an unfamiliar world as well as an original…


Book cover of Kin

Elizabeth Bear Why did I love this book?

It's probably not by accident that three of the five books on this list are by Icelandic authors, as so much of the history and mythology of that nation is tied up with its Viking heritage. This novel, while somewhat unevenly paced, is a vivid depiction of life in Medieval Iceland, where kinship and honor were the basis by which human society clung to an unforgiving landscape. Its thematic emphasis falls on entrapment and isolation, and it offers a gorgeous sense of a premodern Nordic landscape.

By Snorri Kristjansson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'For Vikings done right, come to Snorri Kristjansson' - Mark Lawrence

'Truly entertaining' - Yrsa Sigurdardottir

'A dark mystery in a dark age brought vividly to life' - Robert Fabbri

Everyone loves a family reunion.

970: For the first time since Helga was adopted, her family will be gathered in one place. But her siblings are coming with darkness in their hearts.

Everyone knows their father, the Viking warlord Unnthor Reginsson, has a great chest of gold hidden somewhere on his land - and each of his heirs is determined to find it.

Then one morning Helga is awakened by…


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Dinner with Churchill

By Robin Hawdon,

Book cover of Dinner with Churchill

Robin Hawdon Author Of Number Ten

New book alert!

Who am I?

My writing is eclectic and covers many topics. However, all my books tend to have a thriller element to them. Perhaps it's my career as an actor and playwright which has instilled the need to create suspense in all my writings. I sometimes feel that distinguished authors can get so carried away with their literary descriptions and philosophical insights that they forget to keep the story going! It is the need to know what happens next that keeps the reader turning the pages. Perhaps in achieving that some subtlety has to be sacrificed, but, hey, you don't read a political thriller to study the philosophical problems of governing nations!

Robin's book list on lone heroes and threats to national security

What is my book about?

This is a new novel by one of the UK's most prolific writers. It is based around an extraordinary true incident at the start of World War II when fierce political opponents Winston Churchill and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain encountered each other at a famous dinner party. Seen from the perspective of Lucy Armitage, a young girl suddenly conscripted by a strange stroke of fate into Churchill's overworked but adoring team of secretaries.

As Churchill prepares to take over the leadership of the nation, Lucy finds herself increasingly involved in her famous employer's phenomenal work output and eccentric habits. When romance and the world of espionage impinge on her life, she becomes a vital part of the eternal struggle between good and evil regimes that still exists today.

Dinner with Churchill

By Robin Hawdon,

What is this book about?

It is on historical record that, on the evening of October 13th 1939, six weeks after war had been declared on Hitler's Germany, Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain, fierce and implacable opponents for years over the appeasement issue, met together with their two wives, Clementine and Anne, for a private dinner at Admiralty House, and event which caused ripples throughout Westminster.

Chamberlain was still Prime Minister, but had seen all his efforts to negotiate peace with Hitler shattered. Churchill had been recalled to the cabinet after ten years 'in the wilderness', his dire warnings of the Nazi threat vindicated.

Lucy…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Vikings, Iceland, and the Norsemen?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Vikings, Iceland, and the Norsemen.

Vikings Explore 110 books about Vikings
Iceland Explore 59 books about Iceland
The Norsemen Explore 16 books about the Norsemen