The best books about Iceland 📚

Browse the best books on Iceland as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Visit to Iceland and the Scandinavian North

Visit to Iceland and the Scandinavian North

By Madame Ida Pfeiffer

Why this book?

In 1842, after 45 years of frustratingly sedentary domesticity, the Austrian-born Ida Pfeiffer gave full vent to her wanderlust. Within five years, her jaw-dropping round-the-world journeys would make her one of the most widely-traveled persons of that century, while her talent for vivid portrayals made her one of the most well-known travel writers. Of her many chronicles, I especially enjoy this tale of her 1845 trip to the northern reaches of Scandinavia and Iceland—a place almost no continental Europeans had visited and few even knew existed. Pfeiffer’s insights and thoughtful reportage, as well as a newly emerging fascination with Iceland…
From the list:

The best books on travel and exploration written by women in the Victorian Era

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Book cover of Independent People

Independent People

By Halldor Laxness

Why this book?

To understand Icelanders, I believe you need to understand Bjartur. Bjartur is the independent hero of Halldór Laxness’s greatest novel, Independent People. The book is set at the beginning of the twentieth century. Over eighteen years as a shepherd, Bjartur saves the money to buy his own farm on some very marginal land. Bjartur’s life is a struggle to eke a living out of this farm, called Summerhouses. He marries twice, faces starvation and destitution, but never gives up on his dream of remaining an independent farmer. He is stubborn to the point of cruelty. He is also a…

From the list:

The best books to read if you want to understand Iceland

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Book cover of The Little Book of the Icelanders: 50 Miniature Essays on the Quirks and Foibles of the Icelandic People

The Little Book of the Icelanders: 50 Miniature Essays on the Quirks and Foibles of the Icelandic People

By Alda Sigmundsdottir, Megan Herbert

Why this book?

The Icelanders are remarkable people with some pretty strange habits. Optimistic, energetic, friendly in a very reserved way, armed with irony that can kill at ten metres, they do not fit the classic Scandinavian stereotype. Over the last decade, as I have researched Iceland for my various Magnus novels, the Icelandic-Canadian Alda has been my guide on all things Icelandic. She gets to the bottom of their quirks and foibles in this brilliant little book of fifty or so essays about the people who live on a treeless volcano with appalling weather. Very funny. Very illuminating.

From the list:

The best books to read if you want to understand Iceland

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Book cover of Silence of the Grave: An Inspector Erlendur Novel

Silence of the Grave: An Inspector Erlendur Novel

By Arnaldur Indridason

Why this book?

I don’t think it is overly ambitious to claim that you can learn a lot about a country from its crime novels. I certainly did, devouring novels by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir, Lilja Sigurdardóttir, Ragnar Jónasson, and the Englishman Quentin Bates. A good crime novel describes not only a place and its people but what makes them tick, what they fear, and what they desire. It’s very hard to pick just one crome novel from so many great ones, but Arnaldur Indridason’s Silence of the Grave won the British Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger in 2005 and also features the British occupation…

From the list:

The best books to read if you want to understand Iceland

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Book cover of The Book of Settlements: Landnámabók

The Book of Settlements: Landnámabók

By Paul Edwards, Hermann Pálsson

Why this book?

What other nation can boast that it has a written account of the first people to inhabit it? Iceland was an uninhabited, volcanic island until the arrival of Vikings from Scandinavia and elsewhere in the 870s. This book, written in the 13th century, is a catalogue of some 3000 individuals who link the settlement period to the time of writing. Of these around 400 (including 13 women) are remembered as the landnámsmenn or original ‘land-takers’ who settled, distributed, named, and cultivated this empty land. In amongst the lists and genealogies are wonderful short anecdotes about their families, feuds, and…

From the list:

The best medieval books about Viking Islands

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Book cover of Epic and Romance: Essays on Medieval Literature

Epic and Romance: Essays on Medieval Literature

By W. P. (William Paton) Ker

Why this book?

This book, from a fin de siècle Scotsman, is a classic of literature in its own right. It contains a perfectly brilliant reading of the sagas as well as other works of medieval literature. It has never been surpassed and is perhaps unsurpassable. Every sentence is an elegant gem, with one nonobvious insight after another. He just nails it. Ker reminds you that literary criticism need not be pretentious and badly written as it so often is. Treat yourself. 

From the list:

The best books on the Icelandic and Norse sagas

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