The best viking books

30 authors have picked their favorite books about vikings and why they recommend each book.

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The Real Valkyrie

By Nancy Marie Brown,

Book cover of The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women

Recent genetic research on the human remains of a 10th-century Viking grave excavated in 1878 in Birka, Sweden, rocked the world of Viking studies when it determined that the warrior buried with numerous weapons and two horses was not male, but female. I loved how this author imagines what that woman’s life might have been like. She also suggests that the woman buried in the Birka grave was merely one of many female Viking warriors, offering data drawn from archaeological finds, from historical accounts, from language studies, and from the sagas to support the theory that ‘shield maids’ really did exist. I had been dubious about the possibility of female Vikings, but the arguments presented in this book are too compelling. Reading it changed my mind. Now I’m a believer.


Who am I?

Ever since childhood I’ve been fascinated by the history of England, and fifteen years ago I made the decision to write a series of novels set before the Norman Conquest. Since then I’ve immersed myself in the history of that period and made numerous visits to the locations where I set my novels. I’ve been frustrated though by the enormous gaps in the historical records of that time, in particular the lack of information about the women. Because of that I am drawn to the work of authors who, like me, are attempting to resurrect and retell the lost stories of those remarkable women. 


I wrote...

The Steel Beneath the Silk

By Patricia Bracewell,

Book cover of The Steel Beneath the Silk

What is my book about?

In the year 1012 England’s Norman-born Queen Emma has been ten years wed to an aging, ruthless, haunted King Æthelred. The marriage is a bitterly unhappy one, between a queen who seeks to create her own sphere of influence within the court and a suspicious king who eyes her efforts with hostility and resentment. But royal discord shifts to grudging alliance when Cnut of Denmark, with the secret collusion of his English concubine Elgiva, invades England at the head of a massive Viking army. Amid the chaos of war, Emma must outwit a fierce enemy whose goal is conquest and outmaneuver the cunning Elgiva, who threatens all those whom Emma loves.

The Age of the Vikings

By Anders Winroth,

Book cover of The Age of the Vikings

The Age of the Vikings by Anders Winroth is a more scholarly tome but far from pedestrian. This book takes you on a tour of the life and times of a Norseman, describing not just how they fought, but how they lived – detailing their poetry, politics, settlements, and ships. The Vikings you think you know are paper thin, two dimensional caricatures – Winroth makes sure the real deal leaps off the page and disabuses you of stereotypes.


Who am I?

Ian Stuart Sharpe likes to imagine he is descended from Guðrum, King of the East Angles, although DNA tests and a deep disdain for camping suggest otherwise. He is the author of two novels set in his alternate Vikingverse, the All Father Paradox and Loki’s Wager. He once won a prize at school for Outstanding Progress and chose a dictionary as his reward, secretly wishing it had been an Old Norse phrasebook. It took him thirty years, but he has finally realised his dream.


I wrote...

Old Norse for Modern Times

By Ian Stuart Sharpe,

Book cover of Old Norse for Modern Times

What is my book about?

Have you ever wanted to wield the silver tongue of Loki, or to hammer home your point like a Thundergod? Old Norse is the language of legends and the stuff of sagas, the inspiration for Tolkien and Marvel, for award-winning manga and epic videogames. It is the language of cleverly crafted kennings, blood-curdling curses, and pithy retorts to Ragnarök. Old Norse for Modern Times gives you the perfect phrase for every contemporary situation:

Battle-cries to yell on Discord: "Do I look to be in a gaming mood?" Sýnisk þér ek vera í skapi til leika?"

Mead hall musings: "This drink, I like it! ANOTHER!" Líkar mér drykkr þessi! ANNAN!"

With over 500 phrases inside, it is the perfect guide for Vikings fans, whether they are re-enactors, role-players, or simply in love with Ragnar.

Laughing Shall I Die

By Tom Shippey,

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

Why do the Vikings seem so modern? Tom Shippey thinks it’s their attitude toward losers. They “knew that in the real world, conditions aren’t fair.” Heroes are trapped, outnumbered. Their luck runs out. “That doesn’t make you what we call ‘a loser,’” he writes. “The only thing that would make you a loser would be giving up.”

The Vikings showed their spirit by refusing to take death seriously. “What was best was showing you could turn the tables, spoil your enemy’s victory, make a joke out of death,” Shippey writes, and in Laughing Shall I Die: Lives and Deaths of the Great Vikings he shares dozens of examples.

Viking death-jokes are “often marked by Bad Sense of Humour,” Shippey admits. But they explain a lot about why this culture continues to fascinate us.


Who am I?

Nancy Marie Brown is the author of seven books about Iceland and the Viking Age, including The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women, The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman, and the award-winning Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths. Her books combine extremes: medieval literature and modern archaeology, myths and facts. They ask, What have we overlooked? What have we forgotten? Whose story must not be lost? A former science writer and editor at a university magazine, she lives on a farm in northern Vermont and spends part of each summer in Iceland.


I wrote...

The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women

By Nancy Marie Brown,

Book cover of The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women

What is my book about?

Brown lays to rest the hoary myth that Viking society was ruled by men and celebrates the dramatic lives of female Viking warriors. In 2017, DNA tests revealed to the collective shock of many scholars that a Viking warrior in a high-status grave in Birka, Sweden was actually a woman. The Real Valkyrie weaves together archaeology, history, and literature to imagine her life and times, showing that Viking women had more power and agency than historians have imagined.

Beyond the Northlands

By Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough,

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

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.


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?

Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland

By Clare Downham,

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

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.


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 Viking Diaspora

By Judith Jesch,

Book cover of The Viking Diaspora

Judith Jesch is Professor of Viking Studies at the University of Nottingham and whilst she is primarily a specialist in early medieval literature she has a rare inter-disciplinary command of historical and archaeological sources. In this sweeping review of the Viking World she provides an authoritative overview of the Scandinavians at home and their migrations overseas, with a particular focus on gender and the family, and cults, beliefs and myths. By using the concept of diaspora, she focuses on the ways in which migrants maintained their sense of cultural identity with the Scandinavian homelands and other areas of Scandinavian migration. The interconnectedness of the Viking world is at the heart of this book, and language is seen as key to the maintenance of the Viking diaspora, reinforced by texts and material culture.


Who are we?

Julian. D. Richards is a Professor of Archaeology at York. He has directed excavations at the Viking settlement at Cottam, and the only Viking cremation cemetery in the British Isles at Heath Wood. He is the author of Viking Age England, and The Vikings: A Short Introduction. His co-author is Dawn M. Hadley. Dawn is a Professor of Medieval Archaeology at the University of York. She and Julian Richards are Co-Directors of the Torksey project - which has been investigating the winter camp of the Viking Great Army of AD 872-3. She is the author of The Vikings in England and The Northern Danelaw.


We wrote...

The Viking Great Army and the Making of England

By Dawn M. Hadley, Julian D. Richards,

Book cover of The Viking Great Army and the Making of England

What is our book about?

The Viking Great Army that swept through England between AD 865 and 878 altered the course of English history. Drawing on their investigation of the Army’s winter camp at Torksey and a wealth of newly recovered evidence from metal-detectorists the authors trace the movements of the Great Army across the country, piecing together a new picture of the Viking Age England.

Viking Britain

By Thomas Williams,

Book cover of Viking Britain

Thomas Williams was project curator for the major international exhibition Vikings: Life and Legend, held at the British Museum in 2014. In this tremendously readable account of Viking Britain from the late eighth to the end of the tenth century he interweaves first-person narrative, evocative prose, and more conventional historical and archaeological discussion to provide a new form of Viking history. Williams demonstrates how the Vikings have shaped British society, and how our perception has been shaped by authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and William Morris.


Who are we?

Julian. D. Richards is a Professor of Archaeology at York. He has directed excavations at the Viking settlement at Cottam, and the only Viking cremation cemetery in the British Isles at Heath Wood. He is the author of Viking Age England, and The Vikings: A Short Introduction. His co-author is Dawn M. Hadley. Dawn is a Professor of Medieval Archaeology at the University of York. She and Julian Richards are Co-Directors of the Torksey project - which has been investigating the winter camp of the Viking Great Army of AD 872-3. She is the author of The Vikings in England and The Northern Danelaw.


We wrote...

The Viking Great Army and the Making of England

By Dawn M. Hadley, Julian D. Richards,

Book cover of The Viking Great Army and the Making of England

What is our book about?

The Viking Great Army that swept through England between AD 865 and 878 altered the course of English history. Drawing on their investigation of the Army’s winter camp at Torksey and a wealth of newly recovered evidence from metal-detectorists the authors trace the movements of the Great Army across the country, piecing together a new picture of the Viking Age England.

River Kings

By Cat Jarman,

Book cover of River Kings

Cat Jarman is an archaeologist and specialist in bioarchaeology, including Ancient DNA and stable isotope research, which have the power to identify where people spent their childhoods and who their relatives were. As part of her PhD she re-examined the disarticulated bones of at least 264 individuals from a charnel deposit associated with the over-wintering of the Viking Great Army in Repton. In the site archive, she discovered a carnelian bead which had been excavated amongst the bones. In this highly readable account the bead becomes the jumping-off point for a journey which takes her along the major waterways of eastern Europe, along the Silk Roads, and to the source of the carnelian in India.


Who are we?

Julian. D. Richards is a Professor of Archaeology at York. He has directed excavations at the Viking settlement at Cottam, and the only Viking cremation cemetery in the British Isles at Heath Wood. He is the author of Viking Age England, and The Vikings: A Short Introduction. His co-author is Dawn M. Hadley. Dawn is a Professor of Medieval Archaeology at the University of York. She and Julian Richards are Co-Directors of the Torksey project - which has been investigating the winter camp of the Viking Great Army of AD 872-3. She is the author of The Vikings in England and The Northern Danelaw.


We wrote...

The Viking Great Army and the Making of England

By Dawn M. Hadley, Julian D. Richards,

Book cover of The Viking Great Army and the Making of England

What is our book about?

The Viking Great Army that swept through England between AD 865 and 878 altered the course of English history. Drawing on their investigation of the Army’s winter camp at Torksey and a wealth of newly recovered evidence from metal-detectorists the authors trace the movements of the Great Army across the country, piecing together a new picture of the Viking Age England.

Aelfred's Britain

By Max Adams,

Book cover of Aelfred's Britain: War and Peace in the Viking Age

This is a book about much more than just the most famous of the Saxon kings, Alfred the Great. The narrative begins in 789 and runs to 955, and charts not only the ‘beginning’ of England, as we know it, but also the ‘end’ of the smaller kingdoms of Northumbria, East Anglia, and Mercia. One of the more recent of my book recommendations, Max Adams simply thinks about Saxon England the way that I do, and he’s able to weave a narrative that’s conscious of both the narrative sources for the period and recent archaeological advances. I often pick up his books (he’s written two others about earlier Saxon England) to make use of his timelines and maps. He has a lightness of touch and flair that makes even the murkiest of topics, engaging and more importantly, comprehensible.


Who am I?

I’m a writer of novels set in Saxon England. I studied the era at both undergraduate and graduate levels and never meant to become a historical fiction writer. But I developed a passion to tell the story of the last century of Early England through the eyes of the earls of Mercia, as opposed to the more well-known, Earl Godwin. I’m still writing that series but venture further back in time as well. I might have a bit of an obsession with the Saxon kingdom of Mercia. I’m fascinated by the whole near-enough six hundred years of Saxon England before the watershed moment of 1066, after which, quite frankly, everything went a bit downhill. 


I wrote...

Son of Mercia

By MJ Porter,

Book cover of Son of Mercia

What is my book about?

The once-mighty kingdom of Mercia is in perilous danger. Their King, Beornwulf lies dead and years of bitter in-fighting between the nobles, and cross-border wars have left Mercia exposed to her enemies. King Ecgberht of Wessex senses now is the time for his warriors to strike and exact his long-awaited bloody revenge on Mercia.

King Wiglaf, has claimed his right to rule Mercia, but can he unite a disparate Kingdom against the might of Wessex who is braying for blood and land? Can King Wiglaf keep the dragons at bay or is Mercia doomed to disappear beneath the wings of the Wessex wyvern? Can anyone save Mercia from destruction?

The Northmen's Fury

By Philip Parker,

Book cover of The Northmen's Fury: A History of the Viking World

Every subject needs a really sound, comprehensive introduction – and Parker's book is just that: a big, chunky history of the Vikings in all their guises, as traders, raiders, explorers, and entrepreneurs.  It's very well illustrated with photos and maps, lucidly written, and with a passion for the subject that is infectious. If you're looking for just one book to see you through the Vikings, make it this one.


Who am I?

I study and write about the Early Medieval period, and in a series of books about its most important characters, its archaeology and landscapes, I've tried to share my lifelong passion for this most obscure and tantalizing period of our history – what we still call the Dark Ages. From the two most shadowy centuries after Rome's fall (The First Kingdom) to Northumbrian King Oswald (The King in the North), who brought Christianity into pagan Anglo-Saxon England, and a walking, riding, sailing tour of Britain's Dark Age lands and seas (In the Land of Giants), I see a continuity of rich cultures, vibrant politics and regional characters that help us to understand how and why we are like we are.


I wrote...

Aelfred's Britain: War and Peace in the Viking Age

By Max Adams,

Book cover of Aelfred's Britain: War and Peace in the Viking Age

What is my book about?

The story of Aelfred the Great, his war against the Vikings, and the foundations of modern Britain. In AD 865, a 'great host' of battle-hardened Norse warriors landed on England's eastern coast, overwhelmed East Anglia with terrifying swiftness and laid the North to waste. Ghosting along estuaries and inshore waters, in 871 they penetrated deep into the southern kingdom of Wessex, ruled over by a new and untested king, AElfred son of AEdelwulf. It seemed as though the End of Days had come.

Max Adams tells the story of the heroic efforts of AElfred , his successors and fellow-kings of Britain, to adapt and survive in the face of an apocalyptic threat; and in so doing, to lay the foundations of the nations of modern Britain in all their regional diversity.

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