I plucked this from the bargain pile at Barnes and Noble, on the rationale that I know very little about the Vikings and want to learn more. And also because I’ve been watching the History Channel’s Vikings and please, guys, someone tell me they are watching it too because it’s so great and I will be super sad if it doesn’t last longer than two seasons.
This was first published in 1930, which means the language of the book is very scholarly and dry, and Kendrick uses words like “whither” and gives us lots of fun sentences like this one: “With his father, because they were implicated in a murder-suit, he had left his homeland in the Jaeder in Norway and fared to Iceland where he had settled and married; but here too ill-luck had attended him, and in 981 or 982 a stormy and quarrelsome sojourn ended in his being outlawed.”
The book is divided into two main sections: first, Kendrick gives us an overview of the Viking homelands and a brief history of each; and then he gives us a history of the Viking presence abroad, diving chapters by country, starting with Russia and ending with America. There are several major players who make appearances in multiple chapters, such as Ragnar Lodbrok (known to Vikings viewers as
the supremely bangable Ragnar Lothbrok), King Halfdan, Svien Forkbeard, and my personal choice for best-named Viking, Eric Bloodaxe. None of the historical personages really emerges as a fully-fleshed human being, and Kendrick’s dry, disinterested prose renders them pretty much interchangeable.
Another big issue: once Kendrick is done giving us a brief history of the Viking lands, he moves on to the countries they invaded and we never see the Vikings in their homelands again. There’s absolutely no information about the day-to-day stuff of Viking life – nothing about their social structure, very little about their political systems (and the only detail he goes into on this topic is when he’s discussing Viking politics in places like England or Iceland), laws, legends, customs…nothing. Aside from a section on the conversion of the Vikings to Christianity, there’s not even any information about religion. In fact, a better title for this book would have been A History of the Vikings Abroad, because that’s what Kendrick is chiefly concerned with.
The book is informative, sure, but would be better as supplemental reading, once you’ve gotten a chance to familiarize yourself with the Vikings and their world. I’ll keep an eye out for that book.
Verdict: two out of five stars