... colourful, revelatory ... [Price] may know more about medieval Scandinavia than anyone else alive, and he aims to show us these fascinating people as they saw themselves, not as they were perceived by those on the sharp end of their robbery ... Although Price emphasises the sophistication of Viking society — and teases out the very right-on possibility that there were not only female warriors but transgender Vikings too — he sensibly never tries to explain away the brutality ... Price is never guilty of detached academic revisionism; instead he redraws the Viking world in all its strange and gory glory. Thousands of books have been published about the Vikings — this is one of the very best.
I fell in love with Neil Price’s comprehensive new history of the Vikings when I got to the paragraph that’s just a list of bread ... offers delight after delight ... If you, like me, have loved fictional Viking stories and have always wanted to read a fuller history informed by current scholarship but wondered where to start, this book is it ... Price has produced a single (albeit lengthy!) volume that offers a sense of chronology and hits the major high points, while also introducing nonspecialists to the major questions that those who know a lot about Vikings still consider unresolved ... manages to be lyrical, unnerving, specific, and passionately uncertain, all at once ... Throughout this book are glorious collections of Viking facts that are technically known yet still resist our best attempts at interpretation ... Price diverges periodically from his tone of easy erudition to make conversational, enthusiastic asides. These can be pretty funny ... Price has a talent for evoking the Vikings’ physical surroundings as they might have been—a gift for recreation that’s probably natural for an archaeologist accustomed to eking significance from the smallest bit of disturbed dirt ... To convey such a deep sense of scholarly indeterminacy, all while dazzling the reader with cinematic detail—this is, truly, a feat.
It is perhaps significant that, as a British expert on Viking Age Scandinavia and therefore something of an outsider, [Price] crosses both national and linguistic borders and the boundaries of academic disciplines, bringing together new evidence and recent international scholarship to show how the Scandinavians of the Viking Age came to 'bend the arc of history.' His clear, engaging style introduces us to the Scandinavian communities of the eighth and ninth centuries, centered around the farmstead, before catapulting us overseas and outward into an expanding world where raiding and trading quickly boosted the wealth of individuals and the ambitions of the elites ... From these pages of violence, patriarchy and power struggle, individuals emerge, reassuring us that all aspects of human experience and identity can be found in the past. The stereotype of the Viking that we know from history books and popular media is here dismantled and presented anew by Mr. Price in all its wonderful, terrifying complexity and ambiguity. By clarifying the long-reaching effects of Scandinavian influence, Children of Ash and Elm brings a dramatically altered understanding of the Viking Age to a wider international audience.
... the beauty of [Price's] book is his ability to move across the disciplines. An expert synthesiser, he brings together much of the latest historical and archaeological research in order to illuminate the Viking world in all its chronological and geographical expanse ... If the merits of the book ended here, it would still be well worth the read as the latest word in Viking age history. However, Price’s aim is more ambitious: to present the Vikings on their own terms, through their sense of self and their psychological relationship to the world. This is no easy task, but he is a past master of getting inside the Norse mind ... Price is no apologist, and never shies away from the 'horrendous' conditions that many experienced, including horrifying levels of violence, entrenched patriarchal oppression and human enslavement as the driving force that powered much of society ... In seeking the deeper origins of the Viking age, he deftly connects different times and places all the way back to the fall of the western Roman empire ... In the final few chapters, there is perhaps less of the vigour and sparkle that characterises the book as a whole, although what remains is still a strong account of the latest historical research ... Not only a leading authority on the period, Price is also a wonderful writer, by turns philosophical, witty, lyrical and poignant. He possesses both an archaeologist’s ability to interpret large quantities of scholarship and data, and the skill to translate it creatively. His vivid prose illuminates both the physical and the psychological dimensions of the early medieval north, while at the same time leaving space for uncertainty: the possibility of future discoveries and theories that will alter the picture yet again. Nor is he afraid to face up to the absences and random gaps in the source material (such as what their music sounded like), and the confusions and inconsistencies that come from dealing with human nature ... The writing hums with life as Price summons up the voices of the past.
Price’s latest book, Children of Ash and Elm, brings together multiple themes from previous scholarship and provides a narrative overview of new scholarship—which now spans disciplines from geoscience to saga studies—to provide previously untold stories and insightful perspectives on the Viking people ... Price also expands the usual geographic boundaries that defined the Viking era and does a fine job of connecting events in the Baltic, North Sea, Atlantic, and Mediterranean worlds ... Price is well known for making Vikings fun ... This book will not disappoint if you are looking for more on any of these topics; however, Price’s Vikings remain violent and lethal, and he is clear about their central role in the slave trade. He is likewise unflinching in confronting and debunking the invocations of the Viking legacy by Nazis and white supremacists ... Its scholastic merits aside, Children of Ash and Elm is also a wonderful read, with prose that flows like poetry in places and modern analogs that inspire creative thinking.
Neil Price writes an anything but romantic history in Children of Ash and Elm. The narrative is entertaining reading, a fully documented history of the Vikings ... The maps in Children of Ash and Elm show the vast scale of this unique Empire ... a thorough, readable, one-volume history of the evolving Viking culture built on the documentary and on archaeology.
... fresh ... [an] elegantly conceived, constantly surprising narrative ... With clarity and verve, Price examines various aspects of Viking society, including the place of women and transgender people on the battlefield and other venues of warrior society; the structure of warrior cults such as the berserkers; what Viking mass burials tell us about the people thus interred; and, especially, the structure of the Viking economy, which was enriched by the widespread application of slavery. The author also considers the last generations of Vikings as pirates whose society, though founded on violence, was also definitively democratic ... An exemplary history that gives a nuanced view of a society long reduced to a few clichés.
Price leaves no stone unturned in this exhaustive chronicle of the ancient Scandinavian peoples collectively known as the Vikings ... Price pushes back against romanticized notions of Viking culture that originated during the Enlightenment. He focuses instead on more material concerns, delivering extended discussions on jewelry found in graves, shipbuilding, alcohol consumption, and gender roles, including an unexpected queer reading of Viking relationships. The infamous Viking funeral (not nearly as prevalent as popular culture imagines, according to Price) is described in horrifying detail, as are raids on the English and Irish coasts that left monasteries and villages devastated ... Though the writing occasionally falters under the weight of accumulated archaeological minutiae, the breadth and thoroughness of Price’s research impresses. Readers interested in Viking culture should consider this monumental history a must-read.