The Viking Age saw an unprecedented expansion of the Scandinavian peoples into the wider world. But for centuries, the Vikings have been seen through the eyes of others, distorted to suit the tastes of medieval clerics and Elizabethan playwrights, Victorian imperialists, Nazis, and more. None of these appropriations capture the real Vikings, or the richness and sophistication of their culture.
... 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.