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.
... 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.