Book Review: The Vikings: A New History by Neil Oliver (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Vikings: A New History by Neil Oliver (Three Stars)

“If you ask me, a fascination triggered by a story heard in childhood — be it from a novel, action-movie or whatever else — is the purest of all.”

A comprehensive investigation into the roots and impact of the Viking expansion period in the ninth and tenth centuries. Much of the pop culture image is wrong, but we knew that. Not that Oliver hews to high academia. Think of this as one person’s informed musings.

“The Vikings were a long time coming. The product of 8,000 years’ worth of lives lived — hunters, farmers and metal-workers; masters of boats, carved in stone and crafted from timber; traders in amber, furs and oil; warriors and kings; clients of Rome.” (True of all western Europe)

Stars slowly and follows many extraneous rabbit trails. Two hundred pages of scholarship spread among two hundred pages of opinion. No archeology project too small or too unrelated to fail to distract Oliver from touting his favorite field.

“the so-called ‘Near East’ of Mesopotamia”

Quibbles: He gets lots of details wrong, which uncuts the credibility of the rest.

“one story suggested by …” “I like to imagine …” “Maybe some of the inspiration for those elegant craft had come …” “I even like the thought that …” “it is hard to resist the notion that …”

Oliver trashes his sources but then builds on their unreliable testimony anyway. He passes off his opinions as fact. Most of the above quotes all occurred on one page. The book’s big weakness is also makes it so readable: Oliver repeatedly injecting himself into the narrative. Reads like the script to reality television.

“In any event its appearance in a village on a Swedish island is as surprising as would be the discovery of a pair of Swedish skis beneath the paved floor of a Thai temple.”  (Not so.)