Ivory Vikings

  • by Nancy Marie Brown
  • Narrated by Tony Ward
  • 10 hrs and 53 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

In the early 1800s, on a Hebridean beach in Scotland, the sea exposed an ancient treasure cache: 93 chessmen carved from walrus ivory. Norse netsuke, each face individual, each full of quirks, the Lewis Chessmen are probably the most famous chess pieces in the world. Harry played Wizard's Chess with them in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Housed at the British Museum, they are among its most visited and beloved objects.
Questions abounded: Who carved them? Where? Ivory Vikings explores these mysteries by connecting medieval Icelandic sagas with modern archaeology, art history, forensics, and the history of board games. In the process, Ivory Vikings presents a vivid history of the 400 years when the Vikings ruled the North Atlantic, and the sea road connected countries and islands we think of as far apart and culturally distinct: Norway and Scotland, Ireland and Iceland, and Greenland and North America. The story of the Lewis chessmen explains the economic lure behind the Viking voyages to the west in the 800s and 900s. And finally, it brings from the shadows an extraordinarily talented woman artist of the 12th century: Margret the Adroit of Iceland.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Amazing history but slightly dramatic reader

This remarkable in-depth exploration of the history of 78 small chess pieces is a lot more than an archaeological history. It manages to weave the history of the late Viking age into art history, the history of chess, the history of the medieval church, the history of commerce in Europe, the history of literature, and the history of archaeological debate. Nancy Marie Brown expertly weaves these diverse topics together by following the pieces on the chess board, using the art and military history of the age to determine the date of the relevant pieces, and in turn connecting that to their creation. The insight into Icelandic history and literature, which is often overlooked in past academic works on the Chessmen, provides a unique insight into the way, for example, a rook would be fashioned after a berserker or a bishop would have powerful range of movement and be at the king's side. These are all tied into Icelandic experience and history so that, Brown argues, it proves the pieces were made in Iceland by Margaret the Adroit. Brown's book is a history, but it is written using some journalistic techniques as well, she having interviewed some of the main characters who have brought this Icelandic theory to the fore in the previous decade. The argument for Icelandic origin is compelling, logical, and well laid out. The history is interesting, engaging, and presented in an accessible way. Overall, a really well-written look into a unique piece of historical detective work and well worth the read.

I got the Audible version of this book, and the narration was clear and easy to follow, though the narrator takes slightly dramatic pauses before a quotation. I could listen to it easily, but he wasn't my favourite reader, seeming to be a bit over the top. The book's complex Icelandic history and jumps between Nordic lineages would probably be better suited to a physical book, just so you can go back and make sure you know who is actually being talked about, but if you can listen without distractions and have an interest in the subject matter, you'll be able to follow along just fine.
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- Ben

Dry and tedious listening.

Good information, however, I sadly found this book to be quite tedious to listen to.
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- S Low

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-03-2015
  • Publisher: Recorded Books