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As a whole, this audio version of Neil Oliver’s Vikings: A New History qualifies as a fun, informative, and thought-provoking listen, as well as a good companion for those (like me) who have been hooked by the History Channel’s television series, Vikings. It very clearly belongs to the genre of books we call “popular history,” and is probably best suited for either a young audience or for those who are planning a trip to Scandinavia or the British Isles and want to liven up their experience. The book has its pros and cons, naturally. Its rather lengthy historical preamble to the rise of the Vikings (harking back the end of the Pleistocene) and its discussion of the broader political context at the time of their rise (the splitting of the Roman Empire, and the rise of a Muslim Near East and Latin Catholic West) seems at first to be a giant wayward tangent, but most of the time ends up right on point. The unfortunate effect of this, however, is that what the reader recalls from the book in the long run might relate more to broader European history than to the Viking Age itself. A much more annoying distraction comes from Oliver’s literary structure and style, which is reinforced by James Gillies’ (pleasant enough) narration. Oliver begins each chapter with a vignette recounting his own personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences while out looking for old Viking relics, and although this feels somewhat useful at first, it grows tiresome and boring after a few chapters. The underlying tone is that of a pipe-smoking grandfather telling old fairy tales to wide-eyed children sitting around the hearth. It is thus more befitting of a Disney movie than a serious book about history. By the book’s end, I can say I know far more about the Vikings than I did before, but only because I knew so very little before. In my case, as with others just beginning to study the Vikings, Oliver’s book may indeed be worth reading. But if you are a serious amateur historian, be prepared to be annoyed, and don’t expect to be fully satisfied. A book of this length could be a lot more than this.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
I was very pleased with the prehistoric background. The back story placed the primary details in the perfect context.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful