Monday, 7 October 2019

Vikings: A History - Neil Oliver (2012)

Rating: Admirable

I am an avowed fan of the History Network's Vikings series, which is apparently extending to a sixth and final season this year. I have often wondered how much of the series was based on what is known about the Viking era (quite a bit as it turns out...) and was looking for a succinct history, when I spied Oliver's book languishing on a table at Planet Books. Neil Oliver is an archeologist, historian and BBC presenter of shows such as Coast (2005), The History of Ancient Britain (2011) and Vikings (2012), from which this book is based. Oliver's writing style is very much like his TV presenting and you can certainly picture him looking rigorously Scottish whilst standing on a cliff-top discussing just how the Vikings came to strike fear into the hearts of Europeans between the eighth and eleventh centuries. Vikings is perfect if, like me, you want an easy to digest short history of the Viking era. Vikings is akin to an amiable but passionate historian holding forth with a class of wine in front of a roaring fire; you don't have to concentrate all that hard, but you can still feel like you are receiving a solid enough historical account.

Although the Vikings were a dynamic people, the first part of the book keeps you waiting around for quite a while for the real action to start. Oliver spends the first 100 pages of the book giving the back history of the northern European peoples who became the Vikings through the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron ages, as well as the wider historical context leading up to that first historically recorded Viking raid on Lindisfarne Abbey in 793. This is all very necessary, however I was left feeling that this part of the Vikings story could have done with some brevity, particularly as the book is not an extensively detailed history of the Vikings. Vikings contains maps, a list of principle Viking figures, colour plates and a timeline, all of which are very useful as Oliver takes you on a mostly chronological accounts of the viking era. Although not all of the most significant Viking historical events are contained within Oliver's book (I did some reading online as well...), there was enough to give you a rounded idea of who the Vikings were and just why they were significant part of European Medieval history. If you are interested in an exhaustive account of the Viking era (as I now am) Vikings can be viewed as an adequate entree to further reading.

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