:: The Vikings of Bjornstad ::
Viking Reading List
Recommended Reading

It's sometimes difficult to find the right resource (published or online) for that sword pommel design or maybe learning the number of longships that attacked Paris in 885 AD.  Let's see if we can help each other out.  Here's a recommended reading list with a few words about why each book is on the list.  Recognize that newer books may include more recent information, but newer doesn't necessarily mean better.  Do you have a good one?  Send your suggestions (with the information for your book as shown below) to Jack Garrett at info@vikingsofbjornstad.com.  We'll try to keep the groups below to no more than a few dozen entries each.  More, and the list would lose any effectiveness we hope to achieve. 

***** Nonfiction **********
Title Author/Editor Publisher ISBN Notes
1066 - The Year of The Conquest Howarth, David Barnes & Noble Books, 1993 0-88029-014-5 This well-written book details the people, events and politics leading up to the Battle of Hastings. Thorough and well-researched.  Sets the stage nicely by describing life in Britain before the Norman invasion. (Jack Garrett)
1066 - The Year of The Three Battles McLynn, Frank Pimlico, 1999 978-0-7162-6672-5 It deals with the battles of Fulford, Stamford Bridge and Hastings and includes the histories and biographies of King Edward the Confessor, Harold Godwinson, Duke William of Normandy and King Harald Hardrata of Norway. (Brian Agron)
Den Svarte Vikingen (The Black Viking) Birgisson, Bergsveinn Spartacus, 2013 978-8-2430-0789-5 The story is about Geirmund Heljarskinn, son of King Hjor, born in the village of Avaldsnes in Rogaland (on the southwestern coast of modern Norway) in the year 846 AD. His mother was from Siberia, he was born dark-skinned, with Mongolian facial features and would become known as the "Black Viking". His second name combines "Hel" which is similar to Hell and "Skinn" is Skin, giving us "dark skin".

The book tells about Geirmund's upbringing and life in Norway, and trading in Russia with his father. He later started trading in Dublin, dealing in walrus skin and oil, eventually owning hundreds of Christian slaves from Scotland and Ireland. When the Saxons made business difficult in England, Geirmund packed up his business, ships, slaves and all his belongings and sailed to Iceland. He settled there, and became a lord over a major area in Iceland before he passed. His ancestors still live on Iceland.

No sagas tell his story and we really know little more about him. 1100 years later, a distant relative of Geirmund, author Bergsveinn Birgisson, addressed the mystery of his ancestor's life and why he had been forgotten. Ancient fragments, modern genetics and information collected on trips to faraway places are pieced together to build a shocking portrayal of a raw and poetic past.

Rarely has the Viking age been made alive in this way.

It's a compelling story, a mix of facts and guesswork. Avaldsnes is just an hour driving from where I live and therefore I was interested in the story. It's in Norwegian, but I assume an English version is on its way. (Joar Larsson Bø)
A History of the Vikings Jones, Gwyn Oxford University Press Second edition 1984, reissued 2001 978-0-19-280134-0 This is an extensive, detailed and well written history of the ‘Vikings’ from their origin in the ‘dark ages’ to 1066. This book would serve well as a ‘must read’ text in an upper division college level course on Vikings, yet surprisingly, it is not dryly written as conventional textbooks often are, for Gwyn Jones’s writing style is quite lush in the way a novelist (which he was) would describe things. Below is a quote from the end of the book, and it serves as an example of the flow and poetry of Gwyn Jones’s writing style.

“Old habits die hard, the Danes briefly, and the Norwegians till the skirmish at Largs in 1263, would again lead their lank steeds of ocean into western waters, display the dragon-head, but these were the spasmodic efforts of stragglers in a race already run, whose principal figures had long since quit the field and, save for the winners of fame, been hooded in darkness for ever. And so the Age ended.”

Unfortunately the font size in the book is rather small and for the extensive footnotes, even smaller, making those of us who need glasses to read facing a small (pun intended) challenge.  (Brian Agron)
The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings Sawyer, Peter, ed. Oxford University Press, 1997 0-19-820526-0 A glossy and well-done series of essays on the Viking Age, beautifully illustrated. Includes a unique chart of Viking ships and crews in the ninth century, with their numbers, target city and estimated losses. (Jack Garrett)
The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings Haywood, John Penguin Books, 1995 0-14-051328-0 Despite its title, this small volume covers a lot of ground (no pun intended.)  It has a comparative timeline of world events, excellent graphics and photos - and some exceptional maps.  (Jack Garrett)
Swords of the Viking Age Peirce, Ian The Boydell Press, 2002 0-85115-914-1 A chronology and typology of the principal styles of Viking Age swords.  Includes large-format photos of the primary archaeological finds representing the sword types.  The standard reference work and indispensable if you're interested in the premier Viking weapon.  (Jack Garrett)
Viking Language 1: Learn Old Norse, Runes, and Icelandic Sagas (Viking Language Series) Byock, Jesse L. Jules William Press; 1 edition (March 18, 2013) ISBN-13:
978-1480216440, ISBN-10: 148021644
Well-reviewed series on learning the language using frequent references to the Icelandic Sagas.  Professor Byock brings an ideal set of credentials to the series.  On my to-do list.  (Jack Garrett)
Viking Navigation Thirslund, Søren The Viking Ship Museum, 2007 978-87-85180-38-4 A small but crucial book for anyone interested in Viking navigation.  It details the construction and probable use of Greenland's Uunartoq solar compass/bearing dial.  It discusses practical experiments and their results, posing an anwer to "How was the Norse navigator able to shape his course across the North Atlantic long before the invention of the magnetic compass?"  (Jack Garrett)
The Vikings Brønsted, Johannes Penguin Books, 1965 0-14-020459-8 A classic study of the Viking Age, covering events, weapons, tools, trading, tactics, ships, inscriptions, behaviour, customs, beliefs and more. (Jack Garrett)
The Vikings Roesdahl, Else Penguin Books, 1992 0-14-012561-2 A definitive analysis of the Viking Age, covering geography, dress, language, gender roles, ships, trade, weaponry, religion, art, exploration/raids and more. (Jack Garrett)
Viking Weapons and Combat Techniques Short, William R. Westholme Publishing, 2000 978-1-59416-076-9 The author may have more practical experience with Viking weaponry than any other living person. This volume analyzes the weapons of the Viking age, how they were referenced in the sagas and demonstrates how, probably, they were used. (Jack Garrett)
Viking Weapons & Warfare Siddorn, J. Kim Tempus Publishing Ltd., 2000 0-7524-1419-4 A useful study of the weaponry of the Viking Age, with particular emphasis on their use by re-enactors. It includes a fascinating table on the relative costs of goods, services, weapons - and crimes - in Europe at the time.  (Jack Garrett)
Vikings - The North Atlantic Saga Fitzhugh, William W. and Ward, Elisabeth I. Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000 1-56098-9955 The best single illustrated overview of the Viking age I own. It's a companion to a traveling Smithsonian exhibit in 2000. Well-written and illustrated with large, clear photos of some of the most significant Viking age artifacts - particularly those associated with their voyages beyond the British isles. (Jack Garrett)
The Year 1000 Lacey, Robert & Danziger, Danny Little, Brown and Company, 1999 0-316-51157-9 The subtitle is "What life was like at the turn of the first millenium."  Organized on the Julius Work Calendar, this book takes us through a year in England month by month, covering social life, crafts, religious practices, foods, crops, feasts, crimes and much more.   A nice way to put the Viking Age in context.  (Jack Garrett)
***** Fiction *********
Title Author/Editor Publisher ISBN Notes
Byzantium Lawhead, Stephen R. Harper Prism, 1996 0-06-105754-1 A well written and historically solid story of an Irish acolyte who is taken by Vikings and has a series of adventures throughout the Viking world, eventually joining an ill-advised attack on the Byzantium ruled by Basil II.  (Jack Garrett)
The Long Ships Bengtsson, Frans G. Harper Collins, 1956, 1994 0-00-612609-X Source of the 1964 movie. (Jack Garrett)
The Saxon Tales Cornwell, Bernard Harper Collins, 2004-2013 The Last Kingdom: 13:9780060887186
The Pale Horseman: 13:978001144837
Lords of the North: 13:9780061149047
Sword Song: The Battle for London: 13:978006137941
The Burning Land: 13:9780060888763
Death of Kings: 13:9780061969669
The Pagan Lord: 13:9780061969706

To quote George R.R. Martin (author of Game of Thrones), "Bernard Cornwell does the best battle scenes of any writer I've ever read, past or present."  To that I will add, that while this series is fiction, it is based on well researched, solid history.   His details and descriptions of the era are impeccable. The invaders are never referred to as "Vikings" but as Danes. His description of the terror and close quarter fighting in a shield wall really hit the mark with me.  I have used this insight when I spoke of how a seax was used in the wall in our Art of War presentation.  The characters are complex and well developed.  I highly recommend this series! (Annie Petersen)

This is by far my favorite Norse historical fiction, all taking place around one man, Uhtred, who as a boy is a Saxon son of a minor lord, gets captured by the Norse during an invasion, grows up a few years with that Northman, and then goes back and forth, fighting mostly for the new king Alfred during that wild time. Bernard Cornwell really captures what I imagine as the feel of battle, the politics of the time, and many other things like daily life, and the clashes between the Christians and the pagans.  So many great moments that speak to my soul as shields clash and splinter and recede from the no mans land at spear's length. The author bases much of his story on events detailed in "The Anglo Saxon Chronicle," a contemporary document detailing the events around the time of Alfred the Great. The document is even being worked on by monks at times throughout the series. At the end of each book, Cornwell explains his references for the events in that book, and even where he diverges from history by a year or two to make a better story. The main character Uhtred is deeply flawed. He is rash and impulsive, bold but shrewd, and often is reflecting about how he had done the wrong thing out of petty revenge or lust. He is a great warlord, but as he often states, he is not well suited for times of peace. Lucky for him, and us, England during the events of the book is rarely at any kind of peace.  (Colin Adams)

The Viking Marshall, Edison Dell, 1951 - Source of the 1958 movie. (Jack Garrett)
***** Children **********
Title Author/Editor Publisher ISBN Notes
100 Facts: Vikings Macdonald, Fiona Sandy Creek, 2013 978-1-4351-5099-7 A large-format book providing a wide assortment of fairly diverse facts, each with a paragraph of explanation and an illustration or photo.  A couple of examples: (27) Viking farmers prized pasture more than plowed fields and (72) Animals - and people - were killed as sacrifices.  A good introduction to the culture, covering a lot of topics without whitewashing them unduly.  One of a series of books (another is 100 Facts: Knights and Castles).  (Jack Garrett)
Eyewitness Guides - Viking Margeson, Susan M. Dorling Kindersley, 1994 0-7513-6022-8 A large-format book with good photos of Viking artifacts and reproductions with pertinent captions. (Jack Garrett)
The Race of the Birkebeiners Lunge-Larsen, Lise Houghton Mifflin Co. 2001 0-618-10313-9 This is a true story of the King’s loyal men, the Birkebeiners (Birch Leggers) and their race to save the orphan baby prince Håkon, who was to become king. The Baglers (rich nobles and false bishops) wanted access to the money they could get from the poor peasants if there was no king. The Birkebeiners faced great danger as they raced on skis across the highest mountains in Norway to get the baby to Nidaros (now Trondheim) They were able to get the baby there safely to insure that he would become king. “King Håkon was the most powerful king that Norway had during the middle ages.” I have read this book to several 4th grade classes at our elementary school and they seem to enjoy it. The award winning illustrations add a great deal to the story.(Susie Enarson)
  ©   For information contact Jack Garrett at info@vikingsofbjornstad.com