When most people think of Vikings, the stereotypical helmet with horns comes to mind. Guðmundur Magnússon squashes this misconception immediately within the first few pages of his book, Icelandic Vikings, noting that Vikings never wore those helmets. I was equally surprised to learn about the Icelandic language and how much it has changed over time while reading Icelandic Literature of the Vikings by Ármann Jakobsson. Both books, published by Veröld, are concisely written, easy to read and should be a welcome addition to any history lover’s book collection.
Both books complement each other perfectly, but I read Icelandic Vikings first to get a broader knowledge of the Vikings. Topics covered include the Viking image, the origins of the Vikings, weapons and armor and 15 fascinating others. I constantly found myself being surprised and enlightened as I read Guðmundur’s book.
I particularly enjoyed his perspective on how Icelanders feel about having their country portrayed as Viking-like. Guðmundur also clarifies what a Viking is, which he describes as “a sailor who pursues piracy and raiding abroad.” I quickly learned how little I knew about the Vikings previously and how most of my knowledge was based on stereotypes. I came away from reading Icelandic Vikings informed and armed with new facts.
I recommend reading Icelandic Literature of the Vikings only after getting a handle on what a Viking actually is. Both books have some overlap when discussing the sagas, but Ármann’s book goes much more in-depth. The book covers the years from 900 to 1400 and begins discussing Iceland’s oral tradition and its difficulties. What is most notable about Ármann’s book, however, is his in-depth description of the sagas and their history.
Both books are sectioned off into easy to read chunks, which I personally enjoyed. Ármann mentions at the beginning of Icelandic Literature of the Vikings that his book is in list form because, in his experience, people enjoy reading information this way. Guðmundur also writes similarly, which makes the information presented easy to take in, despite the literature being mainly facts.
It is hard to find a fault with either book. It is evident both authors are experts in their area of study and their passion for Icelandic Vikings draws the reader in. I highly recommend both for anyone who has visited Iceland or is a planning a trip to Iceland, as it will allow the reader to view the country and its history with a new perspective.
Icelandic Vikings by Guðmundur Magnússon and Icelandic Literature of the Vikings by Ármann Jakobsson are published by Veröld and are available for purchase on forlagid.is (here and here), on eymundsson.is (here and here) and in bookstores in Iceland.