The Age of the Vikings by Anders Winroth – A Review

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The Age of the Vikings by Anders Winroth
Non-Fiction | History | Scandinavian History
Published by Princeton University Press
Released September 7, 2014
Goodreads
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Thriftbooks
Author Links: Twitter
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

History was always one of my favorite classes at school, and I miss a lot of the assigned readings. In between reading novels and graphic novels, I try to read several non-fiction books every month.

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I were at our local library and I was in the mood for Scandinavian history, which is a topic my boyfriend knows a good bit about from his time studying art history. I asked him to pick out a book for me, and Anders Winroth’s The Age of the Vikings is the one he came back with.

It ended up being a great choice.

Vikings have always held people’s fascination, whether from the mysteries surrounding their culture or from the horror at how violent and barbaric they are perceived. We know shockingly little of Viking culture as the remnants of their society have faded with the passage of time.

The Age of the Vikings is a wonderfully comprehensive look at what we do know about the Vikings. Winroth talks about several aspects of Scandinavian culture in a way that is easily understandable and relatable, even to people who might be new to this area’s history. Scattered throughout the book are plenty of fascinating images of relics found from the Viking age.

Early on, Winroth tackles the history of the violence within Viking culture and brings up an interesting point: that Vikings were no more violent than other cultures of that time. One of the examples he points to is Charlemagne:

“During a single day in 782, Charlemagne ordered no fewer than 4,500 Saxons decapitated, according to the Annals. … The Vikings’ execution of 111 prisoners in 845 pales in comparison.”

One of the reasons Vikings were so feared during their time was due to their quick ships and the ability to emerge onto a village or city quickly, taking the citizens off-guard. Also, Vikings weren’t always violent, and in some cases would accept tribute in the forms of gold and other materials of value in exchange for not raiding an area. That’s not to say we should write off the terrible qualities of Vikings – after all, they practiced slavery and the violence they did commit could destroy the lives of the people in the areas that they traveled to.

I was fascinated by Winroth’s details regarding Viking burial customs, especially ship burials. Ship burials have been found a few times, with the buried ship containing not only the body of the deceased but grave goods and whatever they would need for the afterlife. The most striking burial Winroth writes about is that of two women buried in Oseberg, Norway:

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“The goal of that journey [to the afterlife] was clearly visible to everyone who saw the half-finished mound: the ship was quite literally going into the black earth, into the mound.”

Another interesting bit of information in the book was that Viking raids actually stimulated the European economy of the time. Trade towns were established in places such as Dorestad, Birka, and Hedeby, and money was starting to be used in place of the older bartering system.

“However disastrous and ruinous any individual Viking raid may have been for those attacked, the overall impact of Scandinavian endeavors was, unexpectedly, to stimulate the economy of Western Europe.”

The only aspect of the book that I did not enjoy was the amount of speculation the author added to the narrative. This is to be expected, however, as so little is known about Viking culture and that naturally leads historians to try to imagine what life was like in those times. I just felt that the author may have gone too far at certain points.

Overall, this is a perfect book if you want to know more about the Vikings and Scandinavian history in general, from ancient poetry to the role of women in their society and so much more.

Carl Sagan Day

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Carl Sagan should be remembered for a number of reasons, but most importantly for how he made average, non-scientist citizens care deeply for the sciences of astronomy and physics. The television series based on his book, Cosmos, was ground-breaking and is still important today.

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Since Carl Sagan was born on November 9th, 1934, the date has unofficially become Carl Sagan Day. To celebrate, here are five books written by Carl Sagan you should pick up, as well as five other fantastic books about space and physics.

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Cosmos

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It would be wrong not to start with his classic book, Cosmos. Published in 1980, it is one of the best-selling science books ever written. The book covers the entire history of the universe as we know it, and Sagan is able to explain everything in such as a way that it is easily understandable to scientists and non-scientists alike. The audiobook is also wonderful, as it’s narrated by LeVar Burton, Seth MacFarlane, Ann Druyan, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

Pale Blue Dot

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Pale Blue Dot is a fascinating look at what Sagan thought might be the future of humanity in space, both in terms of exploration and of humans on other worlds.

Contact

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I feel like not enough people are aware of the fact that Carl Sagan wrote the novel Contact, the book that the Jodie Foster film was based on. The story is about a radio signal from another world containing information on how to build a machine that will take a human to that world.

Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium

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This was the final book published during Sagan’s life. It’s a collection of essays on everything from our relationship to the universe to the state of science to his own struggle with a fatal disease.

A Path Where No Man Thought: Nuclear Winter and the End of the Arms Race

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Taking a break from writing about the universe, Sagan partnered with Richard Turco to write this book about what would happen here on earth during a nuclear winter. Although it was published in 1990, it’s still an important book today with the international politics of the world becoming increasingly strained.

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There are so many other great space books out there, and I wanted to share five of my favorites.

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

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I’m fairly certain everyone has heard of this famous book. Another of the best-selling science books ever, Hawking’s book covers the history and origin of the universe as well as physics and the possibility of time travel.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

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I followed Chris Hadfield on Twitter and YouTube while he was aboard the International Space Station. In case you recognize the name but can’t quite remember why, he’s the astronaut who filmed himself singing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in space. This book was a fantastically interesting look at the life of an astronaut, and I enjoyed every moment of reading it.

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

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It takes a lot of work to put astronauts in space, and Margot Lee Shetterly’s book takes a look at the African American women who helped make that happen. The film, Hidden Figures, is based on this book.

Welcome to the Universe by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Michael A Strauss, and J. Richard Gott III

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This huge book is practically a textbook, as it contains a plethora of information and diagrams on everything you’ve ever wanted to know about space. I purchased this book last year, and I’m still slowly making my way through it. It’s fascinating.

Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon by Buzz Aldrin

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Buzz Aldrin was the second person to walk on the moon, and this memoir is his account of that experience and the trip home, as well as what it was like after history had been made.


Have you read any of these books, or do you have a favorite space book that was left out? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Foundations of Chinese Civilization by Jing Liu – A Review

“After 17,434 disasters, 3,791 wars, 663 emperors, and 95 dynasties, the 5,000-year-old Chinese civilization marches on.”

The Book

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Foundations of Chinese Civilization: The Yellow Emperor to the Han Dynasty (2697 BCE – 220 CE) by Jing Liu
Released May 31, 2016
Published by Stone Bridge Press
Goodreads
Author links: Facebook

Synopsis

Foundations of Chinese Civilizations is the history of China told through comic book form. This one is the first in the series.

It examines everything from the most important and long-lasting Chinese dynasties to the dynastic cycle itself, geography, emperors, and so much more.

Review

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I found this comic book on Hoopla while looking for books about Chinese history for this month’s #readtheworld-china challenge. The idea of telling a nation’s history through a comic book really caught my attention.

The thing that really struck me was how incredibly comprehensive it was. It covers everything, from geography and natural disasters to the history of the dynastic cycle and the origin of Chinese civilizations and the mysterious Xia dynasty, said to be the first, although no evidence has been found to support that theory.

I learned so much from this graphic novel, such as that during a dynasty change, as much as two-thirds of the population could perish (!). Also, some interesting information on Chinese surnames:

“Today, 85% of China’s population uses only 100 surnames. Many of these surnames come from the Zhou period.”

It also examines Chinese schools of thought and philosophers, such as Confucius:

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I really enjoyed learning about the Qin and Han dynasties, and some of their leaders, especially Wang Mang, who I’d never heard of before, but had interesting ideas to rid his government of corruption and make overall society fairer.

Rating

5 out of 5 stars. This was a wonderful way to learn more about early Chinese dynasties. I’m definitely going to be seeking out the rest of the books in this series.