The book covers quite a range of topics, split into four main sections. We begin with a look at Viking society, covering the various ranks found in Scandinavia, the role of Women, housing, law and related topics. Next comes a look at the Hersir, the middle ranked Vikings who led the early raids. Third comes a look at the Vikings in battle, including a look at their experiences in North America. Finally a long section looks at the crucial Viking ships, the technology that allowed them to reach the outside world.
One of the strongest sections looks at Viking ships, tracing their development from the earliest known Scandinavian vessels to the last of the Long ships. This section is structured around an examination of a series of impressive archaeological survivals – starting with the Hjortspring Boat of c.350 BC. Each of these boats is used to illustrate a particular period or style of construction, and a wide range range of ship types is covered.
There is also an interesting section on the Viking voyages to North America, including a useful map showing the relationship between Iceland, Greenland and the American mainland. The Viking colonists on Greenland were closer to North American and Newfoundland than they were to Iceland, making voyages further west look very likely.
An inevitable downside of this sort of book is that the complexities of the subject tend to get smoothed over. One example here is the case of the Jomsvikings, a group of Vikings who were believed to have lived in a military community, serving as elite mercenaries. Here they are portrayed as historical fact, but this isn't necessarily the case. They may have existed, but the sources for them are much later, and might well be influenced by each other, so an initial mention of a short lived group in the earliest source became the inspiration for the later tales. There isn't space in this sort of book for a detailed discussion of the problems with the sources, but a little less certainty might be nice.
Other than that this is a good overview of the Vikings – longer and more detailed than an introduction to the subject, and with some very strong sections.
The Vikings at Home
The Viking Hersir
The Vikings in Battle
The Viking Longship
Author: R Chartrand, K Durham, M Harrison & I Heath