cover image How Iceland Changed the World: The Big History of a Small Island

How Iceland Changed the World: The Big History of a Small Island

Egill Bjarnason. Penguin, $17 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-14-313588-3

Journalist Bjarnason debuts with an insightful and fawning history of his native Iceland. He begins with the island’s discovery by Vikings 1,200 years ago, and delves into the Icelandic sagas to recount how explorer Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir succeeded on her third attempt to reach North America, where she gave birth to the first European American. Though Iceland boasts the “world’s oldest surviving parliament,” in the 1200s Norway took advantage of a period of civil conflict to seize control of the island, and a succession of Scandinavian rulers held power until 1944. Despite the country’s lack of political independence, however, events in Iceland influenced the world far beyond its borders. Bjarnason notes that the eruption of an Icelandic volcano in 1783 had such an enormous impact on global food production that some historians regard it as a precipitating cause of the French Revolution, and explains how Cold War–era politics and geographic attributes led Iceland to host multiple U.S. military bases and the Apollo astronauts as they prepared for their mission to the moon. Rich with entertaining anecdotes and helpful pronunciation guides, this is a winning introduction to a unique and fascinating culture. (May)