cover image The Viking Heart: How Scandinavians Conquered the World

The Viking Heart: How Scandinavians Conquered the World

Arthur Herman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30 (512p) ISBN 978-1-328-59590-4

This ambitious yet unconvincing history tracks the influence of Nordic culture on the world from the Bronze Age to the rise of Silicon Valley. The “Viking heart,” according to historian Herman (How the Scots Invented the World), is “a frame of mind, a way of life” that has been passed down through centuries of the Scandinavian diaspora, and is defined by the “willingness to venture out into the complete unknown... with the confidence that somewhere on the other side of the far horizon, freedom and a new home await.” He profiles Nordic leaders including Danish king Canute the Great, who ruled both Denmark and England in the 11th century, and General Motors CEO William Knudsen, who spearheaded FDR’s efforts to develop an “arsenal of democracy” in the run-up to WWII. People of Scandinavian descent have played an especially prominent role in American history, according to Herman, who discusses football coach Knute Rockne’s innovations at Notre Dame in the 1920s, agronomist Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution in the 1950s and ’60s, and the influence of Norse myths on today’s geek culture. The vignettes are appealing, but amount to a historical highlight reel, rather than a cohesive and convincing narrative. This sweeping look at the Viking legacy never takes full sail. (Aug.)