Vikings: Vikings

William Fitzhugh, Author, Elisabeth Ward, Editor, William F. Fitzhugh, Editor Smithsonian Books $60 (432p) ISBN 978-1-56098-970-7
According to this excellent work, there's a lot more to the Vikings than the ill-informed contemporary imagination often allows. The book doesn't only correct misperceptions--it uses the history of the Vikings as a framework for a range of events in world history. Edited by Fitzhugh, the director of the National Museum of Natural History's Arctic Studies Center, and Ward, a curatorial specialist in Viking Studies, this volume is a companion to the Smithsonian's spring exhibition (which will later travel to five other cities). Appearing exactly 1,000 years after the landing of Leif Eriksson in North America, the book first leads the reader through Scandinavian culture, art, religion and daily life and then to Viking expansion into Europe and the Mediterranean. The focus then shifts to the notorious North Atlantic raids that prefigured European expansion and settlement to come half a millennium later, to the effects of this settlement on the descendants of the raiders in Greenland and to the Viking legacy. In every instance, contributors impressively interpret a wealth of archeological and literary evidence in a lively and engaging manner; the analysis of the Vinland Sagas, the two surviving accounts of the settlements in North America, are particularly fine. Although the chapter on ""The North Atlantic Environment"" may tell more about lice than one wishes to know, it's a pleasure to read such lucid prose on topics that might otherwise seem arcane. Well designed, heavily illustrated and almost encyclopedic in scope and detail, this stimulating work gives the Vikings the place they seserve in the history of the world and will repay both extensive study and casual browsing. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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