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Viking Britain An Exploration by Tom Williams

Viking Britain An Exploration

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Any historian dealing with the Vikings must firstly fight myth – those horned helmets to name but one and then there’s the sparsity of evidence from a people with so little in the way of written record. We do get a lot of sword-play and blood-lust but there are also the sharp-eyed merchants trading across the known world. But mostly it’s the swords with men fighting for dominance and allegiance. While I would have liked to know more about the lives of Viking women (about 12 pages, having checked the index) Tom Williams is very good at putting the Vikings into a historical context, looking at their legacy and the mark they made on our country. ~ Sue Baker

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Viking Britain An Exploration by Tom Williams

To many, the word `Viking' brings to mind red scenes of rape and pillage, of marauders from beyond the sea rampaging around the British coastline in the last gloomy centuries before the Norman Conquest. And it is true that Britain in the Viking Age was a turbulent, violent place. The kings and warlords who have impressed their memories on the period revel in names that fire the blood and stir the imagination: Svein Forkbeard and Edmund Ironside, Ivar the Boneless and Alfred the Great, Erik Bloodaxe and Edgar the Pacifier amongst many others. Evidence for their brutality, their dominance, their avarice and their pride is still unearthed from British soil with stunning regularity. This is not, however, the whole story. In Viking Britain, Thomas Williams has drawn on his experience as Project Curator of the major international exhibition Vikings: Life and Legend to show how the people we call Vikings came not just to raid and plunder, but to settle, to colonize and to rule. The impact on these islands was profound and enduring, shaping British social, cultural and political development for hundreds of years. Indeed, in language, literature, place-names and folk-lore, the presence of Scandinavian settlers can still be felt, and their memory - filtered and refashioned through the writings of people like J.R.R. Tolkien, William Morris and G.K.Chesterton - has transformed the western imagination. This remarkable new book draws upon new academic research and first-hand experience, drawing deeply from the relics and landscapes that the Vikings and their contemporaries fashioned and walked: their rune stones and ship burials, settlements and battlefields, poems and chronicles. The book offers a vital evocation of a forgotten world, its echoes in later history and its implications for the present. It is a stunning exploration of Viking Britain by a writer of immense literary power.


`Fresh, vivid and impeccably researched ... the most rip-roaring work of nonfiction I read this year
Books of the Year, Tom Holland, Observer

`Williams infectiously enthusiastic book gives you everything you could want from a history of the Vikings
Books of the Year, Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times

`A debut that pulses with the author's passion for his subject and his mastery of written sources, archaeology and legend. Williams narrates a complex story in enjoyable, lusty prose
Dan Jones, Sunday Times

`Viking Britain [is] an engrossing account ... Williams is scrupulous to avoid the easy pub-chat message. He writes fluently and with feeling
Thomas W. Hodgkinson, Spectator

'Williams is a master at conveying the atmosphere of Viking Britain ... We are guests at a sensory feast, at times immersed ... and at others guided by the comforting hand of firm historical evaluation. Viking Britain is a giddy ride ... a real treat'
Philip Parker, Literary Review

`Williams evocative prose puts flesh on sturdy academic bones. `Viking Britain
is a pleasure to read

... a lively, colourful book that explores in high definition what being a Viking really meant. Williams ... succeeds where many have failed: to make the truth about the Vikings as entertaining as the fiction
Giles Kristian, The Times

`An exemplary work of popular history, at once full of the most up-to-date archaeology and international scholarly thought, and full of the literary flourishes which bring the past most vividly to life for readers: dramatic reconstruction, physical scene-setting and authorial intervention. It is a great success
Ronald Hutton

`A fundamentally new history of the Vikings in Britain: authoritative, at times controversial, and above all a personal journey through the byways of life under Scandinavian military occupation ... A real pleasure to read
Professor Neil Price, University of Uppsala

About the Author

Tom Williams was a curator of the major international British Museum exhibition Vikings: Life and Legend, which was the subject of extensive national and international media coverage in 2014. He has been widely quoted in the press and has appeared on BBC TV, ITV and on BBC radio. He appeared at the Hay Festival and Bath Children's Literary Festival in 2014 and is currently engaged in research/finishing his PhD at University College London. He teaches History and Archaeology at Cambridge. He is the author and editor of a number of academic and magazine articles and collections.

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Book Info

Publication date

1st September 2017


Tom Williams

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William Collins an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers


416 pages


The Real World
eBook Favourites

Archaeology by period / region
Early history: c 500 to c 1450/1500



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