When it comes to the people known as the Vikings, their history, both internally and externally, is known by a mix of fact and fable. They were a warlike people who left an undeniable mark on history for good or ill, and that mark had some exciting highlights. Ben Thompson, a man who enjoys such topics, thus wrote the second book of the Guts and Glory series to explore the topic in some detail.
A bit of background is required. Ben Thompson is a historian who started out with a website called "Badass of the Week", where he would detail the aforementioned figures, both real and fictional, and explore their histories and exploits. Having branched out into writing, he wrote the Guts and Glory series for younger readers, foregoing most of the earthy language his more mature work is known for. At the same time, he delivers generally the same information in his typically bombastic style, so parents who want their children to learn something can be assured the work is reasonably educational and child appropriate while still being entertaining.
His book on the Vikings covers terrain both broad and deep. Its general structure is chronological, covering the roughly 350 or so years the Vikings made a historical impact and some of their most noted figures. In between these entries are often many other factoids and trivia about the Vikings, separating inventions like the horned helmets (which come from opera, not actual Viking tradition) from fact (Vikings did in fact beat Columbus to exploring North America). Finally, like any decent historian, he provides an extensive bibliography for further reading on subjects his own text may have glossed over for more detailed instruction.
It's worth noting the Vikings and the Christian religion have had extensive overlap, with each shaping the history of the other in many respects. Thompson helpfully provides a summation of each notable figure and discusses their impact on the Christian faith (and whether they remained pagan or converted). For those seeking to study the history of both topics, this is a rather helpful guide. Thompson also does not neglect other topics, detailing the impact the Vikings have had on world culture, politics, economics, and other topics of interest. Admittedly, his preference is to center mostly on the great deeds of the people discussed, both good and ill, but there is still plenty of other useful historical datum included as well.
I had three things I took from my reading in particular. While aimed at younger readers, this is still quite good reading for the older crowd as well, providing simple, clear, yet detailed accounts of many historical facts about the Vikings. Another takeaway is a much greater appreciation for the Vikings and their impact on history, as Thompson makes clear such countries as Britain, Russia, and sizable portions of mainland Europe owe a profound debt to the Vikings for their historical foundation. Finally, I was gratified to find Thompson made very clear what was fiction and what was fact, as Viking history is often embellished (even internally in their own accounts, as Thompson notes), and I was left with a much clearer picture of what the Vikings actually were like as a people.
Overall, this text comes highly recommended. Not only is it suitable for parents hoping to give their child something educational yet entertaining, it is also a good work on the subject of the Vikings in general. It can be purchased on Amazon in Audiobook, Kindle, softcover, hardcover, and Audio CD formats.
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