Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough, Beyond the Northlands (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), ISBN 9780198701248. Hardback.
In the middle of my old university town is a quaint little bookstore. Dimly lit, as one would expect. A hidden treasure. New and second-hand books are scattered across the shop. And the bookshelves come equipped with a sleepy, purring house cat. Whenever I enter this place, I am bound to leave with a book.
Around the time I started The Viking Age Archive, this edition stood in the window display. I did not hesitate. Sometimes you just buy the perfect book in the perfect bookstore. I admit I thought this read could go two ways: the popular science kind that lingers in the shallows, or a hefty, dry academic piece. But it is neither. It is a fine mix of up-to-date scholarly insights and plenty of small or new details to keep the story interesting to both laymen and informed readers. Above all, it is written exceptionally well.
What makes the book special, is that the author visited the places she talks about, as far as Greenland. Her experiences only add to her already impressive knowledge. As a result, dry facts are glossed over with real-life experiences making this a dynamic story. She also shows how astonishingly human the Vikings were. How they did amazing and not-so-amazing things, and always adapting to their circumstances as they went along.
How to use this book? If you want a delightful read about the Vikings in northern Europe and the Atlantic, read this very witty and truly well-written account. If you suspect an online source is spouting nonsense at you, grab this book as a first fact check. My verdict: outstanding.
An interview with the author on National Geographic, 22 January 2017.