An exemplary history that gives a nuanced view of a society long reduced to a few clichés.



A fresh history of the Vikings and their world.

The Vikings, writes Uppsala University archaeologist Price, whose books include The Viking Way, were “as individually varied as every reader of this book.” Yet, he adds, it’s possible to advance some generalizations about them. They regarded the world as a hostile place to be met with violence that was supernaturally empowered by their gods. The Vikings thought of themselves as children of the great ash tree Yggdrasill, “the steed of the terrible one,” an epithet for Odin. Over the course of three centuries, they ranged over an impressively large territory in a number of guises, from traders and soldiers to raiders and legendarily ferocious fighters. One Norse woman lived in Greenland, meeting First Peoples, and later visited Rome and met the pope; moving to Iceland after becoming a nun, she was “probably the most traveled woman on the planet.” In this elegantly conceived, constantly surprising narrative, Price charts this evolution. When Viking merchants landed near wealthy British monasteries to attend trade fairs, one of their number, thinking hard about the possibilities, likely turned to his fellows and said something like, “Why don’t we just take it?” So effectively did they put the fear in their targets that the English were soon calling them “slaughter-wolves.” With clarity and verve, Price examines various aspects of Viking society, including the place of women and transgender people on the battlefield and other venues of warrior society; the structure of warrior cults such as the berserkers; what Viking mass burials tell us about the people thus interred; and, especially, the structure of the Viking economy, which was enriched by the widespread application of slavery. The author also considers the last generations of Vikings as pirates whose society, though founded on violence, was also definitively democratic.

An exemplary history that gives a nuanced view of a society long reduced to a few clichés. (16-page color insert; maps)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-465-09698-5

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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