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The Viking Heart

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The Viking Heart by Arthur Herman is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early July.

Woo, part of my lineage - through my dad's side of the family and as a Minnesotan - and the journey of Eivor the Wolf-Kissed from Assassin's Creed Valhalla. As it turns out, vikings have had a hand in several different global situations, whether through religion, leadership, commerce, battle, conquest, sea travel, or academics. However, it's loosely chronological as it pulls from historical research and myth, then scatters about in future implications. Likewise, each chapter is like walking hesitantly, then with reassurance, then lagging back to start again at a new chapter with a different topic.
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Herman has written an interesting, solid history, including information from archaeology, the sagas, and DNA about the Vikings that shows their complexities but is also accessible to people who are unfamiliar with Norse history or frankly usually uninterested in history.  He goes beyond that to follow Scandinavia through the centuries down to the modern times but not in as much depth.  Instead, he highlights the times when Scandinavia was important to “saving” Catholic and later Protestant Europe as well as providing a conduit for Arab knowledge that would help transform medieval Europe into the Renaissance.  

The most surprising aspect of this book is the history of the impact of Scandinavians on American history.  Not only is there discussion about the colonies Sweden established here but also the importance of the Scandinavians during the Civil War.  He spends the most time on the impact of American-Scandinavians in the time leading up to and during WWII.  Not all of these people showed the best impulses of the human spirit.  However, I was most interested in how important a few people were in getting U.S. private manufacturing companies switched over to producing the goods necessary to win WWII.  

The theme of the “Viking heart” runs throughout the book.  At the core of this is courage, daring, loyalty and resilience.  He attributes many of the accomplishments of Scandinavians to this phenomenon.  However, the characteristics of the Viking heart changed over time, with the influence of Christianity, to something that was less bloody than before with more of a concern for individuals and society as a whole.  At different times he adds qualities to the Viking heart but does not reinforce them in the conclusion so it is a little unclear exactly his final definition of the Viking heart.     

One thing he makes clear is that he does not believe that the “Viking heart” has a racial component.  He completely disavows the use of it by Hitler and by Neo-Nazis groups today.  In fact, he stresses that many other groups share the characteristics of the “Viking heart” and have made equal contribution to society.  The Vikings themselves were not one united racial group.  They were a mix.  

Herman makes some sweeping statements but does not always support them with enough evidence.  For example, he claims that Saint Brigitte of Sweden, Queen Ingeborg of Norway and Queen Margaret of Denmark transformed their countries and arguably Europe itself.   That they had an impact and an influence is not in doubt but the statement that they transformed their countries, much less, Europe is not borne out in his narrative.  He does not give evidence much less prove their lasting impact.

He also includes some information about his own family, particularly what they did in the American Civil War.  They weren’t major movers or shakers and he doesn’t pretend they are.  It can be a little jarring with the inserted personal history in the middle of the more neutral presentation of the narrative history.  Some people might find this touching and way to make the history not so boring.  I was a little jolted out of the flow.

Overall, a solid history with some information that I did not know about.  It shows that Vikings were much more than just marauding killers; they traveled further and had a much greater impact in areas than many people know.  The later history is also interesting and Scandinavia did not just disappear from the world stage when the Vikings “disappeared” into the sunset.  There are some weaknesses in Herman’s arguments but it is a satisfying and informative book.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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The Viking Heart: How Scandinavians Conquered the World by Arthur Herman is a highly recommended history of the Vikings, their influence in Europe and beyond, and eventually how the mind set of the Scandinavians influenced American history. This is a history written with ties to Herman's own family heritage.

As most people know the Vikings, Norwegians, Danes, Finns, and Swedes, were raiders who sparked terror across Europe and east Eurasia for more than two centuries after 780 C.E. and shaped the history of these areas before they settled down to becoming settlers and traders. These Norsemen were never part of one national identity and represented a very small population, which makes their impact even more interesting. What set them apart was that where ever they went they brought with them a certain attitude, way of life, and mythology. Herman also shares archaeological and DNA research to trace the movements and reach of the Vikings.

As this is a history focused on Scandinavians, the peoples comprising these countries are the focus of the book. Their bold actions, raids, travels, movements, mythology, communities, families, inventiveness, and adventurous spirit are the focus of the history from the early time of the Viking to the contributions of settlers in America. Once in America, Herman covers the role the role these settlers played in American history along with several famous descendants of Scandinavian ancestry. The part that many Scandinavians will stand up and applaud is the clear presentation of how Snorri Sturluson's Eddas and guide to Old Norse Mythology influenced so many parts of popular culture today, especially Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

The narrative is very accessible to readers wanting a basic account of Vikings and their descendants in America rather than an encyclopedic history of all things Viking and Scandinavian. Those who are looking for a complete in-depth examination of the history can look for further information, but a causal reader will appreciate this presentation. Herman states that he wrote this book to examine and pay homage to his ancestors, so he does make the book personal, naming his Scandinavian relatives and sharing personal family stories. The volume includes chapter notes and an index, as well as photographs.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HMH Books.
The review will be published on Barnes & Noble, Google Books, and submitted to Amazon.
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I received this book from the publisher through Netgalley for review and all thoughts and opinions are my own.
New York Times bestselling author of "How the Scots Invented the Modern World" now tackles the Scandinavian history and culture. In this fine book, he blends history and other research to reveal the culture, background and conquest mentality of the people we commonly refer to as Viking. He explores the depths of their strength of resolve and the landscape around them, the desire of conquest for previous metals and the hopes and dreams of a nation of warriors. What you may have thought about the Vikings is only a minute portion of what they are. Enjoyable book on a culture and peoples of infinite value through many nations of today. Highly recommend to fans of Norse mythology, Tolkien, history and archaeology, religious scholars and ancestry enthusiasts.
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First, a disclaimer: I received this e-book in advance of publication in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own opinions. Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with this book. 

Vikings have always interested me. I think they interest most people. In this book, Herman explores the history and legacy of Vikings in a general way that spans thousands of years of history. I will first admit that history is not my normal genre for non-fiction reads. It seems that everything in history revolves around wars and battles and this book definitely had that as a predominant feature as well. But it did also explore DNA research and some culture and traditions. I enjoyed the pictures that were inserted and I enjoyed the cultural bits. I think that it skimmed over the darker things like slavery and colonization though and the book was, as a whole, definitely pro-Scandinavian… which makes sense because the author inserted a lot of his own genealogy and heritage into the story. While I learned a lot from this book, I found the family history to be a little dull. Honestly, the genealogy of the author holds zero interest to me. But I understand that it held a lot of interest to him. I also would have liked to see more science and culture and traditions built in, but I think that is likely a different book. This is more of a general overview than something that focuses on any specific time period. I cannot say that I LOVED this book, but it wasn’t bad and I know some history buffs that would love this and read it more than once. If you are a fan of history, interested in Vikings, and are descended from Scandinavians, I think that there is a good chance that this book is for you. 

Star Rating: NA
Pages: 512
Read on E-Book
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There is an abundance of books about Scandinavian history on the market these days, but this is, by far, the most expansive. Starting back in prehistory and running through time - giving a solid pause in recounting stories of immigrants to the US and Canada in the 1800s and 1900s - this book feels like it should lose its footing in all the ground it covers. Instead, it does the opposite. Much like the Vikings of the Viking age, this ship stays its course but does seem to hit choppy water once it reaches the chapters on WWII and [in]famous Scandinavian descendants of the early 1900s. The author leans in too hard on the sanitization of some 1st generation Scandinavians with checkered pasts, namely Lindbergh and Volstead (yes, of that certain prohibitive act).

Education, and its importance amongst Scandinavians and their descendants in the US, could be argued as a vital part of the Viking heart. I was disappointed to see very few words about the colleges and universities set up by those of Viking descent here in the US alone. Luther College, a few seminaries, and St. Olaf are mentioned in passing but no words dedicated to the other Scandinavian (and Lutheran) established halls of higher learning.

Despite these quibbles, this is a sprawling, fascinating read where little nuggets of info pop up in unusual places (for example, did you know the Thames was once an ancient tributary to the Rhine?) and I found myself highlighting a lot! 

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My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for an advanced copy of this new history.

One's thoughts of Scandinavia usually usually go right to IKEA with its functional furniture with funky names and meatballs that really hit the spot. Or to the new improvement plan of Hygee with its thought of cozy contentment no matter the clime. Even mysteries stories with long running series of sad detectives and clever until the end killers. Arthur Herman would like us to see the bigger picture of the importance of Scandinavia in his book The Viking Heart: How Scandinavians Conquered the World.

Combining cutting edge technology and archeology, with his own family history, Mr. Herman traces the growth of Scandinavia from farmers and fisherman, to explorers and raiders, to migration to America and to modern day. A familiarity with history would be helpful, but Mr. Herman does a good job of explaining his points and his research, which seems very expansive.

The book is full of interesting new facts and historical views that I had never thought about, It's also a little gossipy about his ancestors who migrated here and different times and had different ways of settling in. The book is a nice overview of the Scandinavian experience For anyone who enjoyed the Thomas Cahill books about various groups of people, or for those trying to get in touch with their immigrant experience and where they came from.
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Arthur Herman explores Scandinavian culture, history, and its worldwide effects in The Viking Heart: How Scandinavians Conquered the World. As the publisher puts it, he “melds a compelling historical narrative with cutting-edge archaeological and DNA research to trace the epic story of this remarkable and diverse people.” For me, the book seemed about 80% history with repeated detailed battle descriptions. The archaeological and DNA aspects are just a minor part of the whole. Herman also reviews the accomplishments of multiple Scandinavians and Americans of Scandinavian ancestry.

Herman covers broad territory here, in terms of both content and location. He details Viking leaders through the centuries, both successful and failed. There’s also a small amount about Viking women, both leaders and not. But fundamentally, this book is about the exploits of Scandinavian men from early days until the present. It’s a lot to cram into just under 500 pages.

Of course, Herman includes the wide-ranging efforts of Viking warriors as they ventured into Europe and even into Asia. It’s clear that these efforts affected nearly every culture reachable by the longships. And, as someone with considerable Norwegian DNA, it interests me to see how men from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and territories now known as Finland left their DNA in practically every place my ancestors lived.

Modern Scandinavians
Herman also discusses the impact of more modern men from the traditional Viking countries. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, these men battled against evil forces. Except when they were the bad guys. They were captains of industry and philanthropists. Also, they were regular guys working hard to make their small farms successful. On the other hand, they created explosives and fed the Nazis ideas about Scandinavian / Aryan perfection myths.

Each Scandinavian country responded to the times with their own style of changes. Their politics and economics have their roots in what Herman calls “the Viking Heart.” This idea crossed the Atlantic Ocean to America in the early 1800s, creating cities whose population was majority Scandinavian. And Herman explores it all, in large or small part.

My conclusions
The best part of this book is its diverse subject matter. Unfortunately, that’s also the worst part. Herman literally covers thousands of years of history. That means some sections just aren’t long enough. On the other hand, Herman is immensely excited by the strategy behind every single Viking battle. I confess to skimming these sections.

Viking book always cover the battles. Frankly, it’s just a part of the culture. But I was hoping for more depth on other meaningful topics like religion, culture, and lifestyle. Herman does address all of those, but they make up a smaller, somewhat rushed, percentage of the book.

Yet, every significant period is covered. So, for example, Herman addresses religion through the years. He talks about Old Norse gods and religious practices in places like Upsalla. And he discusses the Scandinavian relationship with both the Catholic and Lutheran Churches. Yet, there’s not enough depth on any of these topics, which frustrated me. And the same thing happens with discussions of art and literature.

In Herman’s previous books, he clearly focused on histories about war. I just didn’t look closely enough before agreeing to read and review this book. That’s on me, not him. 

Many thanks to NetGalley, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / Mariner Books, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review. Publication date: 3 August 2021
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A wonderfully written account of the history of the Vikings. The story builds and is full of interesting facts. So many events in the past that connect to the Vikings. If you are a big history fan you will love this book. If you enjoy a well written book you can enjoy the book, but might get lost at times with all the names and places. I would recommend the reader to not worry if you do follow all the names and places, just enjoy the history. I also enjoy how the book does talk about negative events and persons in history. You really get a great picture and the book is worth the time you invest. It might start a little slow, but the books just gets better as it goes along.
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This history of the Vikings and their immense effect on the world was a fascinating read. I learned that the Vikings are more than I ever knew or imagined!
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Today, when we think of Scandinavia, we likely conjure images of furniture or the coziness of “hygge”. Arthur Herman’s congenial book about Scandinavia and its Vikings shows us that the “Viking Heart” is a bit more quite complex. 

Rambling and readable, we first meet the Vikings of yore- who terrified Europe in the Dark Ages. The original Viking hearts were filled with adventure, travel, and war. By the Middle Ages, the Viking Heart was the heart of farmers and fisherman, who cherished strong bonds with family and who dealt with the ice and cold. 

And then came the Great Migration.  At the end of the 19 century, hundreds of thousands of Scandinavians emigrated to the promise of America. As a whole, they didn’t like their entry point- New York City. Most of them headed west to the colder prairies that seemed more like home. Minneapolis became their town. 

Like the author, my great-grandparents came to America. My great-grandmother came as a teenager, by herself. The author mentions that many young Scandinavians journeyed to America on their own- following their own Viking hearts. 

Part history and part memoir, this is a good introduction to Scandinavia and the spirit of the Vikings. Thanks to NetGalley for an advance digital review copy. This is my honest review.
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I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley in return for an honest review. 

Well written book on the history of the Viking legacy.  Interesting and informative.
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Read if you: Want an entertaining general overview of Scandinavian history in both Europe and the United States.

If you're very familiar with Scandinavian history, this might be too generalist for you. However, I've read very few books about Vikings and Scandinavian history, so I was quite entertained. Although dark aspects of Viking/Scandinavian history are touched upon (slavery, colonization, etc), this is very much a pro-Scandinavian read. Not a particulaly deep dive, but quite enlightening for the general reader.

Librarians/booksellers: If previous books about Vikings/Scandinavia have been popular, purchase this one for readers who may be interested, but find those books too daunting. 

Many thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley for a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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A lay narration of the history of Scandinavia and its influence on the world.

The author is very much personally invested in the narrative of the Scandinavians as having a particular kind of dedication to the common good and a robust work ethic developing out of their experience living in a very difficult land.  Thus the entire work is an apologetic for the Scandinavians.

Not much is made of Scandinavians before the Vikings break out on the scene in the latter part of the eighth century.  The author explores what is known of them from the historical narrative and archaeological findings.  He traces their journeys throughout Europe and western Asia and how they profoundly shaped the Europe of the time.  We learn of their travels to Iceland, Greenland, and North America.  

The author then glazes over most of medieval and early modern history with the concession that Scandinavia was generally weak.  Much is made of the Reformation and especially Gustavus Adolphus.  Then there's a really almost patronizingly dismissive account of early modern Scandinavia which seems to mostly reinforce why so many Scandinavians moved to America.  Much is then made of Scandinavian influence in America and on WWII.  

Does the author show that the Scandinavians are a hardy people and have their positive contributions to Europe and the world?  Yes.  Does he massively overstate "the Viking heart" in an understandable but ultimately misguided quest to exalt his ancestors?  Absolutely.  He does well at condemning the white supremacist embrace of all things Viking and Nordic, but his own quest falls prey to its own kind of chauvinism and essentialism.

Probably nothing in here you couldn't learn from a slightly more academic yet accessible introduction to Scandinavia, and hopefully without the agenda.
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One of the best books I have read about Viking/Scandinavian history.  Really does a great job of laying out some stuff that you haven't really heard before with other books that also deal with this subject.  I was enthralled by many of the stories and surprised by some of what I read to be honest.  A great read that will entertain you but also educate you on a time that involved a lot of conquest and turmoil.   Hope to have a full review up on the website once my TBR settles down a bit.  Until then just know that it is great and you should definitely check this one out.
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Vikings have always interested humanity since they arrived on scene and Mr. Herman does a fantastic job showcasing the people, their traditions and going beyond the blood thirsty tribes most view them as. 

A highly informative yet captivating and not at all dry, historical look back at the Scandinavians who would be known as vikings. Even those well read in the subject will come away with some new insights and knowledge about these fascinating people.
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Absolutely fascinating tale of some of the most mysterious people in history. I learned things I didn't know I didn't know and have suggested the title for several of my historically inclined friends. Well written and well-researched, I couldn't ask for a more informative book,.
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Lately, Viking books have been very popular for a number of reasons - popular culture has helped. This book is not just about the Vikings, but about their heirs. There are interesting details that will appeal to fans of the topic, and as a whole for anyone who wants to learn more about Scandinavia in general. 

Can be an additional read to the amazing Children of Ash and Elm by Neil Price while on different fields.
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In the beginning, I thought that this book may have been a bit above my pay grade. I was really interested in learning more about Viking history, but my knowledge of history is a bit shaky. I definitely learned a lot from this book, but I felt like I was struggling to keep up at times in the beginninf. The book moved fairly quickly through all the conquests and sieges, passing from one king to another from different places. I definitely didn't have a sufficient basic knowledge to follow along all the time. I kind of had expected that this part of history would have made up the bulk of the book since that was the actual Vikings. I was surprised that the bulk of the book was more modern history on people from Scandinavia.  The pace of the book did slow down significantly when it got to the more modern history sections.

I did find it interesting how the author would comment on information obtained from sagas and certain contemporary written accounts and then discuss why that version of events was not likely to be accurate. For someone more astute on the subject, I'm sure this was probably much more valuable. For a novice like myself, I wouldn't have known the difference, but I did appreciate that the author included these different perspectives. I also appreciated when he simply said that we couldn't know for certain what happened in some cases. I feel like sometimes in nonfiction works, authors present everything like black and white when it isn't quite that easy.

I found it distracting that he kept talking about his family members and labeling them as such. It would've been one thing to mention it once, but to go back a few chapters later and reduce the captain of a regiment in the Civil War to the person who led your great-great-grandfather was weird to me. Mentioning the regiment should've been sufficient to remind the reader who you were talking about since there was considerable time spent on them. It was also a little off-putting when he would mention his ancestor by name in one paragraph (where the individual was also expressly referenced as an ancestor) and then the next paragraph would reference the writings of another Scandinavian immigrant whose name was not even important enough to mention. I struggle to believe the author's ancestors were historically significant enough to the common reader to mention them each by name (and reduce other more historically significant individuals to their relationship to the author's ancestors), but these other immigrants don't warrant the same respect and dignity. It was even more distracting when the commentary was limited to opinion, for example, his grandmother's prejudice against Catholics. I understand being proud of your heritage and ancestry, but this didn't feel like the right time/place for genetic cheerleading, especially when the information is irrelevant outside of your own family. Although bragging about your grandma's prejudice is a weird flex unto itself. In the same vein, it was weird and distracting for him to brag about when he first read Lindbergh's memoir. These weird personal anecdotes are not why I wanted to read this book, and they have no place in it. They are more suited to private discussions with family and friends.

In general, the book was enjoyable and informative. It isn't quite what I expected it to be. When the premise is how Vikinga conquered the world, I expected there to be more of a focus on the actual Vikings rather than their descendants. There was definitely a lot more of what I would consider modern American history involved in this book than I ever expected.
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This was a fascinating accounting of the Scandinavian people, their history, and contributions to society and culture. Dealing primarily with Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden history this book also touches heavily on Scandinavian American influence upon their arrival. Not exactly what I was expecting, and wanted more depth to the characters of history at times, but overall a rewarding reading experience and an excellent rebuttal to misappropriation of a culture leading to racist beliefs. Thank you to the publisher for providing me with this drc available through netgalley.
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