The Vikings by The Great Courses

Posted April 18, 2018 by Amber in Reviews / 0 Comments

The Vikings

The Vikings

by Kenneth W. Harl

Series: The Great Courses #3910
Publisher: The Teaching Company on January 1, 2005
Genre: History, Non-Fiction
Target Age Group: Adult
Rating: ★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

As raiders and explorers, the Vikings played a decisive role in the formation of Latin Christendom, and particularly of western Europe.

Now, in a series of 36 vivid lectures by an honored teacher and classical scholar, you have the opportunity to understand this remarkable race as never before, studying the Vikings not only as warriors, but in all of the other roles in which they were equally extraordinary - merchants, artists, kings, raiders, seafarers, shipbuilders, and creators of a remarkable literature of myths and sagas. Professor Harl draws insights from an astonishing array of sources: The Russian Primary Chronicle (a Slavic text from medieval Kiev), 13th-century Icelandic poems and sagas, Byzantine accounts, Arab geographies, annals of Irish monks who faced Viking raids, Roman reports, and scores of other firsthand contemporary documents.

Among the topics you'll explore are the profound influence of the Norse gods and heroes on Viking culture and the Vikings' extraordinary accomplishments as explorers and settlers in Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland. And with the help of archaeological findings, you'll learn to analyze Viking ship burials, rune stones and runic inscriptions, Viking wood carving, jewelry, sculpture, and metalwork. By the end of the series, you'll have a new understanding of what it meant to be a Viking and a richer appreciation of this remarkable race - a people who truly defined the history of Europe, and whose brave, adventurous, and creative spirit still survives today.


Where I adored Myth in Human History, this set of lectures just didn’t do it for me.

Professor Harl is clearly passionate about his subject, and has a lot of knowledge about Scandinavian history.  Anyone interested in the Vikings and that period of history could learn a lot about it from Professor Harl, but this isn’t the type of lecture series you put on in your car and absorb as you navigate traffic.  For this one, if you really want to take in the important stuff, you need to sit down with a pen and notebook and take notes.

He spends the beginning to each of his lectures discussing what he will include in this specific lecture, why it is in this lecture and not that lecture, and why we should care about it in relation to these other things.  This defensive contextual introduction lasts between 2 and 10 minutes, depending on the individual lecture.  In addition, Professor Harl does tend to get sidetracked mid lecture when he remembers something interesting but only somewhat relevant to the current topic.  As a student, I find this immensely frustrating.  I’m here for the Vikings, not a tidbit on a particular historian.

Once you muddle through his personal style, Harl has a lot to say.  The information given is interesting; however in most places you get a definite sense of only scratching the surface.  This course is a thin overview with a lot of names and relationships and as a listener/learner you get a sense of there being so much more.

I’d say this is a decent course for anyone wanting a quick overview of the Vikings and who has the focus and patience to separate the rambling from the facts.  Professor Harl wasn’t the best choice for my personal preference, but I believe he would suit others quite well.

Ratings Breakdown

Sources: ★★★★
Detail: ★★★★
Delivery: ★★ 1/2
Subject: ★★★★
Narrator: ★★ 1/2
Personal Enjoyment: ★★

3 Star Rating


Have you read this book or anything by this author?  If so, did you enjoy it?  Tell me all about your experience in the comments!

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