Monday, December 28, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Guts & Glory: The Vikings by Ben Thompson

I don't remember where I first saw this series or what inspired me to purchase it, but I bought Civil War and then Vikings. I picked Vikings to read when it was nominated for Cybils and, well, the cover advertises "100% Not Boring" and I can personally attest that not only is it not boring, it is hilarious, informative, well-researched, and altogether awesome.

This is a comprehensive look at three hundred years of Viking history, including religion, contextual history of Europe, effect on history right down to present-day pop culture, language, and more. And it's not boring. Chapters cover subjects like "Kievan Rus: The amazing true tale of how the Vikings inadvertently found modern-day Russia." and "The Siege of Paris: When the heathens come knocking on the gates of the City of Love, a defiant Frankish count responds by dumping a vat of boiling-hot oil on their heads."

There are black and white illustrations at strategic points, frequent sidebars and profiles of famous Vikings and other personages from history. Each chapter ends with a "Know your Vikings" profile of the main character from the preceding chapter. An intensely detailed bibliography and index show the meticulous research that went into the book and give serious readers a chance to continue learning about the subject.

It's awesome how Thompson explains the difference between substantiated historical fact and legend, the way he weaves complex threads of history together, and his readable, accessible style. You can grab readers by telling them it's the true history behind films like How to Train Your Dragon (these people didn't need dragons to make them tough!) and the inspiration for Lord of the Rings (read about the real-life Eowyn!) or by reading a few chapter subtitles. Possibly mention that this is the best history of three hundred years of blood, war, mayhem, and people swinging giant axes. Or read a few excerpts:

"Sigfrid made his demand: "You open the path for us to travel down the Seine, and we promise we totally won't double-cross you and sack Paris. You have my word as a bloodthirsty, utterly untrustworthy Viking marauder who wants nothing more than to chop off your head and decorate my living room with it.""

Egil Skallagrimsson "He did battle with armies of might warriors, cut his enemies apart with an axe, and once killed a wolf with his bare hands and ate it raw. Oh, right, and he also wrote two of the most famous poems in the history of medieval Iceland and is believed to be one of the best literary minds of the Viking Age. Wait, what? ... some modern doctors [believe] he suffered from Paget's disease, an incredibly painful disorder in which the bones continually change shape. Egil did not have a sense of humor about this."

Verdict: A must buy for your nonfiction section, a top pick for booktalking, and a great selection for book clubs. In short, it's amazing and you must have it as soon as possible. Adults and kids alike will enjoy the combination of research, legend, fact, and witty writing.

ISBN: 9780316320566; Published 2015 by Little Brown and Company; Purchased for the library

No comments: