The epic adventures of a bold but hypochondriac Viking across the length and breadth of 11th century Europe in a tale written with great verve, spirit, and humor — if that sounds like a good book to you (and if it doesn’t, what the hell is wrong with you?), then The Long Ships should be on your list of must-reads. Written in the 1940s by Frans Bengtsson, a Swede, it has been revived in a New York Review of Books edition. To sell the book to potential readers, it would be hard to beat the NYRB edition’s short introductory essay by Michael Chabon. You should go read it here. I will only add that one of the joys of this book is its immersion in the particular prejudices and logic of the Viking mind.  The characters hold an idiosyncratic and adaptable sense of honor, and they are all obsessed with luck. They discuss and analyze many varieties and gradations of luck, and they judge the various religions competing in Europe in terms of the luck that that they bring. The result is both high social commentary and hilarious, and if you pick up this book I am sure that it will also bring you only good luck.

Things it is like: The Odyssey, Don Quixote (Book Two; w/r/t Don Quixote, my advice, skip Book One), and the Up Helly Aa Festival.


Things it is not like: The Very Virile Viking. (Admittedly, I haven’t read this book. I am judging it by its cover.) And this guy and his cat.


Vikings love cats

Bonus fact: There’s little-to-no evidence that actual Vikings wore horned helmets.

And while you’re reading about Vikings, it’s interesting to compare The Long Ships with The Voyage of the Short Serpent, which I wrote about here.