American Vikings: How the Norse Sailed into the Lands and Imaginations of America

Pegasus. Nov. 2023. 272p. ISBN 9781639365357. $29.95. HIST
Whittock’s (coauthor, Tales of Valhalla) accessible and engaging examination of the United States’ fascination with Vikings approaches the subject from both historical and cultural perspectives. On the historical side, the book looks at the claims for Viking voyages to North America in literary and archaeological sources, pinpointing persuasive evidence in medieval Icelandic sagas and in the ruins of L’Anse aux Meadows, a Viking settlement in Newfoundland. Less convincing are rune stones discovered in such unlikely places as West Virginia and Oklahoma, controversial finds that Whittock links to a desire for a U.S. origin story predating the journeys of Columbus and Cabot. With enthusiasm for a Norse “discovery” of this continent, the book identifies motivations both positive (the effort of Scandinavian pioneers to forge a connection to their adopted land) and negative (the appropriation of Indigenous sites as the work of Europeans). Whittock also condemns the mischaracterization and usurpation of Viking culture by white supremacists and radical political ideologies and points to multiethnic Viking communities. At the same time, Whittock appreciates the enduring appeal of Norse mythology on modern entertainment.
VERDICT A fascinating, eminently readable exploration of Viking presence, both real and imaginary, in the United States.
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