The Vikings

Narrated by: Kenneth W. Harl
Length: 17 hrs and 59 mins
Categories: History, Ancient History
4.5 out of 5 stars (3,725 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2005 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2005 The Great Courses

What listeners say about The Vikings

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Enthralling Presentation of a Fascinating Subject

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I highly recommend this lecture series. Professor Harl is a fantastic presenter thus making an interesting subject even more so given his depth of knowledgeable and dynamic coverage of Viking History.

I took a risk in choosing a lecture series for the first time on a subject I was only mildly interested in. The risk paid in spades. I honestly expected an arduous churn up a deep information stream and yet found I was shooting the rapids with a fascinating guy: great voice, dynamic spirit, excellent depth, intriguing side bars. I found myself consumed by the lectures and now seeking out more about the lore and history of Vikings.

Have you listened to any of Professor Kenneth W. Harl’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

This the first time I've listened to the work of Professor Kenneth W. Harl and he presents the subject in such a fantastic way, I'm already trying to pick the next lecture from this man.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

18 hours worth of material is too much for one sitting (IMO) but I'll be damned if I didn't churn through it within just a few days once I cracked it open. So well presented and logically divided by topic that I found myself absorbed by the work, focused on the subject and listening pretty much non-stop.

60 people found this helpful

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Great topic, awful presentation

I have listened to about 40 titles from the Great Courses and this is the first one that I have actually disliked. The teacher is simply awful. He doesn't give context, just a random stream of facts and he continually shouts at the audience as he rushes through the material. As someone else said, you just can't remember most of what was said; not because it was complex, but because it was presented in such a 'stream of consciousness' kind of way. So, I have listened to many history audiobooks and when I saw The Vikings, I thought "There's a group that I don't know much about, this should be interesting." And indeed the basic topic and material is interesting. But can we please have a different professor give their account of this material? Kenneth Harl shouts unpleasantly loudly, especially when he gets passionate about a topic. Further, he talks too fast and gets even faster when excited (so now he's talking too fast and too loudly). To make things worse, he gives no real context to each lecture or to compartmentalize each section within a lecture. So it's just a stream of facts -- frequently with digressions to completely random facts that he happens to remember at the time (as in an uncle saying "Oh yes, that reminds me of the time we went to Stockholm...". Seriously, he must have told us that Jahrl means Earl about ten times. I really get the impression that he hadn't prepared this material in detail and it was just "Hey, I've got this, I can just wing it because I know it so well". Yep, he does, but you won't. Without this context, and with the headlong rush of too-fast presentation, you are relieved to get to the end of the lecture and then reflect on what you've learned. Oh great, I just can barely remember any of it. There is a tremendous amount of material here, but without context, it's just ephemeral and rather a waste of time. When he covered 1066 and the battles of King Harold, I thought "Oh good, something I'm familiar with". After the lecture, my concerns with this lecture series became a lot clearer. Given how poorly and disjointedly this lecture was presented, on a subject that I already knew, *no wonder* I was finding the other lectures haphazard and unstructured! Go listen to Robert Garland (The Other Side of History) -- there is a professor who is also passionate about his topic but is able to present complex ideas within context, adds humor and makes the knowledge accessible and memorable. Great Courses, please have someone else do a lecture series on The Vikings, I'd like to see this material given the presentation that it deserves.

26 people found this helpful

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Not bad, but mainly a timeline of Scandinavians

I'm compelled to write a review on this Great Course because it was very different from what I expected. Harl is a great professor, but not on Scandinavian peoples. One can immediately tell that this is not his dedicated area of study, and he makes no effort to pronounce our words correctly. I don't understand why this is acceptable. I assume there would be backlash if Spanish or African names were butchered in a "Great Course" like this. These lectures basically give a timeline of when the peoples of Scandinavia attack/ trade with other parts of Europe. If you're interested in how a group of people moves across geography, this may interest you more than me. I found it extremely dry. I'm aware that the people of Scandinavia came to the areas currently called Ireland, England, Russia, and so on. If I want the dates of battles, I can look on Wikipedia. The content that I was actually interested in (and expected to hear in a "college level" class called "The Vikings" is cultural info on family, diet, literature, clothing, religion, weapons, battle, etc. It's very thin here. You'll get more info on each of those topics with a 5 minute Google search. That was disappointing, because without that type of cultural and contextual info, the dry facts are much harder to absorb. Your mind just wanders. All the Great Courses have supplemental PDF materials and the other courses I've bought have had great packets. This one did not seem to be prepared by the professor. Maybe I'm off-base, but this looks more like a partial transcript of the audio than organized lessons. I was really disappointed that it's not even in an outline form, which would've been the least I expected for this "timeline" type format. Lastly, I'll comment on the reviewers saying that Harl has verbal tics, is yelling, and so forth. That's complete nonsense, and for me the delivery was the least problematic aspect of this course. Yes, he pronounces the word "allies" like "uh-LIZE" which isn't something I've ever heard before. But so what? He has a regional accent. I'm sure I have one too in English (my family's from Holland). These are lectures by a real professor who's an educator, not a professional audiobook actor. If that's going to bother you (and you refuse to simply change the speed on the audible app), then you'll dislike virtually all of the Great Courses. If you fall in that category, you'll be happier with the delivery of biographies and history books with professional narrators. Usually the drawback of those materials is the narrator not being educated on the subject.

13 people found this helpful

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Thor, of course, and Bluetooth(!?)

Savage and violent aggressors, looters, slave traders, the Vikings do indeed make the perfect mindless "heroes" in video games! And it's very hard to picture them in the guise of the meek, mild, socialistic Scandinavians of today.

Professor Harl presents us with the real story, and, in some ways, it matches our preconceptions of the massive, feared raiders of movies and TV. Did you know, for instance, that there was a Viking king called "Bluetooth?" And, sadly, that the Vikings did not wear those cool horned helmets? What they did was learn from the cultures they dominated; they intermarried and absorbed much of the culture of their conquests.

In fact, they had an enormous influence on Britain, Germany, Iceland, Eastern Europe, even Russia. Yet that relentless warrior ethic sort of melded into the cultures of all these places and leaves little trace at home.

This course is very long, and some of the details may be most interesting only to specialists and/or those of Scandinavian descent, but there is much here for the listener with a more casual interest in history. The Professor presents a full range of Viking legacies - financial, military, artistic and literary - with enthusiasm and full command of his subject.

Once again, the Great Courses comes through with a fascinating presentation.

55 people found this helpful

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Good Informational Listen

I liked it. I enjoy history, and with this book, history is what you get. The narration is obviously a bit different, since it is a compilation of lectures. College style. I know this might bore some listeners, but I enjoyed it. It is, what it is, no more, no less, an informative lesson on Norse history, a bit of Norse mythology, and what seems to be a true account, and a timeline, of the Scandinavian people, and their culture, their customs, and their history. If you enjoy history, and nonfiction, I think you should give it a shot. Especially if your of Norwegian heritage.

28 people found this helpful

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One of the best.

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

This is one of my favorites of The Great Courses, and not only because my ancestors would have been characters in its stories. Few are done as effectively and succinctly while introducing you to the wider depth of its base in the sagas and serious historical study.

5 people found this helpful

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Good but a bit dry

Obviously this is a series of lectures, so the format is rather dry and well lecture like. The information however is amazing and shows the depth of viking culture and influence on history. I made connections to all sorts of things in other historical periods and realized their roots.

4 people found this helpful

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One of the better introductions into the topic

What other book might you compare The Vikings to and why?

I spent about 10-15 years reading a lot about the Scandinavian activities between 500 and 1200 (and still refuse to call that time just "the time of the Vikings", it just doesn't cover that). My interests cover a variety of topics: Politics, social life, religious beliefs - and, on top of everything, the "why". Why did people risk so many lives in undertaking enormous journeys oversea without guarantee of safely returning home? Why did a society function (quite well, as it seems) that seems to be based on "a human life is worth nothing more than its weight in goat skin"? Why did people believe in the "Gods" they believed in and why did they accept a single "God" over their established religious system?
And why, the heck, did it take nearly a thousand years to make that Christian believe system accept women to have their own rights (like kicking their husbands in the backs and get a divorce for the benefit of everyone) if those "stupid pagans" had it up and running for so long before those "well educated, culturally higher evolved" Christians?

I listened to D.C. Drout's "The Norsemen" (nicely excited tutor, some content should be taken with a LOT of salt there as Drout dislikes to give any proof for what he tells his audience, while he definitely seems to see some things differently to many book authors), I listened to J. Paxton's "The Year 1066" (very brief, a mere overview over political actions without much background, but a good, condensed reminder in that) from Audible. Among these three audio books this course by Mr. Harl is the one I'd recommend for getting some understanding of "what happened", even of some parts of the "why".

What does Professor Kenneth W. Harl bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Unfortunately I found Mr. Harl's presentation - while being well paced, dramatic, honest and emotionally moving - distracting at times.
The pro is, I loved the fact that I did never feel like falling asleep, there's just too much energy and heart felt action in his performance.

But why, please, does Mr. Harl insist in "American" pronunciations of names of people and places? I do not know of any "King Canude" or any "Hecken". Sure, I do understand that different languages come with different "renderings" of names, no problem. But if you are into HISTORY, if you want to discuss topics with other students, scholars, human beings (that are NOT American-only, that may speak in "foreign" - haha - language), it would make a lot of sense to use people's and place's original names (or at least some approximation of those). "Canude" is, it took me some time to realize, "Knut". "Hecken" is, it was easier to guess, "Håkon". The same goes for places (cities, villages, whatsnots).
If you do not know any of the names mentioned, this is probably not an issue. If you do have some previous knowing-of-who-is-who, you may well get lost as to who Mr. Harl is talking about.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

As with most course I listened to (through Audible or otherwise) the thing that I miss the most is PROOF. Where do the tutors get their knowledge from? Why can they say "it was this way and not the other way"? What makes them 100% certain that they know EXACTLY what happened? Where did they get their interpretations from?
If you have the slightest doubt about one topic or the other, it may "block" you from taking the best from these lectures, because you have no way of discussing questions with the tutor. You have to "forget" about UNDERSTANDING things if your personal recherche has come up with some different points of view.
So the best approach to enjoy a course like this is to "just listen, don't think".
This may sound a bit cloudy ... let me put it this way:I am not sure that Mr. Harl's personal area of expertise is "the Scandinavian history from 200-1200". I got the impression, at times, that he is just quoting, without any personal interpretation or even an attempt of critical (scientific?) doubt, what books and scholars present.
THIS he does greatly. Personally I would have wished for some more "I personally think that ..." and less "this is how it was".

Any additional comments?

My critique seems to be a bit negative. It isn't. I am trying to point out what I disliked, because, all in all, this course is well worth the time spent with it. You do get a great overview not only over the political history, the connections between many of the (Germanic and other) tribes/clans/families/peoples in (North- AND South) Europe. There isn't much time spent on "Gods and religions", but that's ok, as this course tries to concentrate on "worldly matters".
"The Vikings" (haha) had more to offer than just some believable, human-ish, crazy Gods.

33 people found this helpful

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Raiders on the Forefront of History

I absolutely love medieval history, but until now my knowledge of the Vikings was perhaps underserviced. The fault is mine alone, based on a misperception that the Norse raiders of old were essentially "ye olde biker gang" writ large. But no matter where you look in medieval history, the Vikings are right there at the forefront, so I knew needed to fill in some glaring gaps in my understanding.

The Great Courses series is generally fantastic on a wide range of topics, and this particular course is no exception. I am blown away at how much I learned in a relatively short amount of time. I've come to respect the Vikings' place in history, even if I can't always respect how they secured it. There are deeper layers to their culture that make them far more interesting as a study in contradiction, which in turn lends even more to the larger tapestry that they've woven themselves into. If you're looking for a solid course on just how much history has turned as a result of the Viking culture, look no further. This one's a winner.

13 people found this helpful

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Great Material, Terrible Lecturer

I have to start this out by saying that unless you're very interested in Viking history, this will bore you. The lecturer has no ability to organize or streamline his delivery. On the contrary, it's all details, all at ones, whenever they come to mind. He has no ability to present an organized or coherent description and many many times, ends a thought without completing it and never comes back to it. If you were expecting the good 'ol Great Courses delivery like Gary Gallagher or even Dorsey Armstrong, you will be disappointed. Poorly organized, poorly delivered, just constant spouting of dates and details. However, over the course, he manages to deliver a lot of very interesting material in spite of himself. So I gave it a three star overall. Viking history is illuminating to say the least. So if you can hang with it, you'll get good information.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Meb
  • 05-02-15

More knowledge gained .

It was very informative , it also kept my interest though out . As I am not an academic I did wonder whether it would be difficult to understand but this wasn't the case . The readers enthusiasm for his subject showed throughout the lectures . Despite its length I shall listen to it again . I don't want to have missed anything .

4 people found this helpful

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  • Dr Z of Ely near Cambridge, England
  • 09-15-16

Spellbinding

Prof Harl weaves a grand tale over thousands of years. It is clear that he knows the cast of characters in considerably more detail than he can discuss in these spellbinding lectures.
The delivery is passionate. The story vacillates from horror, hilarity, crazy turns and byways leading to some bizarre situation. Quite in keeping with the Icelandic bards.
Poignant for me as this is my ancestry that, to my shame, I knew very little about beyond the cliches.
My understanding of European history has increased hugely giving me insights into religion, folk beliefs, legal systems and why we binge drink in large halls!
Brilliant. Thank you. Could you do one on the Icelandic Sagas please?

3 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-03-17

Loooots of information

Would you consider the audio edition of The Vikings to be better than the print version?

It has its charm, however the audiobook is so dense with information that sometimes I just lost a grip. I think I will have to listen to it again at some point to benefit of the whole. Also, as I am not too familiar with Viking history I tended to get lost in all the historical characters. It certainly needs some historical knowledge to get what the author talks about. I take this as a starting point to dig deeper into Scandinavian history and I hope to find an opportunity to come back to this book.

Any additional comments?

It was quite funny to listen how inmerged the author/narrator was in his speech. On many places he laughs at the course of the history and his interest in the subject is really vivid. I appreciate his enthusiasm as it makes a big difference to hear somebody who likes his subject so much.

2 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Sean
  • 01-22-17

Magnus

I loved these lectures,what a heroic,fearful time to live,a bit disappointed I never heard anything about Magnus barelegs but we can't have everything.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Booka
  • 01-15-17

Great course!

Interesting course on the Viking period of Scandinavia. It's got everything you'd expect from the course. I liked the parts on discovery and settlement of Iceland; discovery of North America; how Christianity changed the Scandinavian economy and so relied less on Viking raids; the impact of Vikings on England e.g. King Alfred's defence of the raids and later when Harold defeated Harald in 1066 only to be defeated by William afterwards.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Carl Chivers
  • 10-29-15

Vikings!

More history than I expected.
Brilliant history to those interested (or not).
Lecturer is very interested in the topic which keeps it very engaging.

2 people found this helpful

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  • mr
  • 06-02-14

Good

Not as much on mythology as I would had liked. Aside from that very good, learnt a lot.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Andrew Michael Watson
  • 11-02-17

Fantastic!!!

Very good factual account of the Viking period (also includes a few chapters on before and after). Split into various chapters focusing on some of the key aspects. Very good from a UK perspective with several great chapters looking at the arrival of the Vikings, the Great Army and the Five Boroughs of the Danewlaw, Canute etc. (far better than 'Viking Britain' by Thomas Williams which never really seemed to get anywhere). Having listened to this I feel I have a much better understanding of British and European history. The book also looks at the Viking voyages beyond Europe which were really interesting. Well narrated, very enthusiastic and knowledgeable with some humour to liven it up. Best Viking audio book I've come across by a very long way, wish I'd just got this as opposed to wasting time with some of the others. Thanks

1 person found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-26-20

The Curate’s Egg

This was well researched on the whole as one would expect from a senior academic. My enjoyment was however spoilt by the intrusion of what were personal opinions of the author in attempting to maintain interest of students through anecdotal evidence rather than sticking to facts. This may be the American teaching method as I have noticed the same in other courses by the publisher. Or, possibly lack of appreciation of the cultural background of the described subject matter of an alien outsider. Disappointing. The pronunciation of Anglo Saxon names was often completely incorrect and on occasions made following almost impossible to follow. The course contained a significant level of interesting content but I would not recommend to anyone for serious academic study.

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  • Huw
  • 09-19-20

good with a personal problem

I enjoy the topic, yet the pronunciation of words pulled me out of the course at times

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  • Naomi
  • 01-16-18

Some good information

This lecture series is definitely not for anyone without prior understanding of the medieval period (in which the Viking age sits) and the major events that occurred in that era. There are too many unexplained references to medieval events and people that are confusing unless you already know those events and names. I would suggest some of the other Great Courses on the Medieval Period before trying this one.

Although the lecturer has a tendency to go off on tangents and constantly explain events which he then says "we will cover in another lecture", the actual information is detailed and useful.

The lecturer also has an extremely patronising tone of voice; he starts every lecture sounding like he would rather be doing something else and that he is really annoyed at having to tell someone all this information. As he gets into his story, the tone gets a little better, but he still sounds like he's is being made to do this lecture series under duress.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Stan
  • 12-27-16

Vikings more than horned helmets

In fact they did not wear them. Being totally ignorant of Viking history, I learned a lot.

It was fascinating to learn of the huge impact upon Europe and beyond that the Vikings had.

I loved the nick names they had for so many of their leaders. And the place of Icelandic saga writing and why it occurred there.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Supracet
  • 07-30-16

Brilliant!

This story was absolutely brilliant from beginning to end. I was informed, entertained and captivated throughout.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Karen
  • 07-11-14

A rollicking good tale

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

This was a great book, it really took you into the Viking world, how they became the expert raiders they were and even more interesting how they came to have such a dramatic influence on the shape of the Middle ages.

What other book might you compare The Vikings to, and why?

I have listened to a number of the 'Great Courses' books, but this one is among my favourites.

What does Professor Kenneth W. Harl bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

Pof Kenneth, bring a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm to the narration of this book, and I would never have been able to pronounce many of the names. In fact my main criticism of the narration is that he gets so excited about the events that he talks too fast and it is hard to keep up. The battle of 1066 went by so fast that I had to rewind and listen again to be able to catch it all he was so excited. But such enthusiasm gives the book even greater interest.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

The great Courses cannot be listened to in one sitting as you need to concentrate more than a normal novel so I can usually only listen for a couple of hours, but this book held my interest better than many others and I was sorry when it ended.

Any additional comments?

I would strongly recommend this book to any others who want to learn what the viking were really like.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Craig Wallace
  • 09-13-20

Simply fantastic

This is an excellent book, lecture really. Clearly it is extremely well researched. The narrative is easy to follow and all presented in clear timeline. I found this one of the best things I have discovered on audible so far. The narrator (lecturer) has an easy to listen to style and obviously knows the subject extremely thoroughly. If you don’t know what a Jarl is before you start you most definitely will afterwards. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 06-22-20

A truly definitive history of the vikings

If you are looking for an overview of the political and historical background of Scandinavia, there are few better than this series.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-27-20

Great course on the Vikings and their influence

Overall a very good course that covers the many facets of the Viking age in detail. Kenneth W. Harl does a good job presenting this topic and is enjoyable to listen to. Regarding certain topics such as the Irish I did feel that the story was told more from an Irish perspective than a Viking perspective. I do get that the sources are mostly Irish but I would have liked it for the presenter to tell it more from a Viking perspective and maybe skipped some of the details of the various kings of Ireland for example. I also wish the presenter would improve his Old Norse pronunciation. I would definitely recommend this course to anyone interested in the Vikings or medieval Europe. 4 1/2 stars!

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  • Omar
  • 02-08-19

Brilliant

Kenneth W Harl is clearly the best lecturer on audible. All of his courses are fantastic, fascinating and informative. You probably learn double or triple from one of his courses than any other. The Vikings is no exception. One of the best books I've ever read.

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  • Clinton
  • 11-15-18

loved it

Loved it. Entertaining, interesting and easy to follow. I enjoyed the antidotes and stories along the wsy

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Running Man
  • 08-26-18

Very knowledgeable presenter, maybe bit long

36 lectures is a lot, very good content though started to lose interest half way through.