A fine history of a people who deserve more attention.



A fresh look at “the Vikings and their Scandinavian offspring,” who have always been considered “among the world’s most powerful and important journey makers.”

Hudson Institute senior fellow Herman makes a convincing case that the peoples of Scandinavia have contributed more to today’s world than they are given credit for. For more than two centuries after 780 C.E., Vikings wreaked havoc over immense areas of Europe and east Eurasia. Then, writes the author, “their role shifted from marauder to trader to settler.” An ex-Norseman ruled much of France and then invaded England in 1066 as William the Conqueror, who won at the Battle of Hastings. Other Normans expelled the Muslims from southern Italy and Sicily, becoming the dominant power on the peninsula and allowing the papacy to vastly expand its influence. Ironically, the lands they left behind became a backwater until the 16th century, when the Reformation returned them to center stage. Unlike persistent resistance in Britain and civil war in France and Germany, the Reformation converted Scandinavia with much less bloodshed. This proved critical when Catholic armies of the Holy Roman Empire were rampaging across Lutheran Germany. Their only opposition were forces led by Sweden’s King Gustavus Adolphus (1594-1632), who won spectacular victories that preserved Protestantism in Germany and may have made him Holy Roman Emperor—if he hadn’t died in battle. Herman then fast-forwards to the 19th century, when population and poverty grew and immigration to the U.S. became a major force. In the middle third of the book, the author describes Scandinavia’s contribution to America, which includes a significant chapter on the Civil War and long biographies of famous Scandinavian Americans, including Charles Lindbergh, Thorstein Veblen, Knut Rockne, and Carl Sandburg. In the 20th century, aided by the decision to stay out of World War I and escaping lightly from World War II, Scandinavian nations prospered into some of the world’s wealthiest and most socially progressive.

A fine history of a people who deserve more attention.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-328-59590-4

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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As Wonder Woman might say, Suffering Sappho! This book is fascinating, fun, and consistently enlightening.


From Penelope and Pandora to Katniss Everdeen and Lisbeth Salander, the "hero's journey" gets a much-needed makeover.

In her latest, Tatar—the Harvard professor of folklore and mythology and Germanic languages and literature who has annotated collections of classic fairy tales, Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, among others—begins by pointing out that all of the faces of heroism discussed in Joseph Campbell's influential book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949), are male. To correct this requires a revision of the concept of heroism itself, rooted in numerous foundational texts. Starting with Greek mythology and Scheherezade and moving through the centuries all the way to the Game of Thrones series and The Queen's Gambit, Tatar incisively explores women's reinvention of heroism to embrace empathy, compassion, and care, often to pursue social justice. Among the many high points in this engaging study: an analysis of Little Women and Anne of Green Gables as autofiction, Jurassic Park as a reimagining of “Hansel and Gretel,” Harriet the Spy as an antiheroine, and a deep dive into the backstory of Wonder Woman. Receiving their own chapters are female sleuths such as Nancy Drew, Miss Marple, and the less well known characters of Kate Fansler, an academic, and Blanche White, who is Black. The book really takes off when it gets to contemporary culture, particularly in a section that identifies a female version of the "trickster" archetype in Everdeen and Salander. Of this lineage, among the shared interesting traits not traditionally associated with women characters is a prodigious appetite. "Like Gretel, Pippi Longstocking, and Lisbeth Salander before her,” writes Tatar, “Katniss gorges on rich food yet her hunger never ceases." The text is illustrated with many reproductions of paintings and other artwork—including a postcardworthy panel from the original Wonder Woman—that add much to the text.

As Wonder Woman might say, Suffering Sappho! This book is fascinating, fun, and consistently enlightening.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-881-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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A welcome addition to the literature on immigration told by an author who understands the issue like few others.


The debut book from “one of the first undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard.”

In addition to delivering memorable portraits of undocumented immigrants residing precariously on Staten Island and in Miami, Cleveland, Flint, and New Haven, Cornejo Villavicencio, now enrolled in the American Studies doctorate program at Yale, shares her own Ecuadorian family story (she came to the U.S. at age 5) and her anger at the exploitation of hardworking immigrants in the U.S. Because the author fully comprehends the perils of undocumented immigrants speaking to journalist, she wisely built trust slowly with her subjects. Her own undocumented status helped the cause, as did her Spanish fluency. Still, she protects those who talked to her by changing their names and other personal information. Consequently, readers must trust implicitly that the author doesn’t invent or embellish. But as she notes, “this book is not a traditional nonfiction book….I took notes by hand during interviews and after the book was finished, I destroyed those notes.” Recounting her travels to the sites where undocumented women, men, and children struggle to live above the poverty line, she reports her findings in compelling, often heart-wrenching vignettes. Cornejo Villavicencio clearly shows how employers often cheat day laborers out of hard-earned wages, and policymakers and law enforcement agents exist primarily to harm rather than assist immigrants who look and speak differently. Often, cruelty arrives not only in economic terms, but also via verbal slurs and even violence. Throughout the narrative, the author explores her own psychological struggles, including her relationships with her parents, who are considered “illegal” in the nation where they have worked hard and tried to become model residents. In some of the most deeply revealing passages, Cornejo Villavicencio chronicles her struggles reconciling her desire to help undocumented children with the knowledge that she does not want "kids of my own." Ultimately, the author’s candor about herself removes worries about the credibility of her stories.

A welcome addition to the literature on immigration told by an author who understands the issue like few others.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-399-59268-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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