The Osprey range of military history titles has an excellent reputation for detail and historical accuracy, and "Viking Longship" by Keith Durham is one of its finest examples. The longship is one of the most distinctive and popularly-known features of the Viking era, and it is only right that it should receive a book-length treatment of its own. Although the book that is only 48 pages long, the author has nevertheless managed to fill it with a wealth of information.
Durham charts the evolution of the longship from its earliest antecedents in the Bronze Age through to the Norman Conquest and beyond, to c.1100. His focus, however, is on the early medieval period, between AD 350 and 900, for which he uses a number of case studies of recovered ships. In doing so he recognises that not all were necessarily constructed for the same purpose, and describes in detail the differences in design depending on whether a vessel was essentially coastal/riverine or sea-going, and whether it was built for war or trade or even (as suggested by the Oseberg ship) as a pleasure craft. He also notes the useful research that has in recent times come out of experimental archaeology - modern reconstructions of longships. Furthermore, it is important to note that while most of the examples Durham describes originated in Scandinavia, that the same technologies and principles were in use across northern Europe during this period, and that much of what is described also applies to Anglo-Saxon and indeed Norman vessels.
The text is supplemented on every page with black-and-white photos and diagrams depicting the available archaeological and pictorial evidence for the period, as well as more modern reconstructions of longships. There are also 7 pages of colour artist's impressions, provided by Steve Noon, of which the standout piece is a part cut-away depiction of an 11th-century cargo vessel or 'knarr', with each of its component parts annotated on a separate page. The rest of the illustrations are similarly clear, although it would have been useful to have a summary diagram showing the main developments in ship construction during this period. At the back of the book a glossary is provided, although (perhaps for reasons of space) it is quite short and omits a number of terms which are used in the main text. It is disappointing also that, unlike many other titles in the Osprey range, there is no list of further reading.
In all, however, "Viking Longship" is an excellent and highly accessible introduction for anyone with an interest in naval technology in the early medieval period, or in the Anglo-Saxon or Viking era in general. As someone who is currently writing a historical novel in this period, I have found it to be a highly informative and indeed invaluable guide.