Like the best detective he follows the money, so there's a fair amount on trade and its related migrations. I must admit my heart sank a bit when he brought up the economics, but it's sparingly used to give context and insight into why these burly blokes beat the shit out of everyone. Including each other.
The story of the Vikings also interweaves with the spread of Christianity in Europe - several Vikings get canonised - and the fortunes of the continent's royals. There's some good details on such famous folk as kings Arthur, Alfred, Canute, Macbeth and William the Conqueror (nee Bastard).
The chapter on Harald Hardraada is particularly exciting, with battles all over the world and more intrigue and familial back-stabbing than a whole week's EastEnders.
Starting as the Romans flee Britain, and ending with 1066, it nicely fills the gap in my schooling. And for all Jonathan gives broad context and specific motives to the various cast and crew, the Vikings remain to the core a vicious and brutal bunch of pirates. Right to the end, they're still going (a lovely phrase) a-viking.
Still, no mention of Vicky, Kirk Douglas or Tim Robbins - my Viking education till now. A shocking and uncharacteristic oversight, that.
Normally I'd quote a bit of the book for your pleasure and interest, but there's excerpts aplenty at Jonathan's own webthing.
So instead, here's some Sylvester:
"We hope to return to the North Way, carrying home the oriental treasures from the Silk Lands in the east, but the dark curse follows our dragonship.
Black fog turned day into night, and the fingers of death reached out from the waters to reclaim the treasure we have stolen. I carve these stones in memory of Asmund, Rognvald, Torkel, Halfdan, brave Viking warriors slain by the curse.
We sought haven in North Umbria, and took refuge at a place called Maidens' Bay, but the curse of the treasure has followed us to this place."