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Book Review: The Last Kings of Norse America: Runestone Keys to a Lost Empire by Robert G. Johnson and Janey Westin

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Who were the first people-groups to find the North American continent beyond the hunter-gatherers who crossed the Bering Straits? Was it the Irish monks sailing with Brendan? Maybe it was Africans from the Atlantic side or Polynesians from the Pacific? Authors Robert G. Johnson and Janey Westin add their own hypothesis in an entertainingly written hardback, The Last Kings of Norse America: Runestone Keys to a Lost Empire. This short piece falls into three parts: Adventure, Analysis and Appendices, in 259 pages.

The first section of The Last Kings of Norse America, is a pleasant mix of conjecture and storytelling. The authors frame the scant historical details into an imaginative tale of Haakon VI and his coming to North America to reignite an old trade system that had fallen into a slough. The story takes the young adolescent King of Norway all the way to the Great Lakes, through storms, peril, and the grievous loss of friends. The account ends with ruminations and speculations tying a medieval incursion of Nordic adventurers with reported “white” Indians found hundreds of years later.

The Last Kings of Norse America then turns into personal analysis where the authors describe their own hunt for holestones, runes, and evidence of a deeper movement of Norsemen, on into Minnesota and the Dakotas. Though there are likely several interpretations of the items they found, the retelling of their hunt was enjoyable and will get the imaginative juices percolating. This middle section is a short description of finds by truly amateur archeologists.

Finally, the authors bring The Last Kings of Norse America to a slow, grinding set of appendices, A through J.  In this segment Johnson and Westin show photos, give translations of a few runestones found on American soil, and try to make validating connections with other Norse manuscripts and monuments. Here things become slower, and the information begins to move outside the ability of the average reader.

The Last Kings of Norse America: Runestone Keys to a Lost Empire is an enjoyable excursion into the realm of “might be.” The information regarding the holestones, runestones and known medieval history of Sweden, Norway, Kings Magnus and Haakon VI, is pleasurable and readable. If you’re looking for a distraction from the hack-and-grind of life, and want to stoke the fires of your American imagination a bit, then I would recommend The Last Kings of Norse America: Runestone Keys to a Lost Empire by Robert G. Johnson and Janey Westin.

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About Rev. Dr. Michael Philliber