Iceland: Land of the Sagas

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"We raised our fists and cheered. . . . With the sagas in our heads, with Iceland at its wildest beneath our boots, it would not have been impossible to see Bárdr clumping along the summit ridge, prodding the glacier with his staff, ready to show us the way down."

Iceland is a pictorial classic on one of the last "undiscovered" countries in Europe—reissued for the first time in paperback.
        Iceland is often thought to be covered by ...

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"We raised our fists and cheered. . . . With the sagas in our heads, with Iceland at its wildest beneath our boots, it would not have been impossible to see Bárdr clumping along the summit ridge, prodding the glacier with his staff, ready to show us the way down."

Iceland is a pictorial classic on one of the last "undiscovered" countries in Europe—reissued for the first time in paperback.
        Iceland is often thought to be covered by ice, but in fact it is gloriously green. Lush meadows, wildflower fields, and miles of rich tundra cover a landscape of remarkable variety: deep lakes, bubbling hot springs, tumbling waterfalls, snow-capped mountains. It's also a landscape amazingly alive with massive lava flows and enormous glaciers. The human story of Iceland goes back more than eleven thousand years, and its heritage is told here in a treasury of riveting sagas of real-life heroes and all manner of supernatural beings.
        Both the land and the people of one of Europe's most gorgeous countries come to life in this colorful account of the authors' adventures as they walk, climb, and photograph their way through Iceland and connect to the bone-chilling sagas and the unfamiliar terrain. With breathtaking photographs from critically acclaimed writer and journalist Jon Krakauer, author of the international bestsellers Into Thin Air and Into the Wild, and a penetrating narrative from Outside contributing editor and travel writer David Roberts, Iceland splendidly captures the spirit of this enigmatic country.
        Circumnavigating Iceland in summer and winter, Krakauer and Roberts encounter tales of monks and Vikings, outlaws and adventurers, trolls and witches. While touring and photographing, they discover the myths and legends of Iceland's stirring history. Numerous other feats—including a hazardous winter climb to the summit of one of Iceland's tallest mountains—round out a fascinating introduction to this unique and beautiful land.

100 photographs in full color, 160 pages, 8-1/2" x 11-1/2"

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review

Greenland is icy. Iceland is green. This will be on the test.

Some years ago, I spent a summer's work bouncing around on the rutted, muddy roads of western Iceland, looking at some of the most stark, barren, dramatic, and awesomely beautiful scenery in the world, most of it devoid of human life. And when the fog rolls in and the wind howls through the mountains or across a lava flat where not so much as a weed has grown for ten thousand years, it's easy to believe in fairies and trolls.

I loved every minute, hiking across cliffs far above the sea, rounding the base of the volcano Snaefellsjökull, looking at raging whitecaps past a Nordic cathedral in a town called Stykkishólmh, hopping out to a rock above the waterfall Gullfoss, and walking the very stylish streets of Reykjavík, the Earth's northernmost capital.

Ever since, I've been telling people about the wonders of Iceland. Now I can show them Iceland: Land of the Sagas, first published in 1990 and now very handsomely reprinted by Villard.

Iceland, captures vividly much of the look and feel of this quite amazing country and people. The bright and well-informed text is by David Roberts, a contributing editor for Outside magazine and the author of several books. The photos are by Jon Krakauer, a familiar name in Outside and the author of the deservedly bestselling Into Thin Air, about his ascent of Mt. Everest.

The text begins, as it should, by dispelling some of the common misinformation about Iceland. Reykjavík, a fairly quick hoponIcelandair, is closer to New York than San Francisco is. And because of ocean currents, it's warmer than New York in winter. Iceland's population of 250,000 (there are more people than that on my New York City street!) supports the world's largest book production and readership in the world. In addition to Icelandic, everybody speaks English. Everybody. And the stories of the heroes and monsters of Iceland's great literary heritage, "the sagas," are as fresh in the mind as this morning's headlines.

David Roberts stresses this in the book, relating his and Krakauer's wanderings in the island to the sites where mythic events took place: a meadow where the clash of battle still rings, a giant boulder once moved as a test of a hero's strength. It doesn't take a visitor long to feel that the past is very present in Iceland.

Krakauer's photos capture the same thing visually. He likes broad vistas: a lonely farming settlement on a patch of green surrounded by lava fields with bare, mean-looking mountains looming above it; isolated churches seemingly built more for their dramatic location than for convenience; windswept tableland dotted with sheep; geothermal steam bursting from fissures in the barren land.

I wish the book had a map. And I would have liked more pictures that catch Iceland's brilliant summer sunshine, and more of Reykjavík and its handsome hilltop cathedral designed like a pipe organ. But this is an outdoor book, and Iceland has probably the most dramatic outdoors in the world. If you think you know the beauties and mysteries of the planet, Iceland: Land of the Sagas, will show you sights you've never seen before.

Iceland, obviously, is a great place to visit, even in winter, when it's dark most of the day. Next week we'll look at some books that can help you travel there.
— Alan Ryan,

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In an ingenious approach to a little-viewed land, journalist/outdoorsman Roberts and Krakauer ( Eiger Dreams ) examine Iceland today through its principal literary heritage. The harsh backdrop of the heroic tales featuring the fierce, beautiful Gudrun Osvifrsdottirsp ok or courageous Burnt Njal is much the same as it was in the 13th century when the sagas, blending myth, history and fiction, were written. The most volcanic land in the world, with plentiful waterfalls and hot springs (``geyser'' is from the Icelandic geysir ), the country is only four degrees from the Arctic Circle, yet, warmed by the Gulf Stream, possesses deep valleys and pastures to support indigenous populations of horses and sheep, as well as a quarter of a million people. In chapters such as ``Of Monks and Vikings'' and ``Women and Winter,'' Roberts deftly examines Iceland's history and culture while Krakauer's 100 arresting color photos capture the land's topographical power. (Nov.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375752674
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/1/1998
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 177,774
  • Product dimensions: 8.47 (w) x 11.50 (h) x 0.45 (d)

Meet the Author

Jon Krakauer is an editor-at-large for Outside magazine and is the author of Into Thin Air, Into the Wild, and Eiger Dreams. His work also appears in Smithsonian and National Geographic. He and his wife live in Colorado.

David Roberts is a contributing editor to Outside magazine and is the author of several books, including Once They Moved Like the Wind and In Search of the Old Ones.

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