Ivory Vikings

Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made ThemIvory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them by Nancy Marie Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A thoroughly enjoyable exploration of an archeological mystery, the history of chess, walrus ivory carving, Viking history, and the settlement of Iceland, interwoven with passages from the Norse sagas. Could Margret the Adroit of Iceland have made the Lewis chessmen? Certainly, but can it be proven? No. Still, Ms. Brown lays out the evidence, and I think the theory she presents can hold its own against those who insist on a Norwegian origin. The history of the pieces and their historical Scandinavian counterparts is fascinating! I listened to the audiobook, so I can’t speak about any accompanying maps and photos.

Book description: In the early 1800s, on a Hebridean beach in Scotland, the sea exposed an ancient treasure cache: 93 chessmen carved from walrus ivory. Norse netsuke, each face individual, each full of quirks, the Lewis Chessmen are probably the most famous chess pieces in the world. Housed at the British Museum, they are among its most visited and beloved objects. Questions abounded: Who carved them? Where? Nancy Marie Brown explores these mysteries by connecting medieval Icelandic sagas with modern archaeology, art history, forensics, and the history of board games. In the process, Ivory Vikings presents a vivid history of the 400 years when the Vikings ruled the North Atlantic, and the sea-road connected countries and islands we think of as far apart and culturally distinct: Norway and Scotland, Ireland and Iceland, and Greenland and North America.

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The Martian

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Robinson Crusoe in space. Set a few years into the future, when the U.S. is sending manned missions to Mars. Mark is a likeable character, and I found his ingenuity and inventiveness kept me interested – for about half of the book. Then it just got too predictable as it went from one event that should have killed him to another. It was very heavy on the science, which didn’t go over too well with my women’s bookclub. On the whole, it’s a decent story, and an uplifting one as nations work together to bring Mark home, and his story captures hearts the world over. The movie left out a lot, which is probably a good thing. It got very repetitive stretched out into a full-length novel.

Book description: After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark Watney finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, Mark won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark’s not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills—and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.