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10 Books to Read Before Visiting Iceland

Iceland has encountered a tourist boom in recent years, with around 2 million tourists a year. Flocking in to see all the natural wonders that it has to offer, it’s no surprise that Iceland is rich in history and culture, as well as incredible geography. Before your travels to this magnificent country, you may want to prepare yourself by learning more about the ways in which Icelandic culture has changed throughout its history. Below are 10 books to read before traveling to Iceland that will surely prepare you for all the nation has to offer.

The History of Iceland  by Gunnar Karisson

If you’re looking for an objective and concise history of Iceland, look no further than Gunnar Karisson’s The History of Iceland. Founded as late as the Viking Age, Iceland is a unique country having extensive written and archaeological sources about its origin. This book includes a comprehensively written historical recount of the trials and tribulations that this country has endured. Beginning with the settlement era and continuing through the early modern age, The History of Iceland comes with no shortage of details, and will surely prepare you with all you need to know before you embark on your travels.

Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland  by Sarah Moss

Written by award winning author Sarah Moss, this autobiographical tale tells the story of her and her family as they move to Iceland for a year during its economic collapse of 2008. Accepting a teaching position at the University of Iceland, Moss follows her childhood dream leaves her comfortable life in England forcing her and her family to find new ways to live. Unlike your typical travel book, Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland will give you an outsider's perspective into the modern day culture of Iceland, as well as draw you towards diverse Icelandic landscape that you will experience throughout your trip.

The Promise of Iceland  by Kari Gislason

This captivating memoir follows the physical and emotional journey of author Kari Gislason as he travels to Iceland in attempt to find and meet his birth father. Pledged to secrecy, never revealing his father's true identity, Gislason travels between Iceland, England, and Australia all while discovering the true meaning of “home” through his experiences and the different people that he meets. This riveting journey through memory, time, and various landscapes, will inspire any reader to experience the Icelandic culture depicted in this novel for themselves.

Iceland 101  by Rúnar Þór Sigurbjörnsson

Iceland 101 by author Rúnar Þór Sigurbjörnsson has all the tips and tricks that you’ll need to know when it comes to touring and staying in Iceland. Compiled of five chapters, each one explaining the dos and don’ts of being a tourist in Iceland, Iceland 101 is the perfect guide to the culture and geography of this breathtaking country. Short and to the point, you can even read this book on your plane ride while you await all that Iceland has to offer.

The Little Book of Tourists in Iceland  by Alda Sigmundsdottir

In this series of short essays, author Alda Sigmundsdottir provides a unique insight into the positive and negative impacts that tourism has had on modern day Iceland, both socially and environmentally. Well written and extremely informative, this book serves as a guide to touring Iceland, packed with tips on how to explore the magnificent country safely and responsibly. A must-read for anybody planning a trip to Iceland, take advantage of this fascinating resource to ensure that you understand the ins and outs of the many facets of Iceland.

Burial Rites  by Hannah Kent

Inspired by a true story, this fictionalized tale written by Hannah Kent recounts the final days of a young woman named Agnes Magnúsdóttir, after she is accused of murder and condemned to death in northern Iceland in 1829. This chilling tale, not for the faint of heart, depicts the realistic and harsh life of rural Iceland in the early 19th century. Sent to await her execution at an isolated farm, the story of Agnes is riveting, and evokes the reality of an old and distant Iceland.

The Sagas of the Icelanders  by Jane Smiley

This fascinating collection of medieval literature tells the tales of the age of the Vikings, also known as the saga age. Written in the 13th century, documenting the settlement of Vikings in Iceland in the 9th century, this challenging yet rewarding read paints a vivid picture of what it was like in Iceland during the medieval age. Giving you an in depth insight into the past and an important piece of Icelandic culture, The Sagas of the Icelanders will prepare for your trip like none other.

The Fish Can Sing  by Halldor Laxness

Written by Nobel prize winner Halldór Laxness, The Fish Can Sing is a coming of age tale about a young orphan boy Algrimur living in a small village of Brekkukot in the outskirts of Reykjavik with his foster grandparents. This light and humorous tale provides insight into early 20th century life in Iceland during a tumultuous period as Reykjavik became the country’s capital, and large fishing boats threatened the lifestyle of simple fisherman like Algimur’s foster grandfather. Prepare for your trip to Iceland by reading this book that truly encompasses the turn of the 20th century.

Viking Age Iceland  by Jesse Byock

Breaking away from the traditional scholarly methods and interpretations typically seen in history books, author Jesse Byock combines environmental science, anthropology, and archaeology to tell the tales of the Icelandic sagas in Viking Age Iceland. Engaging and well written, this book is the perfect introduction to the society and politics of Iceland from the settlement days through the 13th century. For those fascinated with the Viking Age, this medieval history lesson is necessary in preparing your trip.

The Little Book of Icelanders  by Alda Sigmundsdottir

This collection of 50 miniature essays is the perfect quick cultural introduction to all the quirks and foibles of the Icelandic people, and what it’s like to live among them. The Little Book of Icelanders is easy to read and jam packed with fun facts and information about Iceland’s culture, from the role that family plays in society, to why beer was banned in the country until 1989. Entertaining yet informative, this book will help you understand why Icelanders act the way they do, and what has made Iceland the country that it is today.

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