Nancy Marie Brown


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Ivory Vikings, St. Martin's Press 2015

Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them (St. Martin's Press 2015)

"The Lewis chessmen, a set of vividly carved walrus-ivory figures with perturbed expressions and elaborate garments, were discovered on a remote, salt-bitten Scottish island in the nineteenth century. No one knows who carved them or for whom they were made, but they date from the twelfth century and were long thought to have been made in Norway, where similar ornaments have been found. This account asserts, instead, that they were made by an Icelandic craftswoman mentioned in the sagas. The book is full of exciting detective work, along with absorbing excursions into the history of the Vikings, of chess in the Middle Ages, and of walrus ivory (known as 'arctic gold')." --The New Yorker

"An absorbing story of long-ago links between the British Isles and Scandinavia that puts the Lewis chessmen into a vivid and much broader cultural context of Viking trade, plunder, and sophisticated gift-giving. ... The story bristles with fascinating facts. ... Brown describes landscapes and her Norsemen and women with a lucid, dry humour. Though rather too heavy on the sagas, with their dizzying procession of chieftains and kings, she has done the reader a great service by widening the debate into an engaging, accessible tale." --The Economist

"Whether you are a chess master or oblivious to the queen's gambit and the Sicilian defense, or how to move a knight, Ivory Vikings is a fascinating tale of discovery and mystery. ... The story of these ivory armies is woven through with speculative historic tales of kings ..., with diversions into the 13th-century sagas of Iceland's Snorri Sturluson and the early 19th-century literature of Sir Walter Scott, as well as accounts of the climate and topography of Iceland, the importance of walrus ivory from Greenland financing Viking raids, and the origin of chess in India. But it is a fascinating mystery that continues to intrigue. And it provides a charming reminder that these were people way back then, not so cold and distant as history may portray them. They played chess." --The Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Brown, working in the style of a literary detective, puts together a history of these astonishingly gorgeous pieces, carved most likely by a woman, Margret the Adroit of Iceland. ... This book is a delight for chess players, of course, but also for gamers of all sorts as well as anyone interested in the intricacies of the provenance of art and in endlessly fascinating minutiae--the strength and uses of walrus skin, how to carve walrus ivory, and so much more." --Booklist, starred review

"[Brown] lays out the various competing theories about their origin and presents a cogent argument that a woman referred to in one of the sagas as Margret the Adroit may have created these sets in Iceland in 1200 CE. Along the way, we learn a great deal about the Vikings as raiders and traders, and their impact on world history.... An intriguing work." --Library Journal

"Chess enthusiasts will revel in the power games between would-be kings and those already enthroned, some of whom, Brown posits, may have commissioned these walrus ivory chess sets as gifts for other kings. Other readers may find the mystery of the sets' hotly contested origins more enthralling. As for Margret the Adroit, the woman who supposedly made them, Brown makes the most of a saga's sole mention of her artistic skill to support a recent and entirely plausible theory as to the pieces' source. Fascinating."--Publishers Weekly


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The Saga of Gudrid the Far-Traveler, namelos 2015

The Saga of Gudrid the Far-Traveler (namelos 2015)

"The wealth of detail about early Icelandic seafaring culture--including gender roles and the division of labor, house construction, food preservation, clothing styles and adornment, treasure, the church, and inheritance laws--could carry the story on its own. It's Gudrid's strong will, hard work, and passion for exploration, however, that will resonate authentically with adventure-seeking young readers."--The Hornbook

"Well-written, thoroughly researched, and adventure-filled, this story of a determined and very human young woman is timeless."--Kirkus Reviews

"As the story of a young woman bucking traditional roles and exploring her world and the world abroad, it makes for intriguing historical fiction."--Publishers Weekly


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Song of the Vikings, Palgrave Macmillan 2012

Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths (Palgrave Macmillan 2012)

"Book of the Year ... rivetingly told." --Tom Shippey, Times Literary Supplement, 11-30-12

"Brown believes that 'the most influential writer of the Middle Ages' wasn't Chaucer, or Malory or the writers of Arthurian romances but the author of the Edda, a politically powerful Icelander called Snorri Sturluson ("son of Sturla"), who died violently but ingloriously in 1241. She has a good case for saying so. . . . Brown's tribute to Snorri's works is well-deserved. We owe him a lot." --Tom Shippey, The Wall Street Journal

"This book quite honestly rocks. Accessible enough to be read as a page turner, but rigorous enough to have some teeth, it hits the non-fiction sweet spot, not so readable as to be one of those trade non-fiction books dismissed as 'a long magazine article' but not so academic as to become an impenetrable wall of text. Plus, vikings!" --Mordicai Knode, Tor.com

"A new book can send you back to an old one, showing you something about who you are and how you got to be that way. ... Nancy Marie Brown has taught me that the roots of this part run deeper than I knew -- down through Norse Gods and Giants to the imagination of a gouty poet, historian, and lawyer drinking beer in his hot tub eight centuries ago." --Carlo Rotella, The Boston Globe

"Absorbing . . . By the end, readers will feel affected by the loss of this powerful and complicated man." --Kirkus Reviews, 9-15-12


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The Abacus and the Cross, Basic Books 2010

The Abacus and the Cross: The Story of the Pope Who Brought the Light of Science to the Dark Ages (Basic 2010)

"Beautiful ... a fascinating tale of science and religion, one that provides further perspective on the plight of Islamic science today." --The New Republic

"A thoroughly engrossing account of the Dark Ages and one of its Popes, both far less dark than popular histories teach. ... A lively, eye-opening portrait of a sophisticated Europe whose intellectual leaders showed genuine interest in learning. --Kirkus, starred review

"Enjoyable to read, informative, and highly recommended for all history and history of science buffs." --Library Journal

"As readably knowledgeable about Gerbert's political fortunes as about his intellectual influence, Brown is a lively narrator and interesting interpreter of Gerbert's life and world. This portrait gives both the science and the history audiences something to talk about." --Booklist

"An engaging encounter with a figure of interest and influence, and a way to see the issues Gerbert confronts as having modern parallels. A grand tour, indeed." --America

"This book will change how you think about the so-called Dark Ages. Well-researched, well-written, and vividly illuminating." --Marilyn Yalom, author of Birth of the Chess Queen


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The Far Traveler, Harcourt Books 2007

The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman (Harcourt 2007)

"Brown pursues Gudrid out of admiration for a woman bold and wise. I eagerly pursued this book, which is as much about Brown's adventures as Gudrid's, for the very same reasons." --The New York Times Book Review

"Brown's enthusiasm is infectious as she re-teaches us our history." --The Boston Globe

"Brown strikes a good balance between a novelistic narrative and hard science." --Archaeology

"[Brown] displays an impressive, detailed knowledge of ship-building, longhouse construction, language (words like ransack and brag come from Norse), cloth-making, farming practices, and gender roles. All this rich material accumulates to create a marvelously sneaky history of the Viking mind." --Kirkus Reviews

"Brown painstakingly reconstructs the extraordinary life of 'Gudrid the Far-Traveler' in this historical labor of love. ... Even more compelling than the journeys themselves is the wealth of information providing illuminating details of a woman's place in both a flourishing and a declining Viking society." --Booklist

"Fascinating details ... Brown rightly leaves scholarly work to scholars. Instead, her account presents an enthusiastic appreciation of her education in how fieldwork and literature offer insights into the past. ... Brown's archaeology of a summer's work and the society it helps to illuminate make for engaging reading." --The Seattle Times


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Mendel in the Kitchen, Joseph Henry Books 2004

Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Food (Joseph Henry 2004)

"The authors, a geneticist and a writer, have created a book that is easy to read but provides a great deal of information.... Anyone who wants the facts about genetic technology and its potential usefulness should read this work.... Recommended." --Choice Reviews Online, May 2013

"Finally, we hear from scientists in the public debate on genetically modified foods.... A real learning experience for readers who want to know more about hybrids, gene splicing, crossbreeding, mutagenesis, and other procedures that have been the mainstay of genetic engineering." --Library Journal

"A clearly written history of plant breeding that focuses on the new field of the genetic engineering of crops.... Fedoroff and Brown present a strong case that plant breeding and genetic engineering have made and will continue to make substantial contributions to our food supply." --Science

"[Fedoroff and Brown] meticulously depict the past, present, and future of genetics in agriculture. ... The saga brings rationality to the controversy now haunting the newest, most precise, and most predictable manifestation of genetic modification--gene splicing." --Wall Street Journal

"[Fedoroff and Brown] have produced not only an authoritative primer on the science and ecology of agricultural genetics, but a much-needed guide for the perplexed." --Natural History


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A Good Horse Has No Color, Stackpole Books 2001

A Good Horse Has No Color: Searching Iceland for the Perfect Horse (Stackpole 2001)

"Breathtaking. ... Brown creates a saga of her own reinvention." --Canter

"In this tale of self-discovery, Brown begins to understand the meaning of the words from an Icelandic poem--There are storm winds and freedom in the blowing mane--when she overcomes her misgivings and chooses a spirited horse over a more docile animal. Take a chance, she learns, and with that may come untold pleasures." --Islands

"The next best thing to experiencing Iceland firsthand, this is a compelling read. You will cheer her choices!" --The Gaited Horse

"Rich and transporting, a true saga." --Melissa Holbrook Pierson, author of Dark Horses and Black Beauties

"An enchanting, lyrical book about her search for the perfect Icelandic horse, her symbol of freedom and courage. You don't need to like horses to enjoy this book. ... It is terrific." --Pat Shipman, author of The Animal Connection

"Nancy Brown's fascinating book reminds us that the pursuit of happiness often leads down strange paths.... A can't-put-down read about loss and healing, joy and discovery." --Jeanne Mackin, author of The Sweet By and By

"A fascinating on-the-ground investigation of how a very different, very ancient culture understands, lives with, and trains its vital animals. Brown's book is unique. I know of no other book remotely like it." --Donald McCaig, author of Nop's Trials


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