sun voyager at sunset reykjavik iceland
| | |

Iceland Books: 10 Books You Must Read Before Visiting Iceland

Are you looking for a book to read to get you excited for your trip to Iceland? If you’re like me, you love to get a sense for the country’s culture and history before visiting. One of our favorite ways to do that is through books and reading! Iceland is a beautiful and amazing country, so it there are many books that have used Iceland as the perfect setting!

Dane and I always do a “book club” before visiting a new destination, and that gives us something extra to talk about while we’re traveling! Our Iceland book club was Independent People by Halldor Laxness, a classic novel by an Icelandic Nobel Prize winning author. From this list, you can opt for a classic, a mystery book set in Iceland or a book to help you not stick out so much as a tourist in Iceland. Whatever you’re looking for, this list has something on it for you, and as always, I promise I’ve read every book on this list except for one on this list (read to the bottom to find out which one!)

Disclaimer: This blog contains affiliate links which means I get a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you decide to make a purchase. Thanks for supporting me and helping me to continue to make free content on this platform!

1. How Iceland Changed the World

Written by Egill Bjarnason

how iceland changed the world book cover

Published in 2021, How Iceland Changed the World gives you an inside look at Iceland’s contributions to the world during a variety of historical events. From World War II to gender equality, there are many interesting chapters that detail how this little island shaped the world we know today. If you want to get a sense of Iceland’s global history without delving into a dense and boring history book, this is the book for you! It’s short and written in a conversational tone that will definitely keep you interested throughout.

Link to buy here.

2. The Little Book of the Hidden People

Written by Alda Sigmundsdottir

the little book of hidden people book cover

Alda Sigmundsdottir has written many books including The Little Book of the Icelanders, The Little Book of Tourists in Iceland, The Little Book of Icelandic, Icelandic Folk Legends, The Little Book of the Icelanders in the Old Days, The Little Book of the Icelanders at Christmas, and more! These books are the perfect bite sized read before you head to Iceland to learn about their culture and history. These are generally family friendly books, and would be fun easy reads prior to your vacation. If you plan to read The Little Book of Hidden People with your kids, I would recommend scanning the stories ahead of time, some have adult themes and may not be appropriate for kids. I have also read the Little Book of the Icelanders which I liked too. As far as the other books by Alda Sigmundsdottir, I haven’t read them yet, but I’m sure they are also short, fun reads!

Link to buy the Little Book of Hidden People here.

3. Burial Rites

Written by Hannah Kent

burial rites book cover

I really loved this book and it was definitely my favorite of the books on this list!! Hannah Kent wrote this story about Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a women charged with murder and awaiting her execution in Iceland. Kent learned of Agnes and her story after she traveled to Iceland, and based Burial Rites on her true story. This book is dark and dramatic, beautifully written, and if you enjoy historical fiction you will love this one too.

Link to buy here.

4. Independent People

Written by Halldor Laxness

independent people book cover

This book is not going to be for everyone. If you like reading classics, you might want to take a look into Independent People or one of Halldor Laxness’ 60 other books like The Fish Can Sing. Laxness published his first book at the age of 17 and in 1955 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Independent People follows Bjartur, a self-reliant sheep farmer, who would rather die than take support from anyone else. The book takes you through the life of this miserable man and through one unfortunate event after another in his life. Dane and I read this together for our “Iceland book club” before our trip. We ended up really liking it, and it gave us a unique perspective as we drove the Ring Road. But I will say it took us about 6 months to read this book because it’s a bit dense! We finished the audiobook while we were in Iceland! One of the VRBOs we stayed at actually had a dog named Bjartur, which the host told us was not named after the character but translates to “blonde guy”.

Link to buy here.

5. Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland’s Extraordinary Women and How They Are Changing the World

Written by Eliza Reid (the first lady of Iceland)

secrets of the sprakkar book cover

Sprakkar – an ancient Icelandic word meaning outstanding or extraordinary women. Eliza Reid, the Canadian born first lady of Iceland, outlines why Iceland is the best country in the world to be a woman. She discusses all the progress Iceland has made in gender equality, and where they still have room for improvements. Read about their historic election of the first female president in the world, the legislation Iceland has passed to even the playing field between men and women, and more!

Link to buy here.

6. Nordic Tales: Folktales from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark

nordic tales book cover

Nordic Tales is a collection of folk tales from several Nordic countries including Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark. This book would be good to read with a little older kids. I say older kids because some of the stories could be considered a little bit scary for younger kids. This book has a lot of similar stories to The Little Book of Hidden People, so if you read both you may notice some common themes. Reading one of these stories before bedtime could be a fun activity to do before you leave for your Iceland trip!

Link to buy here.

7. Woman at 1000 Degrees

Written by Hallgrimur Helgason

woman at 1000 degrees book cover

To be honest, I still can’t decide how I feel about the Woman at 1000 Degrees. This book chronicles the life of an Icelander who lives through World War 2, and has a million different adventures and terrible things happen to her. She tells her story as she lives out the rest of her life in a hospital bed in someone’s garage after a terminal cancer diagnosis. It’s fairly vulgar in some parts which I wasn’t a huge fan of. That being said, this story has a very unique main character, and I did become invested in her story and what was she was going to encounter next.

Link to buy here.

8. How the Ladies Stopped the Wind

Written by Bruce McMillan

how the ladies stopped the wind book cover

Everyone who has visited Iceland has probably experienced the wind, and yes it can be a little crazy! This is a cute children’s book about the Iceland wind and, of course, the sheep. With funny pictures, some singing, and a fun story, young kids will like this one for sure.

Link to buy here.

9. Glaciers (EarthRocks!)

Written by Sara Gilbert

glaciers earthrocks book cover

If you plan on visiting any of the glaciers while in Iceland, and have a kid who enjoys science (or has a lot of questions), this may be the book for them. This book has some pretty cool photographs of glaciers, and easy to understand descriptions of what glaciers are, how they are made, and what they are made of.

Link to buy here.

10. Volcano Rising

Written by Elizabeth Rusch, illustrated by Susan Swan

Volcano Rising is the perfect mix of a fun kids book with cool sound effects, and an informative story about how volcanoes erupt and where they exist. This is the type of book that kids will love, but adults will love reading because everyone can learn something. The illustrations are colorful and detailed enough to keep kids staring at the pages while you read.

Link to buy here.

Books I didn’t love but you might:

  • The Saga of Icelanders: I didn’t actually read this one, I checked it out from the library and realized it is THICK. It’s over 700 pages, and I just wasn’t up for that much reading about the history of Iceland. However, if you are very interested in history and vikings and Iceland you may want to pick this one up. Link to buy here.
the sagas of icelanders book cover
  • Butterflies in November by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir: I didn’t dislike this book, I just didn’t really enjoy it like I did the rest of the Iceland books on this list. The story of a recently divorced woman who takes an unexpected road trip with a five year old child that is not her own. This book is odd, and at times was hard to follow. This could be more of a reflection on my own reading comprehension or the translation but who knows. Link to buy here.
butterflies in november book cover
  • What Sheep do in Iceland When No One is Around – first of all, the illustrations in this book are incredible. But this book is way too hard for our kids to understand. Maybe it was lost in translation, or maybe this isn’t really meant to be a children’s book. We bought this as a souvenir in Iceland, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. Especially since it was a little pricey like a lot of Iceland souvenirs.
  • Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was – This book has a really interesting, mind bending style which was unique but also confusing (which I think is the point). However, this book was way too graphic for me so I didn’t enjoy it.

Any other Iceland books you love that I missed? Leave a comment with your favorite! Now that you have read all these books about Iceland, it’s history, and some fictional books – check out our Iceland travel guides and packing guides!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.