Time for a brief look at a time and place in history that passes under the radar in too many history classes (Really, does anyone learn anything in a history class, particularly high school?). That is - parts of the world that are not Western Europe at some time between the end of the Roman Empire and perhaps the Renaissance.
Anyway, I believe that this particular book came onto my radar via +Matt Jackson in some post or discussion regarding Viking history and influences.
Good read - it is primarily excerpts/fragments from Ibn Fadlan's travels, as well as many other Muslim authors in the 900's thru 1100's. The authors/documentarians are traders and missionaries, intent on building relationships through both commerce and conversion. And gaining intelligence on these mysterious, intimidating folks from the north lands that spend half the year swathed in dark and cold. The authors who traveled north during the cold months write of their hardships in great detail - voluminous furs and clothing, frozen rivers, difficult transportation, short days.
While the book is best(?) known for Ibn Fadlan's very detailed description of an authentic Viking ship-burial, the passages also document early conversion of Turkic tribal leaders to Islam, Jewish trade networks extending to China and the Asian subcontinent, even an early description of the Polish city of Krakow. Speak of interactions and vibrant trade between cultures and religious groups: Muslim, Jewish, Christian, 'pagan' faiths. It's a good document regarding interaction with the Rus (Swedish Vikings who settled Russia, became traders, and gave the country its name), as well as a glimpse into the travel and trade of west Asia, Asia Minor, and Eastern Europe pre-Crusades.
Like many similar texts, the collection is a mix of observation and myth/hearsay. The writers provide detail of the peoples who they interact with, and speak of both commercial enterprises and the commodities of areas, as well as describing mythical locales and people as Alexander's Wall and the tribes of Gog and Magog.