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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `For over three thousand years, the Mediterranean Sea has been one of the great centres of world civilisation.'
This book, the cover tells me, `is the first complete history of the Mediterranean from the erection of the mysterious temples on Malta around 3500 BC to the recent invention of the Mediterranean's shores as a tourist destination'. I was immediately fascinated: how does a history of a sea read? People interact with the sea in a number of ways, but they don't live on it...
Published on 7 Oct 2011 by Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too selective in approach and disjointed
The amount of praise heaped on David Abulafia's substantial tomb "The Great Sea" by newspaper critics would burden an elephant but on Amazon something akin to fifty per cent of the reviewers have described the book as dry, eclectic and in need of sharp editing. The dissent has been expressed in both abandoning the book and a sigh of relief on completing each mercifully...
Published 14 months ago by trottman


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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `For over three thousand years, the Mediterranean Sea has been one of the great centres of world civilisation.', 7 Oct 2011
By 
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This book, the cover tells me, `is the first complete history of the Mediterranean from the erection of the mysterious temples on Malta around 3500 BC to the recent invention of the Mediterranean's shores as a tourist destination'. I was immediately fascinated: how does a history of a sea read? People interact with the sea in a number of ways, but they don't live on it. What facts become important, which aspects of human civilisation will feature, and why?

David Abulafia is professor of Mediterranean history at Cambridge and in this book he sets out the presence of the people who have lived around the Mediterranean from around 22000 BC to 2010 AD. This is a history of the people who `dipped their toes in the sea, and, best of all, took journeys across it.' The book is divided into five chronological sections:

The First Mediterranean 22000 BC - 1000 BC
The Second Mediterranean 1000 BC - 600 AD
The Third Mediterranean 600 AD - 1350 AD
The Fourth Mediterranean 1350 AD - 1830 AD
The Fifth Mediterranean 1830 AD - 2010 AD

Each section of the book opens and closes a period of the sea's history during which trade, cultural exchanges and empires act as unifiers before the process stops or reverses. Some of those significant events include the collapse of the Roman Empire, the impact of the Black Death and more recently the building of the Suez Canal.

`The history of the Mediterranean has been presented in this book as a series of phases in which the sea was, to a greater or lesser extent, integrated into a single economic and even political area. With the coming of the Fifth Mediterranean the whole character of this process changed. The Mediterranean became the great artery through which goods, warships, migrants and other travellers reached the Indian Ocean from the Atlantic.'

There's a wealth of information here: about the great port cities (including Alexandria, Salonika and Trieste); about the space of the Mediterranean from Jaffa in the east to Gibraltar in the west, from Venice in the north to Alexandria in the south. As part of the narrative, Professor Abulafia includes information about people whose lives illuminate the developments he is describing: a diversity of ethnic, linguistic, political and religious influences. We meet the Venetian merchant Romano Mairano, and the Arab traveller Ibn Jubayr. We read, too, of Shabbetai Zevi, described as a deluded Messiah in 17th century Smyrna.

Of most interest to me was the role of the Mediterranean in trade. The merchant is a critical figure. The Phoenicians spread the alphabet across the Mediterranean: how else can merchants create the records they need? The merchants carry essentials such as grain and salt, but they also carry ideas, plagues and religions across the sea. Not all interactions are peaceful, and different people (including members of minorities) make different contributions across culture and creed.

I would have to read the book at least once more to fully appreciate Professor Abulafia's coverage: while the book is easy to read there is a huge amount of information to read and absorb. There is a map included in each chapter, which I found very helpful in placing the narrative.

This is an amazing book and well worth reading by anyone with an interest in the history of the Mediterranean Sea.

`Rather than searching for unity we should note diversity.'

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too selective in approach and disjointed, 28 July 2013
The amount of praise heaped on David Abulafia's substantial tomb "The Great Sea" by newspaper critics would burden an elephant but on Amazon something akin to fifty per cent of the reviewers have described the book as dry, eclectic and in need of sharp editing. The dissent has been expressed in both abandoning the book and a sigh of relief on completing each mercifully short chapter.

To cease reading is a pity for the book does contain a wealth of information and once the Common Era is reached both literary style and content liven up considerably. That said the author's own particular interest fields soon become apparent. He writes at length over the impact made by the discovery of yet another shard of pottery and the importance to history of the activities of a local adventurer (often Jewish) but seriously great events can be dismissed in less than a page.

To write a human history of the Mediterranean, condensed into one volume, is a daunting undertaking but the final impression is that the author found the task too demanding and shared the anxiety of certain readers to get to the finishing post.

Trottman
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Sea Made Great, 27 July 2011
By 
Charles Crowhurst (Varese, Italy) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Abulafi brings the Mediterranean to life in the best tradition of history writing. The subject is vast - and the book is accordingly long - but Abulafi's touch is both elegant and scholarly. All epochs, through nearly three millennia, receive detailed attention: there is no skipping through periods that the writer feels less interesting, since he is clearly fascinated by all.
As history I would put this in the same class as N.A.M. Rodger. Anyone who feels that history merits the very best writing would do well to buy this book, for it absorbs, informs and enchants.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars rather flat, 23 Sep 2012
By 
Andrewmac (beckenham, kent) - See all my reviews
I thought this would be a wonderful informative, entertaining and evocative read about the Mediterranean and its people and history. But in the end, I had to force myself to finish it one small chapter at a time. There is plenty to admire in this book, but somehow the overall picture is lost amidst a welter of detail - and the facts tend to overshadow the ideas, the personalities and the atmosphere. I certainly learnt a lot but it all seemed rather a jumble and the style is often uninspired and flat. Could have done with some vigorous editing and sharpening up.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars History as it used to be taught at school?, 24 Aug 2014
By 
This review is from: The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean (Paperback)
After ploughing through more than 600 pages (well, most of it anyway, before moving over to scanning) I knew something about lots of trees planted around the Med, but I still don't know the shape of the forest that they formed.

I fear that the book falls between two extremes: too detailed to give a overview history of the Mediterranean for the average reader but not detailed enough for the specialist reader. There are far too many battles, wars, tyrants, victories and defeats listed here, just like we used to learn at school. But there is far too little of the IDEAS that shape the world. Was it really a series of successful wars which led to the sustained success of the Roman empire? Or was it a set of ideas? The ideas, surely, but Abulafia has very little to say about ideas in general. His work is more a collation of facts and figures, the sort of stuff you can research nowadays on the Internet. The crassest of his omissions is his failure to give more than a vague mention in passing to the philosophy of classical Greece, which has probably done more to shape the course of human history of the Mediterranean (and the rest of Europe) than any other single factor.

Which leads to another problematic aspect of this book: is there any point in writing a human history of the Med? To stick with the example of the Roman empire: this came about in the Mediterranean region and it had a lot to do with the Mare Nostrum in general, but much of Roman history goes far beyond the great sea and therefore beyond the scope of this book. So you get a kind of coastal slice of Roman history, a very arbitrary slice. Same goes for the histories of other countries.

I would call myself an informed layperson and used to reading fairly tough stuff but this book bored me, frankly. I cannot store that many facts in my head- and I don't even want to. I want the shape of things in their temporal context. If you want generalised history, it's probably preferable to read a history Europe in general. The Med will inevitably play a large role in that history, but in a much less arbitrary way than here.

The writing style is fine, but lacking in particular wit or esprit. Definitely not a recommendation on my part.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb publication, 8 Aug 2013
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This book is a must for anyone who enjoys travelling to the Mediterranean and surrounding area if they wish to place their travels within a historical context.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great, 17 Jan 2013
By 
Peter J. Holmes (England) - See all my reviews
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A well written history as described by the title. I intended to read only up to the Crusades as my main interest is in earlier periods of history but I found this book so engrossing that I carried on up to the end. Abulafia manages to strike the right balance between detail and the bigger picture and I found this a very enjoyable read. The maps are helpful and positioned at the beginning of each chapter to illustrate how different cities come and go in prominence during the passage of time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Book, 17 Oct 2012
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This book tells in detail how the first settlers reached the mediterranen sea. Very interesting stuff. Especially is your ancestors were from that region, makes you develop a sense of belonging.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great!, 4 Sep 2012
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I read this cover to cover in a week, which is good going because this is a BIG book. Previous reviews explain what it is all about, so I will not go into this, suffice to say I found it a great, easy read. Well worth the money and time to read it. I would definitely recommend this book.
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89 of 107 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Idiosyncratic attempt at global history, 6 Jun 2011
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I was looking forward to Professor Abulafia new general history of the Mediterranean, anticipating a scholarly and less Eurocentric account than Lord Norwich 'Middle Sea'.To his credit he offers a more ecumenical account attempting to strike a balance between Antiquity and Modern Times, the North and the South , the West and the East.However any Historian seeking to tackle such a huge task is presented with the dilemma of what to include and what to leave out, how to balance the requirements of scholarship and those of writing popular history.In fact how do you write a 'Human History' if you exclude in your account the ordinary common people,how they lived and struggled on a daily basis, what brought them together and what separated them, what pushed them to migrate, convert to a new religion or rob and attack their neighbours, why did they launch into protracted family vendettas, how did they cope with plagues and famines, wars and persecutions? In that respect he fails to convince as we are treated to another chronology of events which is partial to the author's area of expertise thus devoting a substantial part of the text to the late Medieval and Renaissance periods. By contrast the long 20th century is treated in a relatively cursory manner.

Abulafia makes no secret that this book is a personal project aiming at the celebration of his ancestors' contribution.We are treated to the biographies of a number of Abulafias, who are minor actors and of little relevance to the wider narrative.The Sephardic trade diaspora occupies the lion's share of his historical preoccupation with transcultural trade. This leads him to bizarre digressions for example the four pages account devoted to Shabbetai Zevi,an eccentric Jewish apostate of the 17th century.
No one disputes the centrality of the Sephardic contribution to Mediterranean trade but it takes a disproportionate importance in the text at the expense of other trade diasporas which are hardly mentioned in this chronicle, namely the Armenians, the Levantine Arabs, the Greeks, the Turks let alone the French, British and Dutch traders established since the 16th century in countries ruled by the Ottomans (see Pashas by J Mather)

The work of the great Braudel casts a long shadow over the field of Mediterranean studies. Abulafia's book is another interesting attempt but hardly a world shattering event.
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The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean
The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean by David Abulafia (Paperback - 6 Mar 2014)
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