The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean Hardcover – 5 Oct 2006
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"Lord Norwich's control of his vast and complex subject matter is
"The Roman achievement is succinctly and well surmised" -- Spectator
"an ambitious, informative and effortlessly entertaining history
of the Mediterranean." -- Ham & High Series
"an expertly paced, occasionally exhilarating read...may even
prove a landmark in popular history-telling"
-- Sunday Telegraph
"monumental work" -- Economist.
Chosen by Adrian Hardiman - Supreme Court Judge.
-- The Irish Times Books of the Year.
Infectiously enthusiastic, good-humoured, unassumingly erudite -- The Scotsma] The Scotsman
A magnificent undertaking: a one-volume narrative history of the Mediterranean Sea from Ancient Egypt to 1919, written in the racy readable prose for which John Julius Norwich is famous.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
One has to admire the ambition of Lord Norwich as he attempts get through some 4000 years of history in around 700 pages. Bored with the story of the Visigoths? Don't worry too much as in a couple of pages they'll be gone. The narrative rattles around at such a pace it could read like a `Bob Hale' sketch script from Horrible Histories (which are brilliant by the way).
I can understand why some readers might have been looking for some analysis or attempts to understand the key driving forces in Mediterranean history. But no; as one set of monarchs or Popes passes away the next gang appear and we are into another round of wars and massacres. All the horror and bloodshed though are recounted in the author's rather aloof but opinionated style. Rulers may do horrendous things but Lord Norwich judges them on whether they were effective or not. What's amazing is that somehow he manages to hold this narrative together and, on a personal note, kept this reader thoroughly entertained and informed throughout.
There so much to going on throughout it is hard to pick the highlights but for me the stand-out sections are those on the Crusades and the mini-biography of the Emperor Fredrick II.
Lord Norwich chooses to bring this history to a close with the end of the First World War. In doing so he notes that go on further would possibly have doubled the length of the work to include the Second World War and so much else in the 20th Century. Written in 2006, his final words are almost regretful that the Middle Sea has lost its dignity to become a just a destination for holiday makers and so many of its great harbours are now marinas for yachts. It is certainly happier for the locals that it is now ambre solaire that stain it's waters rather than blood. However, at the time of writing this review the Arab Spring had just seen political change sweep the North African states along the Med's shore and Greece's debt looks like it may bring down the whole European economy. Despite the author's misgivings, clearly the Mediterranean is still centre stage in World history.
All of his books are excellent reads, as well as being admirably well informed and with a huge number of interesting and colourful details.
His writing is lively and is far more polished and characterful than most academic historians can manage and that is a good thing for all of us who are not students any more, although his books are good for history students who want to explore wider areas than their own specialisations.
This is one of the grand theme books that Norwich does so well, he is best on the machinations of the Italian peninsula here, a tangled topic at the best of times, but he brings clarity and wit to explaining the struggles of the Guelphs and Ghibelines as well as the dynastic intricacies of the Angevins, Normans, Aragonese and others.
He doesn't get bogged down in so much detail that the broad sweep journey is in danger of stalling, which for a casual reader is refreshing.
I own all of John Julius Norwich's books and this one is a good addition to his considerable and distinguished canon.
in fact, it would be absolutely perfect, had it not been for 3 slight flaws - the love for Venice, the British presence, and Winston Churchill. The lack of criticism for Venice approaches the critical level by the end fo 16th century, but is later constrained. the British presence leads to a lengthy account of the battle of Gibraltar, whose significance seems just a fraction exagerated (well, I've never even heard about it until now), and to Winston is attributed the power to prevent the Russian revolution. With all respect to Winnie, preventing the inevitable was out of his reach, but it has it's good point - maybe the Author should turn to study of the Baltic, which might result in another thoroughly enjoyable piece of historical writing :)))
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