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Customer reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars

on 7 March 2015
Having read the last of the 470-odd pages of this hugely enjoyable book I closed the covers with a great deal of reluctance. It had given me a route map covering 10,000 years of human history in Europe onto which I could plot the discreet and tediously detailed bits of history that I was taught at school. And guess what? In the context of the long view of human history, a lot of what I was taught missed the point.

Professor Cunliffe does not waste his time dwelling on the role of the famous (or infamous) individual in getting us to where we are today. (I love the way he refers to the Roman Empire as an “interlude”) He has concentrated his energies on producing a tour de force, the consequences of 10,000 years of human beings trading with one another across the geography of Europe. He charts the development of trade routes, the folk movements that took place on a massive scale, the role of maritime enterprise, the advent of city and nation, the wars motivated by avarice, and so on.

I defy anybody who has read this book to say that it didn’t make them ponder on the implications of what it describes for today’s world. At its very heart, the book is about the long term creation of wealth via trade. It is the story of the European cities, states and empires that survived only for as long as they remained energetic producers - not passive consumers – of goods and were capable of resisting attack from outside their territory.

Although most of the book is an easy and enjoyable read, some of it (particularly the latter sections) is rather dense and in places I found myself skip-reading. Having said that, the maxim “if a layman can’t understand you, it usually means that you are a poor expert” could never be applied to the author. If you have any interest in history at all beyond interminably detailed biographical accounts of individual players from yesteryear then “Europe between the Oceans” is for you.
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on 9 November 2017
Notwithstanding editorial gripes and lefty-liberal bowdlerisation or omission of historical and archaeological carnage, a beautiful book, lyrically written, arrestingly illustrated and cogently mapped. I have upgraded to a hardback and will give my softback to my youngest son, who has a degree in ancient history-- much good this did his soul, more tentatively his bank balance.

I tender 5 stars, in hope that a second edition will push the pin over.
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on 26 August 2016
When I started reading this 2008 publication immediately thought it was much better than the old 1994 'Oxford Illustrated Prehistory of Europe' that I used to like back in the last Millenium. So was surprised when I checked and realised that Barry Cunliffe was responsible for both books (though he edited the Oxford one and several scholars contributed). This shows that archaeologists do alter their theories of prehistory with each new discovery. They can, however, cling to some approaches simply by omitting disturbing evidence. In this case Emeritus Professor Cunliffe is anxious to suggest that civilization spread peacefully through trade, often starting at a Mediterranean coastal colony - set up by Greeks or Phoenicians - and spreading gently inland to create an idyllic pre-industrial continent of happy trading farmers all sharing bright ideas about how to grow crops and look after animals. This peaceable development is a major theme of the book which even underplays the vicious struggle between Rome and Carthage and the strong chance that the establishment of civilization very nearly centred on Semitic North Africa, rather than Caucasian Europe. Even much further north there is evidence of violent conflict, for example an enormous prehistoric battle at Tollense in what is now north Germany, not mentioned at all in this work. Since the evidence for Tollense is entirely archaeological (there is no written record of why thousands of people assembled there once to slaughter one another), that seems a surprising omission. Even the two great Bronze Age texts that we have (the Old Testament and the Iliad) both make it perfectly clear that conflict must have been endemic, at least until someone like the Romans prevailed. That apart, it remains a beautifully-produced, well-illustrated work which certainly makes you think in an original way about why, exactly, the jagged, sticking out landmass to the west of Asia and the north of Africa emerged as the most successful place for humans to dwell... thus far in history.
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on 27 August 2010
This is an interesting and engaging book, all the better because Prof Gunliff does not hestitate to speculate boldly on sparse evidence. This is in the nature of the subject. I also appreciated his careful sketch of the geographical features of Europe which early man was able to exploit in gaining a living, creating cultures and in the trading/raiding/conquering formation of inter-cultural relationships and (unstable, if only in the long term) state-like entities among the "barbarians".

My major gripe is that it is so poorly edited, especially as the initial impact is of an expensively produced book. Most obviously, the Overview for Chapter Eleven (about the rise of Rome!) appears as part of the previous chapter. This slackness is apparent throughout the book. At first you feel the lack of a consistent timescale merely reflects the different chronologies of different zones of Europe, but it soon becomes clear that the repitition and backtracking is an editorial oversight. As are the inconsistencies (or even mistakes) in dates and the naming of geographical features. The maps take some careful reading, because of the use of closely toned colours, supposedly to differentiate areas. They often use different names from that used in the text (or perhaps the Dneper is a different river from the Dnieper, but one is named in the text and the other on the map). Most irritating is his use of a very recondite vocabulary, presumably derived from archaeological usage. With a smattering of Latin you probably (but I would hesitate to say usually) could make out what is meant. Without some Greek, you are sunk.
That said, it was still informative and enjoyable, refocusing (though really not enough) away from Classical/Historical accounts of the later part of this period. I notice some of the reviews are dismissive of the actual academic side of it. I find, given the editorial limitations and the scope for speculation, that it is very stimulating. Not sure aggressive young men on the look out for likely raiding success tells the whole story - Cunliff keeps coming back to this - but there is enough about trading, intermarriage, and cultural assimilation to balance that. Well worth reading
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on 21 April 2012
If you are interested in the topic, as I am, this book is a tour de force and is unlikely ever to be bettered. If the topic doesn't interest you or you are just starting to be interested in the subject, then you will find it hard going and you should look for something less all-encompassing.
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on 16 March 2009
Following his book 'Facing the Ocean', Cunliffe has written a masterful history of Europeans, and demonstrates how the geography of Europe was instrumental in our development. In his own words, "The complex interaction of human groups with their environment, and with each other." The breadth of the book is enormous, but he skilfully and easily leads the reader through each time zone. He tells us that without the 'gentle intervention' of his publisher, the book would have been very much longer. I for one, wish she hadn't intervened !
This is a book we have been waiting for for a long time. I hope it receives the acclaim it deserves, with not too much 'knocking' from those entrenched in previous interpretations.
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on 4 June 2012
This book is simply superb, a must-have. It explains our complex past in terms we can all understand, without ever being "dumbed down" or condescending.
Prof. Cunliffe's profound scholarly grasp enables him to treat all the material, all the data, all the theories with absolute familiarity...he is telling us a story that is so well known by him that we feel it becoming familiar to us too.
The illustrations are staggering, images of ancient artefacts that are profoundly affecting and humbling.The maps,too, are excellent..I knew little of the ancient past and was amazed at how old the European trade routes are.
My specific interests were Britain and Iberia..... this book delivered on those, certainly, but more than that, it widened my horizons far beyond.
Don't hesitate...buy this book!
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on 1 July 2010
This is the type of book that Archaeology has needed for a long long time.

It wears its scholastic depth lightly and it is very well written. Lots of contenious and challenging
stuff here but it has the firm underpinning of academic work to support it.

Ignore Wilmington's tired pseudo scholastic criticism ( if you cant work out how artefacts traded at sea ports make their way inland then...jeeeeez ) ....

Face it are you going to take a chance on purchasing this book on the basis of:
Cunliffe...President, Council for British Archaeology, menber of the Ancient Monuments Advisory Committee of English Heritage, since 1984, Member, Advisory Committee of The Discovery Programme (Ireland), since 1991, Governor, Museum of London
Fellow, Society of Antiquaries of London , Chair, Advisory Committee for the e-journal Internet Archaeology
Knighted on 17 June 2006, Chair of English Heritage in September 2008 and Chairman of The British Museum Friends or...some bloke on Amazon...?

Cracking book...dont have to agree with everything in it but its a superb bit of work.
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on 30 January 2010
This book is very readable and beautifully produced. It would be an excellent introduction to the pre-history of Europe for the general reader. However when it comes to the first millenium AD there is an enormous gap. If you look at the index, there are several entries for Islam but under Christianity - nothing. The point is not so much that the author ignores the birth of Christ, although many would think that bad enough, but this is the millenium when the Roman Church established a political and cultural domination of Europe which would have a profound influence on the next millenium. As a result we are left with a distorted view if history.
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on 24 November 2013
Lovely book ! Such a breadth of coverage and full of interesting and exciting hypothesis about the origins of our civilisation. Just buy it , - you'll see what I mean. Gosh, I wish there books like this when I was younger !
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