This is a stunning work of scholarship, and for me a feast of reading enjoyment and of learning. Covering the whole span of human history, and all the main seas and oceans of the world, this book covers the maritime history of humanity across 65,000 years of time, from the Polynesians who traveled the Pacific to the massive container ports of Hong Kong which now handle 300 million tons of goods each year
In this massive book we learn about the lives and worlds of the people who have travelled the oceans - the migrants, explorers, raiders, traders, pirates, slavers, colonisers and slaves. The book does, of course, touch on discoveries on land and on the archaeological and linguistic evidence which helps to trace the movement of peoples around the world, but this is primarily a book concentrated on the history of people and the sea.
Despite the size of this book - over 900 pages of fairly small typeface in my copy- and the almost incredible scholarship involved in the authoring of such a work, I found it to be both fascinating and enjoyable reading. I hope i can remember even a little of what i have learned in having this book as a near constant companion over the past few weeks.
It seems hard to imagine that a more comprehensive, more enjoyable history of people and the sea could ever be written
Like Professor Abulafia's previous "The Great Sea', on the Mediterranean, this book is a human history of the oceans. It is a remarkable work: over 900 pages of scholarly, informative and entertaining narrative, with ample references for anyone wanting further study on the subject. The one omitted is the Antarctic, as it has no human history (apart from scientific research). Beginning with the Pacific, the largest ocean, he traces the history of this diverse world of atolls, coral reefs and volcanic islands, with its navigators and their settlements. Archeology provides the earliest clues. Then we move to the Indian Ocean and its coastal settlements, ancient civilisations, and written sources, and trade from Japan and China across the China Sea and Indian Ocean. Then the Atlantic, from 22,000 BC to AD 1500, including several chapters on the Norse seafarers - Vikings and others - which brings us to the islands including the Orkneys, the Hebrides, and Ireland. He includes the coasts of France, Portugal and Spain - with their megalithic cities, as well as Iceland and Greenland. He furnishes all these with stories and characters which enliven the study. Taking the story further we meet the European explorers and traders, as trade is a strong motive for travel. So we follow Portuguese, Dutch and British seafarers into the Far East. In the course of this he draws on history, conflicts, and competition. Later the oceans are joined - by way of the Panama and Suez Canals - and ships transformed, until we get cruise liners and container shipping. All the time we learn much about travel, trade and interconnections. This is an excellent book which could be followed up with much more reading into this fascinating and very wide subject.
I got a review copy of this so I can't review the index or photos etc.
This is a fascinating and well written book. It is very scholarly with a huge number of notes but it also very readable. In a way the author is like an academic Bill Bryson. I'm mot an expert on oceans or navel history for example but this kept my interest throughout. As it is such a huge topic there is plenty left out so some people might want to read far more about sea battles or more technical information about ships, For me it contained just the right amount of detail and with the references you are directed to a huge amount of books and other sources.
Following on from his "The Great Sea" which covered his speciality of the Mediterranean, David Abulafia has expanded his horizons with his new book to cover all the world's seas and oceans. Described as a "human history" of the seas, it is truly grand in its scope in space, in time, and in subject matter, which while mainly considering trade and migration also peers along the way into many other areas - archaeology, language, literature, culture, religion and so on.
In whatever he covers, Abulafia writes knowedgably and readably, displaying great scholarship; this is the fruit of what must have been countless hours of research to bring 65,000 years of human history around the globe into a cohrent and comprehensive narrative in a single volume.