The Great Sea – A Human History of the Mediterranean

By David Abulafia. Plenty of reviews at the link.

Today I’ve read the introduction as well as part one (of five). For now I’ll note that I find the book interesting. I’m reasonably familiar with some of the main stuff covered in the first half of the book (the history of the Mediterranean region from ~22.000 BCE up to around ~1000 CE), so most of the stuff I’ve read so far is not completely new stuff to me. I’m kinda glad I read Heather before I read this; not only do I expect this book to cover some of the same things Heather does, from a different angle, but it’s also clearly been the case for me that being familiar with the conceptual framework for analyzing migration patterns and development advanced in Empires and Barbarians made some of the comments in Abulafia’s treatment of the Bronze Age collapse and the start of the Greek Dark Ages much easier to appreciate and contextualize.

It’s too early for me to recommend the book but I like it so far. The stuff on Troy was quite interesting. There aren’t a lot of illustrations included, so if you’re very curious to know how the Troy VII ruins look like (or whatever) there are better books out there for you (reading the relevant chapters in that book would probably also help you get more out of Abulafia, but we all need to start somewhere..). However like Robin Lane Fox’ The Classical World, the book does succeed to some extent to ‘make the history described come alive’ by employing some illustrative narratives – even though it’s so far been more ‘big-picture-like’ than Fox. For example, the book spends a few pages describing the travels of an Egyptian emissary, Wenamun. Related to that story a minor point of criticism on my part (very minor, as in ‘nitpicking territory’) would be that although Abulafia does write that “the whole tale has the flavour of a series of excuses for a mission that ended in failure”, he doesn’t explicitly say that it is a work of fiction or that people in the field seem to think that it is – it is “a view now generally accepted by most professionals working on the text“.


October 16, 2012 - Posted by | Books, Geography, History

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