The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean by David Abulafia


Let me first make it clear, I love a good historical book. A good historical book with a specific focus in mind, for example Peter Ackroyd's magnificent book on the history of London. This isn't one of them, it might be because I was reading it as a hardback rather than a paperback but it just didn't really grab me completely and utterly but in parts it was fascinating.

A history of humanity and it's growth within the Mediterranean is a hugely ambitious topic to write about. If this book had been about a specific period it would have worked but as an over-arching book it was just too cumbersome for me.

To give an idea, the first 230 odd pages go from 2200BC to 600AD. This is obviously the period that fascinates Prof. Abulafia but took me absolutely ages to get through and I'm sure I didn't understand all the various tribes and groups in this period. Whilst the period from 1830 to 2010 is dealt with in under 100 pages, an equal amount of time per period just doesn't happen and this was probably down to the editing. It just feels out of balance as a history.

However, in parts the book is intriguing in posing questions for what could have been, the total expulsion of  the Jewish people from Spain in 1492 for example, and the effect that had on the flowering of art and culture within the Ottoman Empire is explained beautifully and really made me wonder what just could have been in 15th Century Spain. Another fact that is not quite relevant to this review but I found very funny is that there were a group of Barbarians at the time of the Romans called the Alans who invaded Spain with the Vandals...I had great fun imagining conversations about being an Alan called Alan.

Anyway, that is slightly irrelevant, this book, whilst fascinating in parts and covering an immense history, had the one problem of reading to me like a variation on an academic theses. The sections within chapters were too long and regularly crammed too much in for a lay reader to get in a few reads. It might be easier to read in paperback or on an Ibook because the size of it as a hardback makes it very difficult to carry around.

It's a valiant attempt to cover an enormous period of history and succeeds in parts but just didn't really hold my attention for long - if you are feeling up for a challenge it's worth a go! I need to read some fiction quite urgently now, i've got historical overload!

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