Situated at the intersection of Europe, Asia, and Africa, the Mediterranean Sea has been for millenia the place where religions, economies, and political systems met, clashed, influenced, and absorbed one another. David Abulafia offers a fresh perspective by focusing on the sea itself: its practical importance for transport and sustenance; its dynamic role in the rise and fall of empires; and the remarkable cast of characters - sailors, merchants, migrants, pirates, pilgrims - who have crossed and recrossed it.
Ranging from prehistory to the 21st century, The Great Sea is above all the history of human interaction across a region that has brought together many of the great civilizations of antiquity as well as the rival empires of medieval and modern times.
Interweaving major political and naval developments with the ebb and flow of trade, Abulafia explores how commercial competition in the Mediterranean created both rivalries and partnerships, with merchants acting as intermediaries between cultures, trading goods that were as exotic on one side of the sea as they were commonplace on the other. He stresses the remarkable ability of Mediterranean cultures to uphold the civilizing ideal of convivencia, "living together", exemplified in medieval Spain, where Christian theologians studied Arabic texts with the help of Jewish and Muslim scholars, and traceable throughout the history of the region.
Brilliantly written and sweeping in its scope, The Great Sea is itself as varied and inclusive as the region it describes, covering everything from the Trojan War, the history of piracy, and the great naval battles between Carthage and Rome to the Jewish Diaspora into Hellenistic worlds, the rise of Islam, the Grand Tours of the 19th century, and mass tourism of the 20th. It is, in short, a magnum opus, the definitive account of perhaps the most vibrant theater of human interaction in history.
©2011 David Abulafia (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
This is a great historic panorama of the Mediterranean. It is meticulously researched and cogently presented. As with any work that encompasses 7,000 years, it is in some ways an overview and introduction. At the same time, it provides valuable details into, and insightful analysis of, all historic periods. I therefore disagree with the earlier reviewer in that the book does tell a story, and there are themes. First among these is the cross-cultural mixing that has occurred ever since humans started to cross the sea.
Abulafia sees the nationalism and ethnic cleansing that has occurred since the end of WWI as a terrible break from that tradition. Yet he describes earlier pogroms and deportations, all of which had terrible human costs, but none of which could long prevent such mixing. I would argue that one could evaluate ethnic cleansing as a similar horrible reaction to the persistence of cultural mixing. In that vein, Abulafia also describes how tourism serves to continue such interaction across cultures in the present.
I think Abulafia therefore overstates his disagreements with Braudel. While political history is critical, he describes throughout the book how political decisions were limited by the geography and environments of the Mediterranean and its bordering regions. To me, this exemplifies Braudel’s argument that political history can exist only within the physical, environmental and economic worlds within which it takes place.
I did not enjoy this book. It was like reading the dictionary. It covers history of Mediterranean for the last 4000 years.
I was able to put the facts in context because I had already read Durant, Gibbon and Plutarch. I would recommend you rad some of these before attempting this book. Also have a book of historical maps at hand to refer to. This will help you keep place names straight.
No story is included to hold the attention (this is important for an audio book). A biography has a story and works as an audio book. However, I was able to to get many interesting facts from the experience when I was able to force my mind back to the audio stream.
This audio book does not work, but it is not the reader's fault. The text itself is the problem.
This book was just hard for me to follow on audio with my limited knowledge of the Mediterranean and no ability to reference a map while I listened. I listen to my books while I drive and would be very interested in reading the print version of this book with the reference maps on hand.
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