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The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean

3.86  ·  Rating Details ·  1,073 Ratings  ·  113 Reviews
Connecting Europe, Asia, and Africa, the Mediterranean Sea has been for millennia the place where religions, economies, and political systems met, clashed, influenced and absorbed one another. In this brilliant and expansive book, David Abulafia offers a fresh perspective by focusing on the sea itself: its practical importance for transport and sustenance; its dynamic role ...more
Hardcover, 783 pages
Published October 13th 2011 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published May 17th 2011)
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(showing 1-30)
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Jun 26, 2012 Marks54 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a "human" history of the Mediterranean Sea, from over 10,000 years ago to 2010. I saw that this had received a favorable review in the Economist so I got a copy, but was hesitant to plunge in - it is a rather long volume. I started it last Friday and could not put it down! It tells a coherent and entertaining story of five different seas that seems on target, provides a believable overall narrative, and yet includes all sorts of tidbits about people, places, and odd facts that makes book ...more
Dec 25, 2012 Rindis rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
After reading Norwich's A History of Venice, I looked at his other books, and saw one on the Mediterranean that looked interesting. However, most of the reviews for it said it was okay, but Abulafia's The Great Sea was much better, so I put that on my wishlist instead, and got it for Christmas.

It's a large, expansive, book, covering from prehistory to the current day (2010). Abulafia purposefully tries to limit the scope of his book by sticking to subjects that impinge directly on the Mediterran
Good grief finally done. This really, really long. I was desperately checking how many pages I had left already by page 600 or so.

It's not entirely terrible - theres lots of interesting episodes, anecdotes and details that are fun. Ocassionally, theres even a whole few pages of coherent information about something that I actually understand - technology, language, trade, physical conditions of slaves, etc. This is actual stuff about actual stuff, and I find it interesting.

The problem is that i
Superb, superb, superb. A keeper for the rest of my life, a book I will dip in and out of, I am certain, many many times (have now read cover-to-cover twice) before I lay aside. I am an Asia historian but one can not escape the importance of Mediterranean Europe upon Asian history and culture, hence the value of this work that systematically goes into each of the great ages of the Mediterranean, its peoples, its cultures, its wars, its injustices, its epidemics, its destinies.

This is not to say
Mar 14, 2013 John rated it really liked it
I found "The Great Sea" to be an extremely enjoyable and informative book. The goal of the author, a professor at the University of Cambridge, is to trace the history of the Mediterranean Sea in terms of its periodic rises, declines, and re-organizations as "a single commercial, cultural and even (under the Romans) political zone." Specifically, David Abulafia divides the history of the Mediterranean into five periods: prehistoric, classical, medieval, great powers, and modern. The author's inte ...more
Josh Hamacher
Sep 30, 2011 Josh Hamacher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This massive tome details the history of the Mediterranean sea, starting with the first known inhabitants and going right up to 2010. Given the length of the book and the scope of the subject it's remarkably readable. Abulafia has an impressive ability to turn what could be a dry account of facts into a page-turner (at least by the standards of history books).

The focus is on larger societal trends and changes, the interactions between the peoples, cities, and nations surrounding the Mediterranea
James Kane
Jun 01, 2012 James Kane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Professor David Abulafia, one of the most respected and established historians of the Mediterranean world in the Middle Ages, concludes this hefty volume with the claim that "[the Mediterranean Sea] has played a role in the history of human civilization that has far surpassed any other expanse of sea". Although historians of other "expanses of sea" would no doubt vociferously defend the claims of their own subject in this respect (historians have a tendency to be territorial about such things), ...more
Aug 06, 2012 Øivind rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: not-finished
The first 80 pages has been a chore to read. There's just a lot of archeological speculation, no sense of narrative at all. Everything the author writes is probably academically sound, but it's incredibly dull reading. I could of course go on in the hope that it will improve. The book might be more entertaining in later periods when it is based on written history rather than archeology, but I have lost confidence in the authors ability to entertain ,and life is just too short to force myself thr ...more
Jul 05, 2012 Jared rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very impressive in its breadth, and surprisingly engaging for such a long book. He, like anyone else studying a topic as broad and deep as the Mediterranean, acknowledges his deep debt to Braudel. Nonetheless, Abulafia seeks to dismantle Braudel's longue durée view of the Mediterranean as relatively stable with a view of the societies surrounding the sea as constantly changing, divided broadly into five different "Mediterraneans" over time. I think he is largely successful in his task; at the ve ...more
Aristotle Tziampiris
A massive study but at the same time a joy to read. Learned something new almost on every page. Deserves to become the standard textbook on this topic. Attempts to guts Braudel's thesis and comes close to achieving it. very fair mind on everything that has to so with a Greece and the Greeks.
Dvd (buonanotte popolo)
Monumentale monografie a voci plurime (che è valsa il quarto di centone sborsato - va da sé che ormai qualunque novità editoriale scritta dal primo pisquano che passa a meno di 18 € non la vendono nemmeno alla bancarella, e spendere 25 € per un VERO libro come questo non è dopotutto un gran sforzo paragonato a cotante porcherie che occludono e sopraffanno interi scaffali librari in tutto l'Occidente).
Al di là di quest'ampia - e inutile - premessa, confermo che questo saggione che, in scioltezza,
Oct 07, 2011 Bonnie_blu rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This is a magnificently written, remarkable, view changing book. It is impossible to write a thorough review of this 600+ page book (not to mention the over 100 pages of notes/references) that covers the history of the Mediterranean Sea from before written history to the present day. However, let me say that Abulafia does an absolutely astounding job of relating this history without pre-conceived notions or prejudice. The book is highly readable and an eye-opening joy. Simply by reporting on the ...more
I have enough books waiting to be read that it is really going to have to seem remarkable for me to read a 600+ book. This one failed for a number of reasons. I found his explanation of why he insisted on using BC and AD weak. He clearly just prefers that usage. But that was minor. What really ended the book for me was the following:
After explaining that he wasn't going to include Ancient Egypt because they really weren't interested in the outside world, including the Mediterranean, he then proc
Javier Fernandez
Aug 18, 2016 Javier Fernandez rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Antes de hablar de él: no lo he leído entero. Solamente quería ver la parte de historia antigua, aunque he acabado llegando hasta Lepanto. Vamos, que a pesar de ser un libro de historia al final engancha y todo.

Lo mejor: un 25% del libro es bibliografía. Sea cual sea la parte que más te interese, puede tirar del hilo y tener lecturas para una vida y media.

Éso sí, es una historia de miles de años, por lo que está claro que no es un libro para profundizar, y es una historia del Mediterráneo, por
Jo Walton
This had a useful and unusual perspective on European history, and it did surprisingly well with dealing with huge swathes of time and technology and cultures. It did pretty well with the bits I was familiar with, which gave me confidence for the bits I was not familiar with. I think this is a book it would do most people good to read, because it fits things together and gives perspective -- really, in a book that covers three thousand years and the entire Mediterranean there are going to be bit ...more
Jan 16, 2014 Fiona rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'll never actually finish this book. I must have had it for a couple of years now. It's another that I'll always have on my bookshelf to dip into when I want to look something up or read about a particular place or period. It's a bit too dense for my taste but an excellent resource.
Dec 17, 2016 nick rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
At some point I will have to accept that in most cases long periods of time as a focus for historical analysis (as well as micro studies) are not my cup of tea. It is inevitable, if you focus on thousands of years and a huge area you have to speed it up or end up with a book of thousands of pages. So in that sense I acknowledge that the author had to glimpse over certain aspects. However that does not quite cover my issues.

The main issue for me, is that it is not that memorable, only at the ver
My three-star rating isn't strictly fair to the content of The Great Sea, which is very good, but rather with the difficulty I had in reading it. It took me two weeks because I would repeatedly lose focus and have my mind wander only to realize that I'd been reading and rereading the same section multiple times without ever really taking it in, and I'd either switch what I was reading or give up. Maybe it's because of the book's format. It's simultaneously dense and choppy--full of citations and ...more
Jeff Tardiff
Feb 03, 2017 Jeff Tardiff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
More than an amazing collection of Historical facts and information about the ancient Mediterranean, this is a brilliant bit of editing. The Author has an inimitable style the blends relevant information with a fascinating narrative.

This book never flags, it never meanders, it's just a steady flow of information in context. It's comprehensive without being list like.

Because modern History needs context, -this work stands out to me as probably the premiere compendium of everything worth knowing a
I just can't go on with this one. This is the first book ever that I am not going to finish. I love non-fiction/history, but I CANNOT get into this one. It is too boring. Very informative, but it is not keeping my interest. Maybe I'll go back to it one of these days, but I have way too many other books to read.
Piet Michael
Jan 02, 2017 Piet Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Ein fantastisches Buch, großartig geschrieben im Bezug auf die wissenschaftlichen Fakten und Qualitäten, wie auch den literarischen Stil: Man fühlt sich ständig, in jeder Epoche, vom Mittelmeer umgeben! Ein Muss für alle Interessierten an Globalgeschichte.
Richard Smith
A book of half the length would be twice as good. Nevertheless, I made it to the end and even wrote a blog about it:
Fred Gorrell
Jul 25, 2011 Fred Gorrell rated it it was ok
This is a book that could be a valuable reference resource to someone working on a college research project. It covers the history of the Mediterranean from the first recorded instances of human travel through modern times, in exhaustive detail. The author, a Cambridge professor, references diligently; that section at the back of this book is longer than many published works. Great pains are taken to avoid drifting from the subject at hand -- the Sea, those who traveled on it, and the ports at i ...more
Anthony Panegyres
Oct 02, 2016 Anthony Panegyres rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
David Abulafia's history is epic in both design and scope. It's an incredible achievement, exploring the Mediterranean from as far back as 22000BC right through to the present day. I don't think Abulafia has the narrative touch nor the understanding of some aspects of the Levant that Phillip Mansel does. Abulafia does, however, have a phenomenal knowledge of Jewish history - and the many successes and tragedies that history entails.

I also had the feeling at times that Abulafia believes in race
Jennifer (JC-S)
Sep 10, 2011 Jennifer (JC-S) rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: librarybooks
‘For over three thousand years, the Mediterranean Sea has been one of the great centres of world civilisation.’

This book, the cover tells me, ‘is the first complete history of the Mediterranean from the erection of the mysterious temples on Malta around 3500 BC to the recent invention of the Mediterranean’s shores as a tourist destination’. I was immediately fascinated: how does a history of a sea read? People interact with the sea in a number of ways, but they don’t live on it. What facts becom
Loring Wirbel
Nov 24, 2011 Loring Wirbel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Capturing a new and unique slice of history in an uncommon analysis is a legitimate task in its own right, and Abulafia has done a worthy job of skipping over 25,000 years of humans in the Mediterranean, in a work condensed to 650 pages. His result is readable and intriguing enough to almost warrant five stars for the book, though there are a few problems that may be inherent in an ambition this large. His decision to segregate the historical periods into five discrete Mediterraneans makes sens ...more
Jack Hrkach
Abulafia's very well organized, researched and clearly written account of the Mediterranean from prehistoric times (the first endnote I saw was on a book about that the sea in that period by a D Trump...hmmmm...David fortunately, not the Donald!) to the tourist boom of the late 20th century is the perfect antidote to a book I read very recently, The Edge of the World, about the North Sea and its effect on Europe. In that book the author started fairly strong on the sea but after chapter two I be ...more
Apr 03, 2016 Raymond rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Abulafia divides the history of the Mediterranean into several phases wherein political, cultural and commercial links tied the societies around its rim into its own distinct sphere, and he relates how these links were periodically broken and reforged. For millennia this dynamic made the Mediterranean into the main hub of human activity in western Eurasia, drawing in the major players of each respective period who wished to control and profit from its trade network. With the discovery of America ...more
Marea cea mare. O istorie umană a Mediteranei, de David Abulafia. O carte-expediţie

Marea cea mare. O istorie umană a Mediteranei este o istorie care impresionează ca amploare şi care se ocupă de viaţa popoarelor care au trăit, s-au războit sau au intrat în relaţii de comerţ şi schimb în jurul Mării Mediterane. De la navigatorii greci și fenicieni, istoricul avansează către episoade cu cruciaţi şi navigatori temerari, cu bătălii decisive, cu negocieri „murdare“ cu piraţii sau cu expediţii navale
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David Samuel Harvard Abulafia is a British historian with a particular interest in Italy, Spain and the rest of the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
His published works include Frederick II, The Mediterranean in History, Italy in the central Middle Ages, The Discovery of Mankind: Atlantic encounters in the age of Columbus and The Great Sea: a human history of the Mediterranean
More about David Abulafia...

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