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The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  1,919 ratings  ·  298 reviews
Saints and spies, pirates and philosophers, artists and intellectuals: they all criss-crossed the grey North Sea in the so-called "dark ages," the years between the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of Europe's mastery over the oceans. Now the critically acclaimed Michael Pye reveals the cultural transformation sparked by those men and women: the ideas, technology ...more
Hardcover, 394 pages
Published April 15th 2015 by Pegasus Books (first published November 6th 2014)
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 ·  1,919 ratings  ·  298 reviews

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Rachel Wexelbaum
May 09, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, nonfiction
Entertaining read for medieval and Renaissance history buffs, but too many gaps in the narrative. The book did not meet the author's mission of showing Northern European influence on modernity, nor did it give a coherent history of early Northern Europe. Also, what the heck happened to the Vikings? The first two-three chapters addressed their exploits and contributions in great detail...then, in the next chapter, not a word. Scandinavia, somehow, became nations under single kings, and Norway bec ...more
Dec 12, 2014 rated it liked it
This is a rich book but nevertheless somewhat disappointing. The overarching ideas in the book, summarised in the final pages are highly relevant and very interesting, but they are hidden in a deluge of small facts, people and ideas. In one chapter fashion, money and monks are coming along. Some topics could have been left out (fashion) and others elaborated more upon (Hansen cities), I would have liked that better.
Frank Capria
Jun 16, 2015 rated it did not like it
Like many others I was very disappointed with this book. Aside from failing to convincingly prove his thesis, the writing is deadly. Pye states the obvious repeatedly just as that professor of history whose course you would have dropped after the first lecture if it was not required.

The gaps in the narrative leave the reader wondering if the Vikings actually did sail off the edge of the earth because they simply disappear.

I cannot recommend this book to anyone.
May 06, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
felt this book had potential but lost it's way and got bogged down ...more
Jul 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating book which offers a new and missing perspective on why things are the way they they are now. The best history books never lose sight of that connectionand Michael Pye consistently links his research to the present. The missing contribution he brings to light is the huge contribution made by the cultures of peoples who inhabited the edge of the map, the places marked on maps with fantastical drawings and warnings like 'Here Be Dragons'.

The Frisians, Vikings, Angles, Irish,
Jeffrey Howard
May 10, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history-european
If it weren't for the subject matter I would give this book a single star.

Pye begins with a promising premise and ultimately falls short of it, majorly. He attempts to tell the tale of Northern Europe where "identity became a matter of where you were and where you last came from, not some abstract notion of race; peoples were not separated sharply as they were by nineteenth-century frontiers, venturing out only to conquer or be conquered. Indeed, quite often they ventured out to change sides. I
Different regions of Europe have had power, from the Egyptians, the Greeks and Persians and Romans. But around 1000 years ago that focus of power moved from the Mediterranean area to the small shallow sea in between Britain and Europe, the North Sea.

The region had been conquered by the Romans 2000 years ago, but after they left it became a bit of a backwater. It changed as the people who lived on the shores came to master boat building, setting off on voyages far beyond the small limits of the N
J.L.   Sutton
Feb 02, 2016 rated it liked it
Michael Pye’s The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe grabs your attention right away, but unfortunately it lets go and leaves you to wander through interesting first-hand accounts that often don’t seem connected. Pye’s thesis, that the North Sea region deserves attention not just for its Viking history but for how its culture (trade, business practices, record-keeping etc.) transformed the rest of Europe doesn’t always hold up. Besides gaps in ...more
Nov 28, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history-medieval
My high hopes for this book were quickly dashed. A review that I read claimed Pye had written an integrated history of the North Sea, crossing national boundaries to show how the region fit together as a unit. As an English historian who knows little of other North Sea countries, that sounded amazing. In practice, however, Pye's work leaves much to be desired. His thesis is that the banks of the North Sea were responsible for the birth of modernity, spawning a number of ideas that have become in ...more
Apr 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Full of information

It's an informational book, without the literary zest that makes some non-fiction absorbing. Nonetheless, the information chosen and the chronology draws my interest, and makes it above merely informational. Although I didn't want to finish it at first, it drew me in.
Stefaan Van ryssen
May 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Enlightening and fresh view on the development of the UK, the low countries, Scandinavia and a bit further, Greenland, Iceland, the first norse or viking settlements in nowadays Canada etc.
Clear, well supported with arguments and references. Not for the academic historian but at an academic level for the lay and the interested.
I liked the parts on the Vikings most. These brave people have a bad reputation, but that cannot be deserved unless one disregards their incredible contributions to trade
Dec 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“The power of writing is as old as the runes, the early alphabet of the North Sea.”

"1 October 1240, a new moon rising huge and red: a sign of storms to come…There was dense mist. There were violent winds tearing down leaves and branches. The sea rose far above it usual level, the tide swept in and swept in again…'In the darkness of the night, Paris wrote, ‘the sea seemed to burn as if set on fire and waves joined with waves as in battle.’"

"This is the usual story: how nature makes life difficult
Eric Timar
Jan 02, 2016 rated it did not like it
The subject matter of this book really appealed to me, and I hate to sound like a dullard who wants his history books to be just "one damned fact after another," but for me this book was too much anecdote and not enough big picture overview. I think a good book like this needs both. ...more
Nikhil Shah
Feb 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"If you think in terms of the time it takes to get to places, then Bergen in Norway is closer [to Ipswich] than York in England... the coast of Jutland is closer, and better connected than an English Midlands city like Worcester... It was easy for Scandinavians to be in York, Frisians in Ipswich, Saxons in London, and the fact was so unremarkable that it is hardly recorded."

It is curious that UKIP's current strength lies mainly along the east coast of England. That a party whose main promise is
Charles J
Aug 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
“The Edge Of The World” is an ambitious book. Its subtitle is “A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe,” and its core thesis is that the cultural impact of the peoples bordering the North Sea has been ignored. I think that thesis is false—such cultural impact can be seen everywhere, from the current TV series “Vikings” to New York Times articles on rotting fish cuisine of the North Sea. And the book is more a series of cultural anecdotes grouped by topic than a fully ...more
Jul 13, 2018 rated it it was ok
For reasons stated in other reviews this book is a very weak narrative with rambling arguments and unclear timelines. I finished it nevertheless, it did not improve. I read the Dutch version which contains bad translations and errors. Overall a disappointment.
Jun 14, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I rather enjoyed this book, while some have stated that the writing can be a bit ponderous I didn't really find this but I am used to reading some quite dense texts so maybe that has an effect, this book will increase your knowledge of the early to late middle ages but it is probably advisable that you have a general knowledge of what was going on regarding religious and political matters otherwise you may find yourself a bit lost. ...more
Aug 23, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Disjointed and meandering. An extremely tedious read. Thematic topics are covered in each chapter, so there isn't really a chronological story. Even the thematic topics aren't covered properly. Just a whole bunch of little stories that doesn't actually tell you anything. The author doesn't really make his arguments properly and the reader is left guessing how the sometimes interesting stories relate to "How the North Sea Made Us Who We Are". A very disappointing book.

Addendum: My 89 year old gra
Oct 28, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I read about this book in an Economist review in 2014 - and unfortunately this disjointed account of the North Sea (read: the Netherlands) did not meet my expectations or, in my view, coherently address the thesis implied in its title. This is a classic example of an author missing the forest for the trees- Pye gets bogged down by local anecdotes that for him may fit into a larger narrative, but for a reader not familiar with the historical context provides nothing but a muddled and isolated, if ...more
Mickey Hoffman
Jul 14, 2015 rated it it was ok
I am very familiar with European history and I thought this book might focus on the Scandinavian regions more than most histories. Instead, the book covers most of Europe after the first few chapters. There was little new information here, but there are many, many, many strings of short examples that made my head spin. Most examples are only one sentence long and after encountering dozens of these, I lost interest; I felt like I was reading lists. There are some longer stories and some are inter ...more
Mar 19, 2018 rated it it was ok
The book, it seemed, was creating a negative impact in the reader. Culture, words and profit intermingled in the frothy waves and what remained washed up on the once barren shores of the North Sea. Naked to the elements was raw anger. An anger jostled about by boring chapters that had been buoyed by rave reviews. If the reader had been asked to copy this text like an ancient scribe, she would have written discreetly in the margins: “what dawdle be this?”
Mar 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A populist politician recently referred to 'the greatest civilisation the world has ever seen', proving just how much history matters.

Because history is brought down to us in such stories. Stories have continuing relevance for how we see ourselves and the world, and hence for how we think society should develop (or not).

Because of this impact it is essential that we do not limit ourselves to 'a single story', but explore those parts of history that the stories we grew up with, or that politician
Nov 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed this one. It helped that the areas it was filling in my knowledge were areas I knew the edges of and was fascinated by. I mean, I have been very curious about the Hansa, about the history of the Netherlands, about what the Vikings were really getting up to. (Curious, but not really very informed, and totally clueless about wider context. Now the author may be right, and the Dark Ages weren't entirely that dark in northern Europe, but it had hitherto been a dimly lit time in my awa ...more
Celia Yost
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was excellent and I strongly recommend to anyone with an interest in European history. Pye did the thing I'm pretty much always looking for in history books, which is to dig into a time and place and figure out how it *worked*. I appreciated that Pye made a point of mentioning when his primary sources were probably biased or being disingenuous, and also that he was explicit about the dangers of romanticizing this part of the world too much (Nazis)--it made me trust him as a historian much m ...more
Rachel Slocombe
Aug 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really interesting and easy to read look at how our past shaped our present. The fact each chapter wasn't strictly chronological but based on a particular theme stopped it becoming boring and kept it easy to follow. Also makes it easier to return and reread particular aspects.
I would have liked a better map. It was difficult to find anywhere on the one provided. The pointless plates in the middle would have been better replaced with some good maps.
Overall a good introduction to the history of th
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Michael Pye offers essays on Northern Europe, specifically the areas bordering the North Sea, in this collection. The time periods covered include the Medieval Period and Renaissance. Each essay covers a different aspect of culture although minimal overlap exists. A European genealogist recommended this book, and it is quite useful from the social history aspect for the region and times covered. I learned quite a bit about Medieval culture. I'm interested in reading more about Medieval Europe, a ...more
Sep 11, 2019 rated it liked it
This is a “Cultural history of the North Sea and the transformation of Europe” and offers chapters on every aspect of life in the period starting with the Viking raids and ending with the explorations in the 1500’s I particularly liked the chapter on the “the Overseeing of nature” and how the people by the sea changed the landscape permanently. The author could have been talking about our era
I gave this a 3 star because I was never sure what years or where he was referring to with his general cu
This book about the countries around the North Sea during the Middle Ages fell somewhat short of my expectations. It received a lot of attention and praise, but it failed to convince me. Maybe the scope of the book is juist too wide: as the author himself states, it is a book "that covers thousand years and hundred kingdoms". So you get to know something about the Vikings, something about the Irish monks and something about Flemish painters, but it's not more than bits and pieces. ...more
Feb 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Interesting history of the so-called "dark ages", which really weren't so dark in the European north. Lots of innovations and social development that generally gets ignored by historians. But there really was life before the Renaissance. ...more
Sep 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
An enjoyable and informative read.
If I've a quibble - I felt parts of this covered rather more than just the North Sea!
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Michael Pye writes for a living -- as novelist, journalist, historian and sometimes broadcaster. He is English by birth, but civilized by study in Italy and a newspaper apprenticeship in Scotland. For twenty years he commuted between New York and Europe as a political and cultural columnist for British newspapers. He now lives with his partner John Holm in a tiny village in the forests of rural Po ...more

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