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Facing the Ocean: The Atlantic and Its Peoples 8000 BC-AD 1500 Hardcover – June 28, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0199240197 ISBN-10: 0199240191
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Editorial Reviews


"An eagle-eye view of unique clarity from an impassioned observer with a discerning mind.... It delivers history from a fresh perspective, encompassing a region rarely glimpsed as a whole."--The Economist

"Lavishly illustrated...a beautiful book...Cunliffe is to be complimented because he has stepped beyond the yearning for Celtic myths to use contemporary archaeology to tell a great story of human endeavour."--Richard Hodges, History Today

About the Author

Barry Cunliffe is Professor of European Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, Oxford University. He is the author of numerous books on prehistory, including The Ancient Celts and The Oxford Illustrated Prehistory of Europe.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (June 28, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199240191
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199240197
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.5 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #483,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Atheen on October 31, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Facing the Ocean is a very good summary of European history from the perspective of coastal societies. Professor Cunliffe covers a very long period of history, from 8000 BC to 1500 AD, in about 500 pages. Although slow in some parts-I nodded out a few times during discussions of specific trade items-it was none-the-less a well assembled volume of information.
Although I `ve studied the history of the area on a number of occasions for classes and in personal reading, I was surprised at how well the varied information was pulled into a more coherent whole by simply looking at the experiences of coastal populations. To a large extent these groups were marginal to the events of the major centers of civilization, isolated by distance and by geographical barriers from them. I've found in other cases, too, that it is often from the perspective of the peripheral cultures that more sense is made of global history. Although most historians treat these areas as cultural backwaters waiting to be "enlightened" by the more technologically advanced, in fact they had vigorous and creative cultures of their own that provided the central players with raw materials and a strong market for finished goods. The ebb and flow of trade and of people and the changes in the fortunes of the various participants of the central arena create a much richer historical texture than is usually portrayed, and makes more sense of some of the events of world history. For instance the author's statement that the decline in productivity and birth rate in the Mediterranean world coupled with the denser population of the Germanic tribes north of the Rhine created a "fracture" zone, was very prescient. Taken out of global context, the fall of Rome seems to be a simple matter of internal decay, which to some extent it was.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Paul R. Thomas on April 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Barry Cunliffe ties together a comprehensive and detailed chronological description of the archaeological record for the Atlantic coastal areas of present day Spain, Portugal, France, England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland with a superb discussion of geography to provide a 9,500 year historical overview of these areas as an integrated cultural milieu whose evolution had more in common with each other than with inland areas or the rest of Europe.
The book is beautifully displayed with numerous and extraordinary photos, maps and illustrations that greatly aid in understanding the textual discussion. But well beyond just describing archaeological material, the author places this material in its geographical and historical context and then explains what this spatial and chronological record has to say, or may have to say, concerning the evolution of the regions' material and social cultures. Along the way, he weaves together a fascinating historical narrative and ties this to the archaeological record.
The book is beautiful to look at, well written, professionally comprehensive, and with a unique perspective on historical development. Yes, there are some editing errors and arguably some factual errors but to my knowledge they are few, insignificant and in no way detract from the quality of this book. My personal opinion is that the greatest strength of the book lies in its treatment of geography as a unifying, connecting or separating force as revealed in the archaeological record and this alone strongly recommends its reading.
If you wish, read it for its historical overview of trade, migration, development and warfare, its up to date and comprehensive discussion of the archaeological record, or simply to discover more places to visit (I have) from studying the maps and photos.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on April 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
There are historians who still contend the history of the Atlantic began in 1492 with Columbus' crossing. Barry Cunliffe gently unravels such "Christo-centrism" with a sweeping history of the Atlantic littoral peoples and their activities. Using a wealth of archaeological and geological evidence, he traces cultural and likely trade patterns to build a picture of dynamic societies. Unlike the accounts of conquisidor Spain or a globally imperial Britain, Cunliffe focuses on community life, active commerce and cultural exchange. With a descriptive challenge covering nearly ten millenia, florid prose would be an unnecessary luxury. The reading is anything but dry, however. Cunliffe doesn't delve into much ambitious speculation, but he's careful to apply "highly debateable" to issues not clearly resolveable. He combines evidence and logic in building his few speculations. The resulting picture is informed and informative.
Cunliffe begins with the physical structure and changes the Atlantic area underwent after the glacial retreat. As the ice melted, of course, the seas rose. The lost weight of the ice allowed the landforms to "rebound", a process still underway. The result is a lack of uniformity in sea level change and coastal forms. Rivers that once were self-cleansing slowed and silted estuaries and harbours as the land elevated. He provides several maps indicating old and new shorelines to depict the various shifting of shorelines and port locations. These maps and those showing grave sites, settlements, mines and artefact types enhance the worth of this book beyond cavil.
Throughout this account, the Morbihan coast and the Armorican residents remain the pivotal area of activity.
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