18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
A view from the boat,
This review is from: The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World (Hardcover)
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Most world histories are centered on the movements of armies, the building of cities, the taming of the land. The sea is at best an incidental part of all that. A few noteworthy events may stick in the reader's mind--the battles of Midway, Trafalgar and the loss of the Spanish Armada--but most of the course of history is land-based. Lincoln Paine changes the vantage point. Traffic on seas, lakes and rivers has equally as much to do with the spread of human civilization. This densely-packed volume begins roughly in the Old Kingdom of Egypt and brings us all the way to the present day.
I was about a hundred pages in when it dawned on me that this is really a textbook--whatever the author's intentions might be. It's a compendium of dates, kings and ship architectures. It wants to be read with a notepad on the side and a highlighter in hand; discussions to follow. The style tends toward the dry: it's impossible to do a quick read-through and then circle back for detail. Comparisons with a truly great naval writer (Samuel Eliot Morison) are not favorable in that regard. I would love to see a reduced version of this book with a more general audience in mind. As fascinating as this material is, it's really hard to stay with it. Reading and absorbing is a commitment of many weeks.
So let's consider this as a textbook. As such it's excellent. I can't imagine any serious naval officer not spending a semester with it. It could still benefit from a greater sense of concurrency, since many of the activities happen simultaneously. For example, the last centuries of Ptolemaic Egypt are concurrent with the expansion of river traffic in China. Both economies grew from navigable rivers. I'd love to have seen comparison and contrast. At the very least, a graphic timeline would be quite a plus.
I'm not sure that this is a book for the general reader in history. The material is fascinating, but a little too dense for a quick chapter before bedtime. It's an important topic nonetheless. I'd love to see it spawn a summary volume.