Jacket for 'The Boundless Sea.  A Human History of the Oceans'


UK - Allen Lane

The Boundless Sea.  A Human History of the Oceans

By David Abulafia

Published Oct 2019



For most of human history, the seas and oceans have been the main means of long-distance trade and communication between peoples – for the spread of ideas and religion as well as commerce.  This tremendous book traces the history of human movement and interaction around and across the world’s greatest bodies of water, charting our relationship with the oceans from the time of the first voyagers to the present.

It begins with the earliest seafaring societies – the Polynesians of the Pacific, possessors of intuitive navigational skills long before the invention of the compass – and ends with the giant liners and container ships of today, which still conduct 90% of world trade by sea.

In between, David Abulafia follows merchants, explorers, pirates, cartographers and travellers in their quests for spices, gold, ivory, slaves, lands for settlement and knowledge of what lay beyond.  Breaking from Eurocentric approaches, his book emphasizes the roles of those from other continents who plied the seas.  It shows how traders set off from the coasts of Arabia and Africa to southern China and Japan, bringing together the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific and linking half the world through their voyages.  In the Atlantic, many peoples sought new lands across the ocean, from early Viking adventurers to Portugal’s powerful seaborne empire and successive Spanish, Dutch and British rulers of the waves.

In an extraordinary narrative of humanity and the oceans, Abulafia shows how maritime networks grew form many separate localities to form a continuum of interconnection across the globe.

This is history of the grandest scale, and from a  bracingly different perspective – not, as in most global histories, from the land, but from the boundless seas.

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