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Good Reads  History & Other Humanities  Environmental History

The Boundless Sea A Human History of the Oceans

By: David Abulafia(Author)
1082 pages, 32 plates with colour & b/w photos and colour & b/w illustrations; b/w maps
Publisher: Penguin Books
The Boundless Sea
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  • The Boundless Sea ISBN: 9780241956274 Paperback Oct 2020 Usually dispatched within 6 days
  • The Boundless Sea ISBN: 9781846145087 Hardback Oct 2019 Out of Print #247941
Selected version: £16.99
About this book Contents Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

From the beginning of history to the present, a sweep of the world's oceans and seas and how they have shaped the course of civilization.

From the author of the acclaimed The Great Sea, (named Book of the Year by The Economist), David Abulafia's new book guides readers along the world's greatest bodies of water to reveal their primary role in human history. The main protagonists are the three major oceans – the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Indian – which together comprise the majority of the earth's water and cover over half of its surface. Over time, as passage through them gradually extended and expanded, linking first islands and then continents, maritime networks developed, evolving from local exploration to lines of regional communication and commerce and eventually to major arteries. These waterways carried goods, plants, livestock, and of course people – free and enslaved – across vast expanses, transforming and ultimately linking irrevocably the economies and cultures of Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

Far more than merely another history of exploration, The Boundless Sea shows how maritime networks gradually formed a continuum of interaction and interconnection. Working chronologically, Abulafia moves from the earliest forays of peoples taking hand-hewn canoes into uncharted waters, to the routes taken daily by supertankers in the thousands. History on the grandest scale and scope, written with passion and precision, this is a project few could have undertaken. Abulafia, whom The Atlantic calls "superb writer with a gift for lucid compression and an eye for the telling detail," proves again why he ranks as one of the world's greatest storytellers.


1. Introduction
2. Ancient Migrations
3. Knowledge of the World in Antiquity
4. Expanding Horizons in the Early Middle Ages
5. Late Medieval Vigour
6. European Expansion
7. Competition between Empires
8. Early World Wars
9. The Era of the Suez Canal
10. Modern World Wars
11. The Late Twentieth Century
12. Conclusion

Customer Reviews


David Abulafia is Emeritus Professor of Mediterranean History at Cambridge University. He is the author of many books, including The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean.

By: David Abulafia(Author)
1082 pages, 32 plates with colour & b/w photos and colour & b/w illustrations; b/w maps
Publisher: Penguin Books
Media reviews

Spectator Books of the Year
The Times Books of the Year
Financial Times Books of the Year
Sunday Times Books of the Year

"David Abulafia's The Boundless Sea is a hugely ambitious masterpiece and quite rightly was the winner of this year's Wolfson prize for history. It is a mighty thassologasm and a triumphant successor to his wonderful history of the Mediterranean. Remarkably, it manages to stitch together and make accessible some diverse and often intractable bits of ocean history, and is an astonishingly accomplished work of both scholarly synthesis and fluent narrative history."
– William Dalrymple, The Spectator (Books of the Year 2020)

"David Abulafia takes us on an epic journey through the open (ocean) spaces of the earth, tracing interconnections that brought together people, religions, and civilizations [...] This is history on a grand scale that is destined to become a standard work, written with a vivid clarity that ranges from dodos to Aztec lords, Rapa Nui to cod fishers in Newfoundland waters. By any standard, this is a brilliant historical achievement that leaves one in awe of the author's intellectual breadth."
– Brian Fagan, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of Beyond the Blue Horizon: How the Earliest Mariner Unlocked the Secrets of the Oceans

"Were my caravel ever to be becalmed, lost in some hot oceanic doldrum, I would hope to have David Abulafia's grand book on hand, both to remind me of sailors who braved wilder and colder seas in centuries past, thereby linking continents and archipelagos and civilizations together – but also in the hope that just one of its vast multitude of pages might eventually catch the faint breath of a tropical breeze, and waft me up onto a shipping lane, and back onto my unwittingly abandoned course."
– Simon Winchester, author of Atlantic and Pacific, as well as The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World

"In its mixture of supreme storytelling, beautifully drawn characters, fearless scope and rigorous scholarship, it ranks with the very best of world histories. [...] From Morocco to Hawaii, Australia to the Persian Gulf, he delivers an intense and thrilling tour de force, filled with pirates, kings, scholars, monsters, conquerors, sailors, merchants, adventurers, slavers and slaves, taking us from the age of triremes and longships, hulks and cogs, dhows and junks, galleons and dreadnoughts, all the way up to the container ship."
– Simon Sebag-Montefiore, Daily Telegraph

"His grasp of the material is not so much encyclopaedic as breathtaking [...] this is a tour de force. Writing history on this scale is challenging and enormously impressive; the author deserves applause for a magisterial achievement."
– Peter Frankopan, Sunday Times

"The Boundless Sea is a work of immense scholarship, a forensic tribute to human enterprise. [...] After reading this book your horizons will be wonderfully expanded, and you'll be as eager as the Ancient Mariner to retell its stories [...] Abulafia's masterpiece has the potential to alter the way we understand the human story and our place within it."
– Horatio Clare, Spectator

"Nothing less than a history of humanity written from the perspective of the sea."
– Jerry Brotton, Financial Times

"The Boundless Sea reminds us brilliantly of once brand-new landfalls – times when endless oceans glittered with primordial possibilities."
– Derek Turner, Irish Times

"Feast on the magnificent bounty that Abulafia has to offer."
– Gerard DeGroot, The Times

"An unparalleled synthesis of human engagement with the oceans. It will be a benchmark –  or perhaps the Plimsoll line – against which all future histories of planet Ocean will be judged."
– David Armitage, Times Literary Supplement

"Readers interested in maritime history are blessed with this marvelous book from a scholar with a deft touch."
– John Grady, Naval Historical Foundation

"This far-reaching book probes the means, motives, and timelines of humanity as it crossed the oceans and subsequently brought interdependence between geographically distant nations. In doing so, the author offers a novel definition of globalization: the time when the humans made ambitious sea passages to the unknown, prompting the age of exploration and then charted routes across the planet's vast waters."
– Louis Norton, Sea History Magazine

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