The Great Sea

  • by David Abulafia
  • Narrated by Jason Culp
  • 29 hrs and 29 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Situated at the intersection of Europe, Asia, and Africa, the Mediterranean Sea has been for millenia the place where religions, economies, and political systems met, clashed, influenced, and absorbed one another. David Abulafia offers a fresh perspective by focusing on the sea itself: its practical importance for transport and sustenance; its dynamic role in the rise and fall of empires; and the remarkable cast of characters - sailors, merchants, migrants, pirates, pilgrims - who have crossed and recrossed it.
Ranging from prehistory to the 21st century, The Great Sea is above all the history of human interaction across a region that has brought together many of the great civilizations of antiquity as well as the rival empires of medieval and modern times.
Interweaving major political and naval developments with the ebb and flow of trade, Abulafia explores how commercial competition in the Mediterranean created both rivalries and partnerships, with merchants acting as intermediaries between cultures, trading goods that were as exotic on one side of the sea as they were commonplace on the other. He stresses the remarkable ability of Mediterranean cultures to uphold the civilizing ideal of convivencia, "living together", exemplified in medieval Spain, where Christian theologians studied Arabic texts with the help of Jewish and Muslim scholars, and traceable throughout the history of the region.
Brilliantly written and sweeping in its scope, The Great Sea is itself as varied and inclusive as the region it describes, covering everything from the Trojan War, the history of piracy, and the great naval battles between Carthage and Rome to the Jewish Diaspora into Hellenistic worlds, the rise of Islam, the Grand Tours of the 19th century, and mass tourism of the 20th. It is, in short, a magnum opus, the definitive account of perhaps the most vibrant theater of human interaction in history.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Impressive and Accessible History

This is a great historic panorama of the Mediterranean. It is meticulously researched and cogently presented. As with any work that encompasses 7,000 years, it is in some ways an overview and introduction. At the same time, it provides valuable details into, and insightful analysis of, all historic periods. I therefore disagree with the earlier reviewer in that the book does tell a story, and there are themes. First among these is the cross-cultural mixing that has occurred ever since humans started to cross the sea.
Abulafia sees the nationalism and ethnic cleansing that has occurred since the end of WWI as a terrible break from that tradition. Yet he describes earlier pogroms and deportations, all of which had terrible human costs, but none of which could long prevent such mixing. I would argue that one could evaluate ethnic cleansing as a similar horrible reaction to the persistence of cultural mixing. In that vein, Abulafia also describes how tourism serves to continue such interaction across cultures in the present.
I think Abulafia therefore overstates his disagreements with Braudel. While political history is critical, he describes throughout the book how political decisions were limited by the geography and environments of the Mediterranean and its bordering regions. To me, this exemplifies Braudel’s argument that political history can exist only within the physical, environmental and economic worlds within which it takes place.
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- Roger

Encylcopedic writing style

Would you try another book from David Abulafia and/or Jason Culp?

This book would be a great reference for anything to do with the Mediterranean. But there is absolutely no narrative in a book that is guided by covering the wide diversity of everything that involved the Mediterranean but only the Mediterranean. So for example, how various actors from the Franks to the Russians ended up being major players in their time on the Mediterranean is not addressed, just the fact that suddenly they are on the Mediterranean stage. But once "off stage," they're no longer visible to the author so their story is discontinued. I did also catch one error stating that Richard the Lionhearted went to Sicily to settle a dispute over the dowry of his betrothed. But the dispute concerned his sister, Joan. (So speaks the English history aficionado, particularly fond of the Plantagenet kings and queens, having read many non-fiction and fiction books on the this subject. Who doesn't love "The Lion in Winter" and "Becket"?) Maybe this was just a minor error, but made me wonder what else could be wrong in such a long book that sorely needed an editor. I have read many many books on history, as history is my favorite subject. I would say that though I plowed through this one to learn what I could, it is one of the most poorly written books of history I have read in my now four decades of reading.I give it 3 stars for depth of material, but the lack of a narrative and encyclopedic approach prevents it from a higher rating.


What about Jason Culp’s performance did you like?

Yes - good speaking voice.


If this book were a movie would you go see it?

no way this could be a movie!


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- traveler

Book Details

  • Release Date: 06-05-2012
  • Publisher: Audible Studios