The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean Paperback – Aug 7 2007
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The littoral lands of the Mediterranean Sea are Norwich's stage for surveying millennia of power politics. An experienced expositor (Paradise of Cities, 2003), Norwich is irresistibly readable in his emphasis on would-be empire builders to whom the Mediterranean offered both a tempting avenue for embarking on conquest and a dangerous seaway from which enemies would appear. Norwich purposely excludes, however, navigation and navies as well as physical geography from his narrative. He favors the dramas inherent in the succession of empires that have risen and fallen around the Mediterranean from antiquity to World War I. In particular, Norwich emphasizes the characters and motivations of rulers who have affected affairs and frames them in consistently pithy descriptions that are by turns empathic and caustic. Along with the opinion, Norwich, superbly erudite yet having a sense of popular taste, efficiently chronicles the major wars and results and occasionally argues for the importance of battles history has overlooked. A fine single-volume history suited to any collection. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“As a historian Lord Norwich knows what matters. As a writer he has a taste for beauty, a love of language and an enchanting wit.”
Top Customer Reviews
Unfortunately Norwich has chosen as the book's subtitle, 'A History of the Mediterranean', and if this is truly his aim, he falls short. It is a history of conflict in the Mediterranean, with politics and religion playing supporting roles, but with culture almost non-existent. On this slightly smaller but still enormous canvas, Norwich delivers a very richly detailed and coloured portrait.
His writing is clear and straightforward, with not infrequent sly asides or subtle humour. Given the different eras, civilizations, and languages covered, Norwich's expansive lexicon will have readers scrambling frequently for their dictionaries. (I read the book on an e-reader and found myself using its built-in services almost every page). To complicate matters further, many historically significant places are now either small villages or non-existent, or have had their names changed over time (think Constantinople to Istanbul, but hundreds of times over and on a smaller scale). The included maps and illustrations are helpful, but readers will still benefit from either some prior knowledge or some supplementary reference material.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
It is my hope that this book will be updated, edited, and researched more thoroughly in any future printing.
Why the two stars - several reasons:
(1) The book is written in such simplistic style and replete with almost laughable conclusions - see more on this below;
(3) Coverage of major historical events is often very cursory - for example, the story of Alexander the Great merits merely 4 paragraphs, or hardly more than a page (in a book of 600 pages)
(2) The book lacks analytical rigor and significant conclusions - on its face, the book is about the Mediterranean, however, Mr. Norwich offers no overarching observations of the role of that sea in propagation of knowledge, ideas, trade. Neither does the author offer any convincing discussion as to the continuity between the different civilizations that he tracks in his discourse and there are very few conclusions drawn as to why the Mediterranean, and not the Black Sea, for example, has played such a central role in the development of many major Western and Middle Eastern civilizations.
Who is this book suited for: A high school sophomore or junior interested in a general historical overview of Mediterranean civilizations. The book might also be useful for a general reader who has very little knowledge about Ancient Greece, Rome, Middle Eastern or Western European history. A serious reader of history is best advised to avoid this general treatise and look elsewhere for greater depth.
Lastly, just to give the reader an idea of the superficiality and generic nature of Mr. Norwich's exposition, I am offering a few examples:
(1) From Chapter III - Rome: The Republic: "The rise of Rome was due, more than anything else, to the character and qualities of the Romans themselves. They were a simple, straight-forward, law-abiding people with a strong sense of family values, willing to accept discipline when required to do so....".
(2) From Chapter IV - Rome: The Early Empire: "It is thus impossible to put a definite date to the establishment of the Roman Empire. It was a gradual process - but perhaps it was better that way."
(3)From Chapter IV - Rome: The Early Empire: "Together, these two decisions [adoption of Christianity and transfer of the imperial capital from Rome to Byzantium] and their consequences have given him [Emperor Constantine] a serious claim to be considered - excepting only Jesus Christ, the Prophet Mohammed and the Buddha - the most influential man who ever lived."
Well, this mediocrity of a book proved me wrong on both accounts.This is not a history of the Mediterranean.This is simply the bits and pieces of its history that Norwich is actually knowledgable about (medieval and early modern European history) with some indifferent references to the rest to fill in the gaps.To give you an example of his lack of proportion, the entire ancient history of the Mediterranean (including Egyptian,Phoenician,Greek,Carthaginian and the Roman republic) is passed by in forty (40!) pages.. less than those he uses just for the Napoleonic wars.The southern half of his subject (North Africa) barely gets fifteen pages from beginning to end.The book doesn't begin to pick up it's pace until we reach the High Middle Ages - and even then he doesn't really have anything new to say; whole paragraphs seem to have been lifted word for word, from his previous books (Byzantium trilogy especially).
In conclusion, if you are looking for a book covering the whole history of the Mediterranean this isn't it. Norwich is a fine writer and storyteller and everything....but just as long as he sticks with what he knows.....
I found it to be primarily focused on leaders and wars, with little insight into the real lives of people. Because of the focus on leaders, the names became (for me) hard to follow and confusing. Each section seems to become predictable- focusing on X leader who brings Y troops to Z land, and either wins/pillages or loses.
There are some interesting tidbits that are cited as part of the war stories, including details on post-war carnage, or of leaders who showed restraint. However, not near enough information on the lives of normal people that lived in the Med. region over the past few thousand years.