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The Middle Sea: A History of the…
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The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean (2006)

by John Julius Norwich

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To my mind the most readable historian ( )
  MargaSE | Mar 16, 2010 |
Succinct, entertaining, enjoyable - history for those who want to find out a bit and then choose where they want to go from there. Fascinating read - doesn't dwell too heavily on a particular period, but still manages to pull together a cohesive narrative and include the salient points.
This is the type of history book that will tweak your interest, not bore you rigid and the informal writing style is a joy - I actually laughed out loud on a couple of occasions!
For anyone who just wants an 'overview' - this is your book. For those who want in-depth it would be better to look elsewhere. ( )
  Welshlily | Oct 3, 2009 |
This book is bad on so many different levels, many of which simply derive from the fact that the concept of the book itself is irretrievably poor. Let's see, how about I write a book about the 5,000 years of civilizations bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Included will be Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, the rise and spread of Islam .... You get the idea, and the author was able to fit all of that in the first 86 pages!!!

As a result, we're left with writing that looks something like this: Caesar conquered Gaul. He returned to Rome and entered an alliance with Pompey and Crassus. Crassus went to Syria where he was defeated and killed by the Parthians. Pompey and Caesar had a civil war. Caesar chased Pompey to Egypt where he seduced Cleopatra. He returned to Rome where he was killed in the Senate. Mark Antony and Octavian avenged Caesar, then had their own civil war. Octavian won, changed his name to Augustus and became Emperor.

There, the last twenty years of the Roman Republic in one paragraph, mission accomplished. If that's the kind of writing you enjoy, and you don't already know the most basic historical background, then have at it.

Added to the faulty concept, is a very informal and borderline inappropriate writing style which detracts from the work.

I must say that after the initial 100 pages, wherein the author tears through 3,500 years of ancient history, things do improve, however not to the point of presenting a rational, well presented view of regional history.

In the Introduction, the author himself states, "...how could the whole thing possibly be compressed into one volume?" IT CAN'T, and therein lies the problem. I've thought that perhaps it could be helpful for a junior high student with no background in history whatsoever, but upon reflection, any effort that attempts a history of Ancient Greece in nine pages, the rise of Islam and the succeeding Caliphates of Damascus, Baghdad and al-Andalus in 14 pages and, believe it or not, Ancient Egypt in two pages, should best be left alone. ( )
1 vote santhony | Sep 25, 2008 |
To write a single-volume history of the entire Mediterranean region starting with the beginnings of recorded history and ending with World War I is quite a project, particularly for an author well into his seventies. Norwich, of course, pulls it off with all his usual chutzpah. The style is lively, we are guided efficiently through the political, military and dynastic complexities of the story without ever getting bogged down in the details, and there is always time for a little digression about an interesting personality. If you're unfamiliar with European history, this would make a very pleasant, unpedantic sort of introduction.

Negative points: the first half of the book, inevitably, often reads like a condensed version of his earlier books on Byzantium, Sicily and Venice. If you've read those, you will probably end up skimming quite a lot here. Norwich, oddly for someone supposedly writing the history of a sea, isn't particularly interested in ships or naval affairs - any Patrick O'Brian fan will spot a few minor howlers of a technical nature, and will be disappointed to find Nelson's pursuit of the French fleet and the battle of the Nile treated in a couple of paragraphs, while his relationship with Lady Hamilton and the Neapolitan court gets about half a chapter. Don't read this book looking for profound academic analysis - but do expect to find the author taking advantage of the privileges of age and showing clearly where his sympathies lie i.e. with Byzantium, Venice, Norman Sicily and Moorish Spain and against Catholic Spain, the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons.

The book comes with a lot of nice glossy photographs, most of them rather unoriginally selected. The maps are adequate, if a bit on the mean side, and the book includes a useful index, bibliography and some apparently randomly-selected family trees. ( )
4 vote thorold | Dec 15, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385510233, Hardcover)

This lively, beautifully illustrated history of the civilizations that rose and fell on the lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea represents the culmination of a great historian’s unparalleled art, eye, and scholarship.

John Julius Norwich is renowned for his magisterial histories, including the two-volume A History of Venice and the three-volume Byzantium. The Middle Sea showcases the qualities that have made him one of the most respected and popular historians of our day: witty prose, scrupulous research, and an unerring ability to bring to life the dramatic event, the colorful character, and the telling detail.

Norwich traverses five thousand years of history, tracing the growth of culture, trade, political alliances and enmities, and religious movements from the Phoenician civilization to present-day Mediterranean nations.

In a vivid, fully accessible narrative, he recounts the achievements of the Phoenicians, those great sea traders who carried not just goods but also knowledge to Europe and parts of Asia, the glories of ancient Egypt, the extraordinary contributions of the Greeks, and the rise of the mighty Romans. The twin stories of Byzantium and Islam, the dominant forces after the fall of Rome, crescendo in the incredible saga of the Fourth Crusade and carry readers to the reemergence of a vibrant Europe.

From the far-reaching developments in medieval France to the Renaissance wars in Italy to the triumph of Isabella’s Spain, Norwich provides a brilliant portrait of the intermingling of ancient conflicts and modern sensibilities that shape life today on the shores of the Middle Sea.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:19:22 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A one-volume narrative history of the Mediterranean from Ancient Egypt to 1919. Written in the racy, readable prose for which author Norwich is famous, this is colorful, character-driven history. He tackles a vast subject--vast in time, from the oldest surviving pyramid to the First World War; vast in geography, from Gibraltar to Jerusalem; and vast in culture, including as it does the civilizations of the Phoenicians, the Egyptians, Greece, Carthage, Rome and Byzantium, the Borgias and the Medicis, Muhammad and El Cid, Napoleon and Nelson, Moslems, Jews and Christians. This book is not a dry record of facts; it is a rackety read about historical figures--dissolute popes and wily emperors, noble-hearted generals and beautiful princesses. Towns are besieged and sacked, kingdoms won and lost. The narrative covers the glories of Constantinople and Venice, and the stirring history of the islands of Malta, Sicily, Crete and Cyprus.--From publisher description.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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