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The Edge of the World by Michael Pye

The Edge of the World (2014)

by Michael Pye

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Had the title of the book been "Miscellaneous essays on Europe from the 6th to 16th Century" it would have led readers to more realistic expectations. There are essays or sections on the transition from paganism to Christianity, fashions, the plague, Vikings, Mongols, death and sex rituals, water control, peat marshes, and trade and travel to name a random few. If forced to find one overarching theme, a good candidate might be the sentence found midway: "The Frisians went trading and they brought money with them, which is a way to bring very different objects into one equation and do the sums....That same kind of equation took in music, blasphemy, pardon from Hell, love and charity: it took in the world."

In short, the essays cover various aspects of European life beginning with the dwellers who turned traders on Europe's western coast (the Frisians) and how the development of trade and travel led to the rise of commercial endeavours, money, and with money, leisure and discretionary purchases and interests. There are gems of information within these pages and topics, but no sense when one finishes of understanding this middle 1000 years of human (European) history as a coherent cause-effect whole--perhaps because the framework most of us associate with such books, chronological and geographic structures of rulers and their reigns and borders, pops up only occasionally to help guide us. I had to constantly stop to find my way by trying to link content with dates and events I already knew and could use as signposts (for example, the Norman invasion of England or when Marco Polo set off from Venice).

I wouldn't recommend this as a start-to-finish read, but rather as a book to be dipped into as chapters become relevant to other topics one is engaged with--for example the chapter on Plague Laws, which Pye reminds us "justified the rules that kept a person in her place" in terms of travel and residence, just as terrorism does today. Another example: though born a New Englander, I had never understood the mentality behind "trial by Ordeal", one of the most popular means of judgment during these dark years ("if you sink, you're innocent, if you float, you're guilty and should be executed"). Author Pye explains the thinking behind these practices in one of the best sections of the book, which should be ready by anyone studying early law, witchcraft trials, or crime and punishments through the ages.

Most of us have learned through our reading lives, however, that combining some good chapters doesn't necessarily result in a good book. As it reads currently, The Edge of the World is a bit of a dog's breakfast. If only the editor had forced it into a coherent structure and found a title that was more appropriate to the content. ( )
  pbjwelch | Jul 25, 2017 |
The "hansa" in "Lufthansa" will never be the same for you after you finish this book. That's a fact.

The author takes the reader on a fantastic time travel throughout the history of north Europe, and even tough some initial parts of the book felt very "jumpy" to me, with abrupt changes from one topic to another, breaking the flow; the last half was in much better shape. From Vikings to Frisians, from early scientist to Hanseatic League of fierce merchants, from the flamboyant House of Burgundy to strong-willed women of Beguines, the so-called "dark ages of Europe" will have a very different meaning after you finish this book, at least for north Europe.

This books also serves our understanding of the later times, such as the Dutch Golden Age: Nothing is a miracle, but rather a very long series of events, sort of glory in the making, starting as early as 8th century, as in the case of famous Bede from England. Or the birth of modern stock exchange (bourse), who owes its name to famous Flemish family from Bruges: van der Beurse.

I can recommend this book to people who are curious about the history of North Europe, especially the period between 8th and 15th centuries. Even though some parts of it can be a difficult read, in the end it'll provide a good overall picture of that important period and help understand the centuries that followed, including our 21st century. ( )
  EmreSevinc | Feb 5, 2017 |
A cracking history book on (like the subtitle) How the North Sea shaped us. The author illuminates a series of inventions done in the North of Europe during the so called "dark" Middle Ages. In fact, these Middle Ages was not that "dark" a period but it was overshadowed by the Renaissance that came afterwards and that has its origins in the South of Europe.
This book kinds of sets the balance right again. Although sometimes a bit long in descriptions and some of the topics handled seem a bit "pulled" towards the North it does corrects some overall misunderstandings, so worth reading.
And surely, some chapters, are really well written, hence the 3,5 stars. ( )
  Lunarreader | Jul 25, 2016 |
The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe by Michael Pye is a highly recommended well researched presentation of the impact North Sea travel had during the dark ages and how it lead to modern Western civilization. Pye does an exceptional job of making the historical information accessible and entertaining, as well as informative. The areas of influence covered include the invention of money, the book trade, enemies, settlers, fashion, law, exploring nature to the north, science, women's rights, trading, plague laws, and the invention of cities. Pye uses historical documents and resources to show how the Frisians to the Vikings influenced cultural advances in civilization that can be seen today. Additionally, he references fictional literary works of the times to advance the presentation of historical facts with. The book includes references, notes, and an index.

"They came in glory. They look like something both new and brilliant, but the truth is that they grew out of the light in what we used to casually call the 'dark ages'and the central importance of what we used to call 'the edge of the world'. Around the cold, grey waters of the North Sea, the old, the marginal, the unfashionable made us possible: for much better, and for much, much worse. It is time now to give them all their due."

Pye notes: "This book is about rediscovering that lost world, and what it means to us: the life around the North Sea in times when water was the easiest way to travel, when the sea connected and carried peoples, belief and ideas, as well as pots and wine and coal. This is not the usual story of muddled battles and various kings and the spread of Christianity. It is the story of how the constant exchanges over water, the half-knowledge that things could be done differently, began to change people's minds profoundly. This cold, grey sea in an obscure time made the modern world possible. Consider what had to change after the end of the Roman Empire in order to take us to the start of the cities, states and habits that we now know: our law, our idea of love, our way of business and our need for an enemy in order to define ourselves."

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Pegasus for review purposes.

( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
HPL 940.1 PYE
  cfzmjz041567 | Sep 9, 2015 |
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Cecil Warburton went to the seaside in the summer of 1700: two weeks at Scarborough on the east coast of England, north of Hull and south of Newcastle.
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Tells the story of how modernity emerged on the shores of the North Sea, uncovering a lost history of a thousand years rife with saints, spies, pirates, philosophers, artists, and intellectuals.

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