LEIGH FORBES: Books of all Sorts

The Edge of the World: How the North Sea Made Us Who We Are


by Michael Pye.

Brilliantly researched, but poorly written.

Michael Pye’s wonderful collection of fascinating historical knowledge is marred by the higgledy-piggledy way in which it is presented. There is a wealth of information about law, plague, fashion, vikings, and trade (and much more), but in the middle of a chapter about sex and marriage, for example, there’s a whole chunk about windmills, and the chapter on science and money is introduced by three pages of Mongols. Random!

The Mongol section is actually very interesting (if misplaced), and along with super passages about Bede, and the beguines, these sections flow well. The rest of the book is jumbles and jags, offering little for the reader to get their teeth into; some people, themes, and/or incidents are introduced with a single sentence (or one of many inline quotes) never to be mentioned again (and the index is not comprehensive). The occasional switch from past to present tense (all when speaking about the past) is also distracting. The subtitle should have been “a history of trade in the low countries” as there is quite a lot about herring, but not really all that much about the North Sea itself.

I’m glad I read this book – it has inspired my interest – but I was glad when it was over.


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