“The Edge of the World:
How the North Sea Made Us Who We Are”
By Michael Pye in 2014
Penguin Books, 2015
“In the Edge of the World, Michael Pye explains how a small but dangerous body of water inspired the saints, spies, fishermen, pirates, traders and marauders who lived beside and journeyed across the North Sea to give birth to our modern world,” is written on the back cover of this beautiful book, an international bestseller. New addition to my sea library.
I live in the northern side of the globe myself – by the Baltic Sea, “by zinc-gray breakers that always marched on / in twos” as Joseph Brodsky wrote. That’s one of many reasons why I am happy to have this book about neighboring North Sea and its cultural history. (There are many amazing photos on the Internet, where the Baltic and North Seas meet!)
“There was a time when nobody could imagine going further: the northern sea was the very edge of the world,” writes Michael Pye in the Introduction. His focus is medieval and early modern North Sea. “I am celebrating the North’s contribution to the culture of Europe, but that does not mean forgetting the glories of the South; this is a story of connections. I want to isolate one part of the whole story only in order to get clear, because it is the part that is often missed.”
Michale Pye is British historian and novelist, who was for many years a highly successful journalist, columnist and broadcaster in London and New York. Michael Pye has written more than ten books and lives now between London and rural Portugal. Many reviews praise his “journalist’s eye for a story”, “elegant writing and extraordinary scholarship” and describe The Edge of the World as a “real page-turner” and a “joy to read and re-read”.
From the back cover of the book:
“When the Romans retreated from northern Europe, they left behind the lands at the very edge of the known world to the barbarians. Yet a thousand years later the countries surrounding the North Sea were at the heart of scientific, mercantile and artistic transformations and formed the centre of the first truly global empires.”
“Fine cultural history. Pye shows us that the people living around the North Sea were crucial to the birth of a new Europe. Like a scholarly magpie, he picks up his glittering birth from the most-up-to-date academic research. The Edge of the World, then, is something of a grab bag or, perhaps, a Viking hoard,” writes Washington Post.
I will be happy to explore this bag of salty wonders!
From the Introduction by Michael Pye:
“We have to get away from the raucous seaside, the holiday place that Cecil Warburton knew; the North Sea is much more than the water between a thousand beaches. It seems minor, is seems gray, but it has a furious and brilliant history. We can start with the stones on the beach at Domburg and ask: who brought them here and why, and what did they think they were doing?”
“Grey the waters of the North Sea may be, but Pye has successfully dyed them with a multitude of rich colors,” says Tom Holland in his review for the Guardian. Do I need more reasons to open this treasure chest and read it from cover to cover?