by Michael Pye
How the North Sea made us who we are.
I feel to have been mislead somewhat by the subtitle of this entertaining book. I’d kind of assumed that the North Sea would feature more prominently, taking something of a leading role. Instead, The Edge of the World is a thematic medieval history of the countries that happen to be situated around the edges of the North Sea. This is an important and largely overlooked subject. Popular accounts of medieval European history tend to have something of a southern, Mediterranean bias. So, full marks for the subject-matter, but must try harder with the subtitle.
The chapter themes of this book cover such diverse topics as the invention of money, the book trade, fashion, law, science, finance, and the early development of modern cities. I found it best to think of each chapter as a standalone essay, rather than forming part of an overall thesis. At times, to explore individual chapters’ subject matter in appropriate depth, the scene moves considerable distances from the North Sea of the book’s subtitle. This sometimes made me wonder where on earth Pye was going with all this, but the book remained an entertaining read throughout.