Monday, 31 October 2016

Pye, Michael "The Edge of the World"

Pye, Michael "The Edge of the World: How the North Sea Made Us Who We Are" - 2014

An exciting book. A look at how we became what we are. What has the North Sea done, how has it contributed to our history?

It looks like it has done a lot, it sent out fishermen and pirates, businessmen and adventurers. We didn't just find the American Continent by those first people who wanted to find new waterways, a lot of our system and how we live today started there. Our way of living, doing business, organizing, politics, law, science, insurance, money, art, everything comes from those explorations and how people first started to settle and find their way in this world.

Frisians, Vikings, Angles, Irish, Dutch, they all added their bits. And being from the Northern part of Germany myself, I have often found a connection to all those other inhabitants of the North Sea shores, we don't just share that history, we share a lot of culture, we tell the same jokes, have the same folk music.

I especially loved the part of the Hanseatic League, a 13th to 17th century alliance of European trading cities reaching from the Baltic to the North Sea and inland. If you read "Buddenbrooks" by Thomas Mann, one of my favourite books, you should be familiar with the influence the Hanse had on the people at the time. But it is often seen as a predecessor of the European Union. While I don't think that is exactly true, it was the first union that found that you are stronger in a league, that your chances were bigger and your gain larger.

Hugely interesting, not just for Europeans. There are so many threads, so many details in this book. Granted, it doesn't give the answer to everything but it surely is a great way to start if you only want to try to understand part of where we are today.

From the back cover:
"When the Romans retreated from northern Europe, they left behind lands of barbarians at the very edge of the known world. Yet a thousand years later the countries surrounding the North Sea were at the heart of scientific, mercantile and artistic enlightenments and controlled the first truly global empires.
In The Edge of the World, Michael Pye explains how a small but treacherous body of water inspired the saints, spies, fisherman, pirates, traders and marauders who lived beside and journeyed across the North Sea to give birth to our modern world."

Some books mentioned:
The Gospel according to Heliand (Saviour)
Lorris, Guillaume de  "Le Roman de la Rose"
Huges, Thomas "Tom Brown's Schooldays"


  1. Interesting! My great, great, great (maybe more?) grandfather emigrated to America through the North Sea.

    1. I suppose a lot of Americans can say that about their ancestors. Well, most of those who look like us. ;)

      If you are interested in these kind of books at all, I can heartily recommend it.

      Happy reading,