The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans by David Abulafia – Wolfson History Prize 2020

The Boundless Sea - Cover

The Boundless Sea by David Abulafia

The Wolfson History Prize Shortlist 2020

Summary:

For most of human history, the seas and oceans have been the main means of long-distance trade and communication between peoples – for the spread of ideas and religion as well as commerce. This book traces the history of human movement and interaction around and across the world’s greatest bodies of water, charting our relationship with the oceans from the time of the first voyagers. David Abulafia begins with the earliest of seafaring societies – the Polynesians of the Pacific, the possessors of intuitive navigational skills long before the invention of the compass, who by the first century were trading between their far-flung islands. By the seventh century, trading routes stretched from the coasts of Arabia and Africa to southern China and Japan, bringing together the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific and linking half the world through the international spice trade. In the Atlantic, centuries before the little kingdom of Portugal carved out its powerful, seaborne empire, many peoples sought new lands across the sea – the Bretons, the Frisians and, most notably, the Vikings, now known to be the first Europeans to reach North America. As Portuguese supremacy dwindled in the late sixteenth century, the Spanish, the Dutch and then the British each successively ruled the waves.

Following merchants, explorers, pirates, cartographers and travellers in their quests for spices, gold, ivory, slaves, lands for settlement and knowledge of what lay beyond, Abulafia has created an extraordinary narrative of humanity and the oceans. From the earliest forays of peoples in hand-hewn canoes through uncharted waters to the routes now taken daily by supertankers in their thousands, The Boundless Sea shows how maritime networks came to form a continuum of interaction and interconnection across the globe: 90 per cent of global trade is still conducted by sea. This is history of the grandest scale and scope, and from a bracingly different perspective – not, as in most global histories, from the land, but from the boundless seas.

 My Review:

I am delighted to have been asked to make a contribution to this year’s Wolfson History Prize Shortlist blog tour. It is a literary prize I have kept a close eye on for many years. As part of my blog tour I am reviewing one of the most outstanding history books I have read in a long time. The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans (Allen Lane). Is by no means a light read at over 1000 pages but inside is one of the most detailed histories of the seas that have been the lifeline for every continent be at peace or war. From space the Earth is almost totally blue, no surprise as 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by oceans and contain 97% of the total water on earth.

We as people’s through history has a link to the oceans like nothing else, through exploring new lands, forging new trade links, invasion of lands and as we move forward creating new forms of communications. This is an incredible books considering the huge research that would have gone into David Abulafia’s latest book. Starting with the oldest of the oceans, the Pacific Ocean at 176,000 BC before crossing the oceans at our current times. It is an epic odyssey through 65,000 years of human history of the oceans.  

Written with the authority of a scholar, you would think the narrative could put off the casual reader, but that is not the case. Abulafia writes with such dexterity that you are taken on an adventure through history whether that is through the earliest of explorations or the rampaging Vikings through Northern Europe to archaeology that helps us to understand humanities clues from the past. Reading The Boundless Sea, I found totally compelling reading about the Pirates to marauding adventurers and those seeking new lands to forge both religious and trade links. But there are also the parts that talk of the slavery ships across the Atlantic that began as far back as the 14th Century. Then to almost current times when discussing both the building both the Suez and Panama Canals and the cost in lives through disease.

Author

There is so much detail contained in this magnificent book that no matter what I write here, it will not do it justice. People and the oceans have a link to the earliest part of humanity and that link to this day continues as we transport nearly all cargo via huge container ships across the oceans. It is said that humanity to-date has explored only 5% of the world’s oceans.

The Boundless Sea by David Abulafia is a staggering achievement, I was reading this as a digital copy but ended up buying a hard copy so that I could look at the maps and colour plates.

I have now read two of the books on the Wolfson History Prize shortlist and I have to say just what an outstanding literary prize it has become, trying to pin down one book as a clear winner is harder in this prize than any other literary prize I have become involved with. I wish each and every author the very best with their books. I hope to get to read the remaining books on the shortlist.

1088 Pages.

#WolfsonHistoryPrize
@WolfsonHistoryPrize

The Wolfson History Prize Shortlist 2020

The announcement of the winner of The Wolfson History Prize 2020 will be made on 15th June.

Thank you to Ben McCluskey (Midas PR) for the review copy of The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans by David Abulafia.

The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans by David Abulafia was published by Allen Lane and was released on 3rd October 2019 and is available to order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
Please support your local independent bookshop through these difficult times. Many are still trading by offering a mail order service.

Follow the Wolfson History 2020 Blog Tour.

Blog Tour Week 1 Twitter Card

The 2019 WAINWRIGHT GOLDEN BEER BOOK PRIZE SHORTLIST

Wainwright 19 Shortlist Squares-03.jpg

THE 2019 WAINWRIGHT GOLDEN BEER BOOK PRIZE SHORTLIST

At 9am on the 2nd July the shortlist for this year’s Wainwright Golden Beer Shortlist was announced. Now in its Sixth year, The Wainwright Book Prize is my favourite book prize of the year. This is a book prize which celebrates the best writing about nature, the outdoors and UK travel.

Never before has writing about nature and the great outdoors been so significant and important. Our landscape and the natural world is under increasing pressure from many areas. So how wonderful it is to see the Wainwright Book Prize grow year on year.

This year there are seven titles that make up the shortlist.

Underland by Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton)
Wilding by Isabella Tree (Picador)
Time Song by Julia Blackburn (Jonathan Cape)
Our Place by Mark Cocker (Jonathan Cape)
Thinking On My Feet by Kate Humble (Aster)
Out Of The Woods by Luke Turner (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
The Easternmost House by Juliet Blaxland (Sandstone Press)

So lets take a closer look at the titles that make up this years outstanding shortlist:

UNDRLAND

Underland by Robert Macfarlane

(Hamish Hamilton)

Discover the hidden worlds beneath our feet…

In Underland, Robert Macfarlane takes us on a journey into the worlds beneath our feet. From the ice-blue depths of Greenland’s glaciers, to the underground networks by which trees communicate, from Bronze Age burial chambers to the rock art of remote Arctic sea-caves, this is a deep-time voyage into the planet’s past and future. Global in its geography, gripping in its voice and haunting in its implications, Underland is a work of huge range and power, and a remarkable new chapter in Macfarlane’s long-term exploration of landscape and the human heart.

I reviewed Underland in issue 34 of Word Gets Around.

Just imagine for one moment the world beneath your feet. In Underland best-selling writer Robert Macfarlane author of many books on our natural world including The Wild Places and Landmarks and also The Lost Words now takes us on an adventure deep underground. This is a book were past and its future are all here. From the Bronze Age burial chambers of the Mendips in Somerset to the glaziers of Greenland, the catacombs of Paris, Arctic sea caves to a point deep sunk hiding place where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 years.

The much-anticipated sequel to The Old Ways Robert Macfarlane now takes the reader on an unforgettable voyage exploring our relationship with darkness and what lies beneath. There is wonder, loss, fear and hope deep within the pages of Underland.

‘Into the underland we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save…’

It is hard to imagine a world that exits deep beneath us but that is exactly what there is. A truly remarkable book of discovery the reader will explore many themes including myth and literature as we travel the globe and discover a whole new world. Robert Macfarlane’s writing is both lyrical and breath-taking. A book that has opened even my eyes and will have a profound effect on how we see our precious world. The powerful cover was designed by the acclaimed artist and writer Stanley Donwood.

Cover

Wilding by Isabella Tree

(Picador)

In Wilding, Isabella Tree tells the story of the ‘Knepp experiment’, a pioneering rewilding project in West Sussex, using free-roaming grazing animals to create new habitats for wildlife. Part gripping memoir, part fascinating account of the ecology of our countryside, Wilding is, above all, an inspiring story of hope.

Forced to accept that intensive farming on the heavy clay of their land at Knepp was economically unsustainable, Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell made a spectacular leap of faith: they decided to step back and let nature take over. Thanks to the introduction of free-roaming cattle, ponies, pigs and deer – proxies of the large animals that once roamed Britain – the 3,500 acre project has seen extraordinary increases in wildlife numbers and diversity in little over a decade.

Extremely rare species, including turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons, lesser spotted woodpeckers and purple emperor butterflies, are now breeding at Knepp, and populations of other species are rocketing. The Burrells’ degraded agricultural land has become a functioning ecosystem again, heaving with life – all by itself.

Personal and inspirational, Wilding is an astonishing account of the beauty and strength of nature, when it is given as much freedom as possible.

Time_Song_-_Blackburn

Time Song: Searching for Doggerland by Julia Blackburn

(Jonathan Cape)

Julia Blackburn has always collected things that hold stories about the past, especially the very distant past: mammoth bones, little shells that happen to be two million years old, a flint shaped as a weapon long ago. Time Song brings many such stories together as it tells of the creation, the existence and the loss of a country now called Doggerland, a huge and fertile area that once connected the entire east coast of England with mainland Europe, until it was finally submerged by rising sea levels around 5000 BC.

Blackburn mixes fragments from her own life with a series of eighteen ‘songs’ and all sorts of stories about the places and the people she meets in her quest to get closer to an understanding of Doggerland. She sees the footprints of early humans fossilised in the soft mud of an estuary alongside the scattered pockmarks made by rain falling eight thousand years ago. She visits a cave where the remnants of a Neanderthal meal have turned to stone. In Denmark she sits beside Tollund Man who seems to be about to wake from a dream, even though he has lain in a peat bog since the start of the Iron Age.

Time Song reveals yet again, that Julia Blackburn is one of the most original writers in Britain, with each of its pages bringing a surprise, an epiphany, a phrase of such beauty and simple profundity you can only gasp.

cover

Our Place: Can We Save Britain’s Wildlife Before It Is Too Late? by Mark Cocker

(Jonathan Cape)

Environmental thought and politics have become parts of mainstream cultural life in Britain. The wish to protect wildlife is now a central goal for our society, but where did these ‘green’ ideas come from? And who created the cherished institutions, such as the National Trust or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, that are now so embedded in public life with millions of members?

From the flatlands of Norfolk to the tundra-like expanse of the Flow Country in northern Scotland, acclaimed writer on nature Mark Cocker sets out on a personal quest through the British countryside to find the answers to these questions.

He explores in intimate detail six special places that embody the history of conservation or whose fortunes allow us to understand why our landscape looks as it does today. We meet key characters who shaped the story of the British countryside – Victorian visionaries like Octavia Hill, founder of the National Trust, as well as brilliant naturalists such as Max Nicholson or Derek Ratcliffe, who helped build the very framework for all environmental effort.

This is a book that looks to the future as well as exploring the past. It asks searching questions like who owns the land and why? And who benefits from green policies? Above all it attempts to solve a puzzle: why do the British seem to love their countryside more than almost any other nation, yet they have come to live amid one of the most denatured landscapes on Earth? Radical, provocative and original, Our Place tackles some of the central issues of our time. Yet most important of all, it tries to map out how this overcrowded island of ours could be a place fit not just for human occupants but also for its billions of wild citizens.

096237407-hq-168-80

Thinking on My Feet: The small joy of putting one foot in front of another by Kate Humble

(Aster)

Thinking on My Feet tells the story of Kate’s walking year – shining a light on the benefits of this simple activity. Kate’s inspiring narrative not only records her walks (and runs) throughout a single year, but also charts her feelings and impressions throughout – capturing the perspectives that only a journey on foot allows – and shares the outcomes: a problem solved, a mood lifted, an idea or opportunity borne. As she explores the reasons why we walk, whether for creative energy, challenge and pleasure, or therapeutic benefits, Kate’s reflections and insights will encourage, motivate and spur readers into action.

Also featured are Kate’s walks with others who have discovered the magical, soothing effect of putting one foot in front of the other – the artist who walks to find inspiration for his next painting; the man who takes people battling with addiction to climb mountains; the woman who walked every footpath in Wales (3,700 miles) when she discovered she had cancer.

This book will inspire you to change your perspective by applying walking to your daily endeavours.

This is a book I am currently reading and thoroughly enjoying. I can see why so many people really took this book to their hearts.

41Fic1Z3JaL._SX312_BO1204203200_-189x300

Out of the Woods by Luke Turner

(Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

After the disintegration of the most significant relationship of his life, the demons Luke Turner has been battling since childhood are quick to return – depression and guilt surrounding his identity as a bisexual man, experiences of sexual abuse, and the religious upbringing that was the cause of so much confusion. It is among the trees of London’s Epping Forest where he seeks refuge. But once a place of comfort, it now seems full of unexpected, elusive threats that trigger twisted reactions.

No stranger to compulsion, Luke finds himself drawn again and again to the woods, eager to uncover the strange secrets that may be buried there as he investigates an old family rumour of illicit behaviour. Away from a society that still struggles to cope with the complexities of masculinity and sexuality, Luke begins to accept the duality that has provoked so much unrest in his life – and reconcile the expectations of others with his own way of being.

OUT OF THE WOODS is a dazzling, devastating and highly original memoir about the irresistible yet double-edged potency of the forest, and the possibility of learning to find peace in the grey areas of life.

the-easternmost-house

The eEasternmost House by Juliet Blaxland

(Sandstone Press)

Within the next three years, Juliet Blaxland’s home will be demolished, and the land where it now stands will crumble into the North Sea. In her numbered days living in the Easternmost House, Juliet fights to maintain the rural ways she grew up with, re-connecting with the beauty, usefulness and erratic terror of the natural world.

The Easternmost House is a stunning memoir, describing a year on the Easternmost edge of England, and exploring how we can preserve delicate ecosystems and livelihoods in the face of rapid coastal erosion and environmental change.

Wain Shortlist Face Out with SLST V2.jpg

I really envy the judges trying to find a winner from this years incredible shortlist. Seven books that are all worthy winners.

This years winner will be announced on August 15th at the BBC Countryfile Live at Castle Howard, Yorkshire.

Last years winner was won by Adam Nicolson for The Seabirds Cry (William Collins).

Past Winners:

2014 – The Green Road into Trees: A Walk Through England by Hugh Thomson
2015 – Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field by John Lewis-Stempel
2016 – The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
2017 – Where Poppies Blow: The British Soldier, Nature, The Great War by John Lewis-Stempel
2018- The Seabird’s Cry by Adam Nicholson

The 2019 Judges:

Chair: Julia Bradbury

Waterstones Non-fiction buyer: Clement Knox

National Trust Publisher: Katie Bond

Publisher at Unbound and Blacklisted Podcast Host: John Mitchinson

The Urban Birder: David Lindo

Creative Partner for And Rising

Follow news about The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize on Twitter: @wainwrightprize

wainwrightprize

The 2018 Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize – Shortlist Announcement

DhVNMb2X0AAvIhF

The 2018 Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize – Shortlist Announcement.

Thursday 5th July saw the announcement of the much anticipated Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize Shortlist. This year there are seven books that make the shortlist and what a shortlist. Later that day at there was a party to celebrate the shortlist announcement which was held at Waterstones Piccadilly were all the authors of the books were present as well as some of the judges and invited guests.

julia-julia

Chair of Judges: Julia Bradbury

Chair of judges Julia Bradbury introduced each of the authors and their books and gave an insight to this year’s book prize and how difficult it has become to judge as the standard of nature writing has increased year on year since the prize was first launched. It is pleasing that this year for the first time we have a children’s book in The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris.

The judges for this year’s prize are for the second year will be chaired by Julia Bradbury, and her fellow judges are: TV presenter Megan Hine; Waterstones non-fiction buyer Bea Carvalho; National Trust publisher Katie Bond and ex-chairman of the campaign to protect rural England, Peter Waine.

The winner of the Wainwright Book Prize again this year be announced the National Trust Arena at BBC Countryfile Live at Blenheim Palace, on 2 August. The winner will receive a cheque to the value of £5,000.

This is a book prize that is very close to my heart as my passion is nature and the great outdoors and to share this book prize that has the name of one of my boyhood heroes the great man himself Alfred Wainwright a lover of the fells of the Lake District and also a  great writer.

The 2018 Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize Shortlist:

Alys Fowler

Hidden Nature by Alys Fowler (Hodder & Stoughton)

Written by award winning Guardian writer, Alys Fowler explore the canals and waterways of Birmingham via a Kyak. A book of real beauty where she explores and finds nature in places many would not expect. But this is now just a nature book, it is a personal journey of losing and finding and opening up. Nature as well as a personal journey.

240 Pages

 

John Grindrod

Outskirts by John Grindrod (Sceptre)

A social history of Britain’s green belt landscape. Conservationists and developers as well as politicians have come into conflict since the post wat years as more and more land is sought after. Hidden in the landscape that John explores are nuclear bunkers, landfill sites and on his journey meets those who fight for the protection of green belt land and those who seek to exploit it. This is a fascinating insight into today’s Britain and its social history.

368 Pages

John Lister-Kaye

The Dun Cow Rib by John Lister-Kaye (Canongate)

I have long been a fan of John Lister-Kayes writing since Song of the Rolling Earth was published in 2003. With his latest book that has made the longlist this is his memoir of growing up and finding that the natural world was about to become his life. From finding nature to founding the Aigas Field Centre in the Highlands, this is John’s memoir to this countries natural landscape and heritage.

368 Pages

Neil Ansell

The Last Wilderness by Neil Ansell – Tinder Press

Alone with nature in some of the remote parts of Britain. This is Neil’s personal account of time in solitude. A time spent as one with the natural world at a time when he was losing his hearing the sound and birdsong slowly are lost to him. A captivating memoir.

320 Pages.

Raynor Winn.jpg

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn (Michael Joseph)

This is the true story of a couple who lost everything just days after learning that her husband was terminally ill. Everything they have worked so hard for is gone. With little time left they set about walking the entire 630 miles of the SW Costal Path. Coming to terms with what they have lost and what is to come, this is a deeply honest and life-affirming account of a couple and a journey. Nature has the power to cure and with every moment on their walk around the coastline they find beauty in the land, sea and sky.

288 Pages.

Adam Nicholson

The Seabird’s Cry by Adam Nicolson (William Collins, Harper Collins)

There are ten chapters and each one is dedicated to ten seabirds. Charting their ocean travels and is set in the Scottish Shiant Isles a group of Hebridean islands in the Minch. With artwork by Kate Boxer this is look at these wonderful seabirds, with numbers now crashing this is timely and well researched book from a writer that has spent many years studying these wonderful seabirds. Were once the numbers where in many thousands they are now at a shocking level that one day soon could be lost forever and we will be left recalling reading about them in books. And that day could be very close.

416 Pages.

The Lost Words

The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (Hamish Hamilton)

Overtime there have been words from the natural world that have been lost to children. Robert Macfarlane writes the poems that tells of those lost words that meant so much to those of us who grew to learn them and Jackie Morris provides the stunning artwork. An enchanting book that has now gone into many schools around the country. A wonderful book that has already won many accolades.

128 Pages.

The Wainwright Book Prize is named after the Lakelands much loved Alfred Wainwright, and is supported by White Lion Publishing (publisher of the world famous Wainwright Guides), Wainwright Golden Beer, the Wainwright Estate and in Partnership with The National Trust. The winner receives a cheque for £5,000.

For more information, and details of the shortlist  can be found on their website with a photo gallery from the shortlist party just visit:  The Wainwright Book Prize and you can follow on Twitter via: Wainwright Prize

The Wainwright Book Prize is named after the Lakelands much loved Alfred Wainwright, and is supported by White Lion Publishing (publisher of the world famous Wainwright Guides), Wainwright Golden Beer, the Wainwright Estate and in Partnership with The National Trust. The winner receives a cheque for £5,000.

For more information, visit The Wainwright Book Prize and you can follow on Twitter via: Wainwright Prize 

Look out for my podcast coming soon were I will be discussing the Wainwright Book Prize shortlist and looking forward to the winner being announced on August 2nd at BBC Countryfile Live.

#WainwrightPrize18   #LetTheOutDoorsIn   #FindYourMountain

PRIZE DRAW:

WP Shortlist 2018

I am delighted to announce that I am running a prize draw to win a complete set of books (Seven) that make up the shortlist. If you are a lover of nature and the outdoors these are a set of books that will make your summer. A collection of books that just outstanding it the quality of writing. To stand a chance of winning the set please visit my Twitter page: The Last Word 1962 All you have to do is follow and RT the Wainwright Prize Draw Shortlist. Please NoteThe Draw will close at 7pm Friday 13th July. This is a UK only prize draw. Entrants after this time will not be included. GOOD LUCK! The prize will be issued by Mark Hutchinson Management.

My thanks to Laura Creyke and the team at Mark Hutchinson Management for the amazing work and for allowing me to run the Shortlist Prize Draw.