In This Review

The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World
The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World
By Lincoln Paine
Knopf, 2013, 784 pp

In the Western imagination, seafaring began to influence the course of world history with the European discovery of the New World. During the “classic age of sail,” spanning the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries, the Western powers undertook their great voyages of discovery, linking distant regions and establishing European global supremacy. In this fascinating and beautifully written scholarly work, Paine steps back from this Eurocentric view to tell the story of maritime travel through the entire sweep of human history. For thousands of years, people have been launching themselves onto water to fish, trade, fight, and explore -- and doing so in ways that have profoundly shaped human institutions and the rise and decline of civilizations. The narrative is more encyclopedic than thematic; Paine does not advance any explicit claims about the relationship between maritime power and world affairs. Nonetheless, with its richness of detail, the book does offer an eloquent vision of how the sea served as a path to the modern world.