Guest contributor: Bill Lundgren

Lundgren’s Book Lounge: “The Sea and Civilization,” by Lincoln Paine

categories: Cocktail Hour / Reading Under the Influence

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Lincoln Paine (photo: Nellie Large)

Though the earth is mostly covered by water much of human history has been written from a land-based perspective. The genius of Lincoln Paine’s majestic new history of the world, The Sea and Civilization, is to tell the story of world history by focusing on the explorations via ocean, river, lake and stream that have shaped much of our human story.

Refreshingly, Paine discredits the Eurocentric version of maritime history that animates much of what me might have been taught in school. Those accounts suggest that maritime exploration began with the Vikings, leading to Christopher Columbus and the era of European expansion. But as Paine points out, seafaring cultures worldwide predated the European explorers by thousands of years. Sails were being utilized by the Egyptian, Chinese and Mesopotamian cultures eons before the Scandinavians and other European cultures had even begun to turn their gaze toward the seas or the notion of wind-powered water voyages.

Paine lays out the central role that maritime forays have played in connecting different cultures and civilizations and their role in fostering economic relationships. Along the way he artfully leads up to the present and the crucial part that commercial shipping and naval warfare have played in shaping today’s geo-political world. Throughout Paine, author of four previous books and numerous articles on maritime history, enchants the reader with a style that is immensely engaging, erudite and driven by the author’s intellectual curiosity.

The prodigious research at the heart of the book is never cloying but serves instead to enlighten and illuminate. At six hundred pages with an additional hundred pages of notes and bibliography, this is a book that asks an investment of time by its readers, but it is time spent in pure, rapturous reading pleasure.


[Bill Lundgren is a writer and blogger, also a bookseller at Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine (“A Fiercely Independent Community Bookstore”).  He keeps a bird named Ruby, and teaches at Southern Maine Community College.]

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