Europe Between the Oceans

Can you say longue durée?  If so (or if not), here’s the new book by Barry Cunliffe, with the subtitle 9000 B.C.-AD 1000 indicating a coverage of murky yet critical millennia.

It’s a history of Europe which blends economic geography and economic archaeology.  The underlying question is how Europe became so innovative and the answer has much to do with trade and migration.  Imagine a more balanced and grounded Braudel.  The explanation of the "Neolithic package" and its spread across Europe is stunning.  I loved it when the author broke away from a passage about Phoenician trade routes to explain some odd lines in Homer.  If you are wondering, Cunliffe is a moderate neo-migrationist.  The photography and the color plates of the art are lovely.  You can learn how to view the Roman Empire as an "interlude" and as a break from the major story and how to understand 800-1000 A.D. as a period of rebalancing.  And you get passages like this:

…the actual return in calorific value for the effort expended in collecting [shellfish] is comparatively small.  A single red deer would be worth fifty thousand oysters!  That said, the value of shellfish is that they are always available and can be substituted when other food sources run short.

If you enjoy early economic history, this is a must, noting that it does not have the titillating feel of a popular science book.  It is my pick for best non-fiction book of the year so far.

Here is the book’s home page.  Here is one short review.  Here is a Times review.  You can buy an excellent long review (LRB) here.

Buy the book here (at $26 the per page price is low) to learn why economic archaeology should win a Nobel Prize someday.


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