THE EDGE OF THE WORLD: How the North Sea Made Us Who We Are by Michael Pye

  • Written by  Kit Gillet
  • Published in Books
THE EDGE OF THE WORLD: How the North Sea Made Us Who We Are by Michael Pye
01 Nov
The term ‘Dark Ages’ may have fallen out of favour in recent years, but our understanding of the period it describes is still mostly blank. It is considered a lost age, a time of barbarianism and basic survival

Yet this may be far from the case.

In The Edge of the World, historian Michael Pye champions a different view, refuting the idea that the return of Western civilisation was driven from the Mediterranean. Instead we get a history where developments along the coast of the North Sea were key to the changing face of Europe: ‘This cold, grey sea in an obscure time made the modern world possible,’ Pye writes at one point.

Pye focuses his narrative on groups like the Frisians, the Vikings and the Hansa. In the late first millennia, when the rest of Europe was isolating itself, the Frisians opened up trade routes dormant since the days of Rome, and Pye even credits them with reinventing money. Later came the Vikings who, despite their reputation, developed trade routes and explored the edges of the known world; they could be found as far away as North America.

Pye takes the scant records available from this period and creates an evocative picture. Readers get to see the struggles faced after devastating plagues, religious pressures, and the pushback from the nobility against the upstart middle classes. Where possible, Pye does this through real-life individuals whose lives have been preserved in the records.

The Edge of the World is an impressive book, shedding a powerful light on the period inaccurately referred to as the Dark Ages.

THE EDGE OF THE WORLD: How the North Sea Made Us Who We Are by Michael Pye, Viking Publishing, £25.00

This review was published in the November 2014 edition of Geographical Magazine

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today


Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester




Travel the Unknown


Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...


NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in REVIEWS...


by Robin Hanbury-Tenison •  IB Tauris •  £17.99 (hardback)


by Daniel Schwartz •  Thames & Hudson •  £40 (hardback)


by Nigel Hughes •  £25 (hardback)


by Caitlin Doughty •  Weidenfeld & Nicolson •  £14.99/£7.99 (hardback/eBook)


Directed by Ivo Van Hove •  National Theatre


by Norman Davies •  Allen Lane •  £30 (hardback)


This intimate east London exhibition provides a multi-sensory exploration into…


by Kiyonori Kanasaka (translated by Nicholas Pertwee) • Renaissance Books…


by Steven Price Brown • Bloomsbury • £16.99 (hardback/eBook)


by Jo Woolf • Sandstone Press • £24.99 (hardback)


An epic journey through the Amazon in a traditional dugout…


by Victor Mallet • Oxford University Press • £20 (hardback/eBook)


Get 30% off the cover price of this in-depth journey…


Twenty one years, sixteen countries, seven continents... RGS-IBG director, Rita…


by Peter Millar • Arcadia Books • £20 (hardback)


by the National Archives • £25/£21.99 (hardback/eBook)


by Leon McCarron • IB Tauris • £17.99 (hardback)