PositiveThe Spectator (UK)Geography can be history and history geography—and sometimes the most obvious things are overlooked. Laurence C. Smith’s Rivers of Power endeavours to make us see beneath the surfaces of arterial waters and consider them as carriers of civilisation and arbiters of destinies ... This enthusiastic, occasionally gushing, author opens his hymn to hydrology ancient and modern with a descent into a 9th-century Nilometer, a great pit ... Being close to running water reduces stress hormones and allows us to connect with the elements. Smith is greatly inspired by urban redevelopments that open up waterfronts; by advances in data-gathering and micro-hydropower; and by a general increasing awareness of rivers’ centrality to culture, ecology and economics. When the current crisis is over, we need to get outside and fall in love with rivers for ourselves.
RaveThe Irish Times (UK)... dazzlingly ambitious ... Abulafia never lets enthusiasm overpower him, knowing that goods often came hand-to-hand overland rather than by sea, and similarities between separated cultures may be \'processual\' (arising independently out of circumstances) rather than the results of diffusion. But often the evidence astounds – like the coins of Augustus still in currency in 20th century Colombo ... Readers might reasonably anticipate dull determinism or boundless angst, but these shallows are avoided by shrewd sensitivity and the sheer majesty of [Abulafia\'s] subject. He sees inevitable – and desirable – cross-fertilisation where others see only one-way exploitation ... Atlantic histories often scant the pre-1492 period, but The Boundless Sea offers depth, zooming from ninth century steering to mirage-humped horizons ... reminds us brilliantly of once brand new landfalls, times when endless oceans glittered with primordial possibilities.
PositiveThe Spectator (UK)There are other mudlarking books, but this one offers engaging insight into an amphibian ambience of strongly marked characters, semi-secret exploits and outlandish theories. Maiklem is not alone in resorting to the river for salvation as much as salvage ... The author is attuned — glimpsing faces in walls, sensing ‘ghostly essences’, especially of her boat-builder ancestors, seeing the river almost as a deity to be propitiated ... The further downriver, the more evident England’s erosion; recent trash at Tilbury ‘tells a story of overconsumption and wanton waste’. Vast mounds of soiled, single-use junk befit a recent past whose voices cry ‘loud and angry’ on the estuarial wind. It is hard to imagine such stuff ever feeling evocative, but while we hope for transmutation we can follow Lara Maiklem’s footprints down to the tideline and back.
PositiveThe Irish Times...bold and brilliant ... [Flannery] drills down through nameless, numberless layers, to expose a chthonic continent – when tectonics turned, seas dried and refilled, and centillions of alien life forms moved urgently across an indifferent Earth \'without form, and void\', where \'darkness was upon the face of the deep\'. The world’s first coral reefs may have formed here, the first moles sifted soil, and hills were made by snails, while the earliest hominids came out of Europe before humans came out of Africa. He expertly conjures up successive exotic ur-Europes out of rare petrifactions and the cultures of the human centuries ... Flannery looks far forwards as well as back, to see how pre-prehistory might inform tomorrow – advocating updating taxonomy and laws on endangered species, restoring biomass, and sensitive rewilding.