This is a book written with deep scholarship, but also with lightness and dexterity...with lyrical vibrancy ... It is the seamless melding of the personal and the universal that makes The Boundless Sea so compelling, as the reader meets explorers, brigands, religious fanatics and adventurers ... This book must be among the favourites of the year. It is rich, humorous and insightful, and Abulafia, emeritus professor of Mediterranean history at Cambridge, manages the art of letting his readers believe they are every bit as learned as he is for the happy days, or weeks, that reading this behemoth will take.
... 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.
... seemingly insignificant 'facts' are subjected to rigorous analysis in this mammoth book. Cast aside what you think you know about maritime history ... This is a very long book because there are so many significant accomplishments to recount ... Abulafia is more interested in people than ships; there is little detail about actual vessels ... it’s difficult to find a geographical area that’s neglected. He also finds room for ephemera such as pirates, cruise ships and, of course, herring. I was repeatedly struck by just how much Abulafia knows ... a very long book packed with minute detail...Is this one too long? Perhaps. Abulafia occasionally reminds me of my uncle who told tales interesting only to himself. For the most part, however, this is a fascinating book that never descends into arcane theorising ... The material is neatly ordered and presented in fluent, accessible prose. Seafaring tales are told without opulent or contrived drama; what instead makes this book special is the sheer breadth of its coverage ... This book should not, however, be approached lightly. The reader will form a relationship with it that will last for weeks or perhaps months; it’s not a book for those who fear commitment. The Boundless Sea is best read slowly. Put it on the bedside table, read a chapter at a time and feast on the magnificent bounty that Abulafia has to offer.