The North Sea is a harsh mistress. The peoples living along its shores have long rejoiced in its bounty of fish and, more recently, oil. Yet they have been equally fearful of its terrible storms – the worst, in 1953, killed over 2,500 people and inundated vast areas of the Netherlands – and of the raiders, Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Vikings, who have crossed its enticingly narrow waters over the centuries. However, unlike the Mediterranean, its more fashionable southern counterpart, the North Sea has had few histories of its own. There is little in the way of an overarching survey to gather together its stories and set them in an orderly narrative of a ‘North Sea World’.
Michael Pye’s The Edge of the World proposes to fill this gap, promising in its subtitle to explain ‘How the North Sea Made Us Who We Are’. Right at the start, in a meandering introduction that ranges from the 18th-century origins of seaside bathing to the uncovering of Roman-era graveyards