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The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean    by John Julius Norwich order for
Middle Sea
by John Julius Norwich
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2008 (2008)
Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Deb Kincaid

As a serious Bible student, my initial attraction to this book was a desire to understand more fully the sociological contexts of Bible accounts. What a bonus to find the author as unstuffy, unsanctimonious, and unsupercilious as John Julius Norwich proved to be! By the time I finished reading the introduction, I knew I was in for a treat - from a historian with an earthy sense of humor and a knack for storytelling.

For example, after contemplating whether to begin his historical account with the creation of the Mediterranean itself, or skip forward and begin with people, he chose people. 'And not the first people either - simply because the first people were prehistoric, and I have always found prehistory a bore.'

Following the introduction, the book contains 33 compelling chapters, 80 photographs and illustrations, genealogy charts of royal houses, and 10 pages of maps. Plus, a bibliography and index. To cover the history of the Mediterranean from 3000 BC to 1919 AD in one volume of 720 pages is audacious itself; to make it so darn interesting is testament to Norwich's enthusiasm, pragmatism, and compassion. Compassion for both the characters of history, as well as his readers; pragmatism in selecting only the rich, juicy portions of history that matter to us with a curious interest; and his infectious enthusiasm that helps us appreciate the impact today due to events back then.

Norwich brings to life the intrigues of the Ptolemys and the Caesars, the morale building exploits of Alexander, Napoleon, and General Sir Edmund Allenby, the duplicity of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire, and the carving up of the old world to create the new. However, Norwich never bogs down with superfluous detail; neither does he provide a mere skeleton of information. His writing is tangible and rich yet spare. I must warn you to prepare a tray of food and drink before you sit down to read this book. You won't want to stop to cook. Enjoy.

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