Beyond the blue horizon : how the earliest mariners unlocked the secrets of the oceans

by Brian M. Fagan

Paper Book, 2012



Call number

GN799 .N3F33 2012


Bloomsbury Press : New York, c2012.


Looks at the early development of navigation, examining how ancient humans discovered the secrets of wind, tides, and stars that allowed them to make long voyages that profoundly changed human civilization.

User reviews

LibraryThing member kylenapoli
I have so many problems with how this book was written and/or edited. This subject apparently offers very little in the way of a concrete historical record -- fine. The author has to rely on supposition and draw analogies to his own experience -- fine. Meandering both geographically and
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chronologically, circling back around topics repeatedly without clarifying them -- not fine at all. No doubt some of my difficulties stem from my lack of knowledge about sailing, but I'd planned for the book to -remedy- that lack. (Note to self: find out if John McPhee has written on this topic.)
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LibraryThing member Shrike58
In this survey of old traditions of navigation, the downside of this work is that Fagan covers so many traditions that he inevitably feels as though he's produced an insubstantial work, even considering that he's writing for a popular audience. What really ties it all together is Fagan's not
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inconsiderable experience as a sailor, to the point that one wishes that he had produced straight-forward memoir of his own nautical life.
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LibraryThing member MarkBeronte
In Beyond the Blue Horizon, archaeologist and historian Brian Fagan tackles his richest topic yet: the enduring quest to master the oceans, the planet's most mysterious terrain. We know the tales of Columbus and Captain Cook, yet much earlier mariners made equally bold and world-changing voyages.
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From the moment when ancient Polynesians first dared to sail beyond the horizon, Fagan vividly explains how our mastery of the oceans changed the course of human history.

What drove humans to risk their lives on open water? How did early sailors unlock the secrets of winds, tides, and the stars they steered by? What were the earliest ocean crossings like? With compelling detail, Fagan reveals how seafaring evolved so that the forbidding realms of the sea gods were transformed from barriers into a nexus of commerce and cultural exchange. From bamboo rafts in the Java Sea to triremes in the Aegean, from Norse longboats to sealskin kayaks in Alaska, Fagan crafts a captivating narrative of humanity's urge to challenge the unknown and seek out distant shores. Beyond the Blue Horizon will enthrall readers who enjoyed Dava Sobel's Longitude, Simon Winchester's Atlantic, and Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel.
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LibraryThing member CarsonKicklighter
Cool look into the worldview of the first mariners, but rather rambly. Didn't make it past the second chapter.
LibraryThing member thorold
Brian Fagan put together his long professional experience as an archaeologist and anthropologist with his even longer private experience as a small-boat sailor to create this fascinating global overview of what we know about seafaring as it was practiced before the era of scientific navigation, at
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what motivated people to sail out of sight of land and at what tools and techniques they had available to them to be able to do it (reasonably) safely and repeatably.

He looks separately at the history of seafaring in Polynesia, in the Aegean, in the Indian Ocean, in Northern Europe, and on the West coast of North and Central America. What is immediately striking is how early in the development of human societies in all those regions there were communities that relied on trade with other communities, in some cases a very long way away, to supply themselves with certain essential commodities. Obsidian and, later, metals for making tools; important ritual objects like cowrie shells; even wood for building boats had to be imported in some parts of the world (notably the Arab peninsula). It's astonishing to realise that there was regular trade between Arabia, India and the East African coast long before the rise of Islam.

In the Pacific and the Indian Ocean predictable seasonal reversals in wind direction must have helped to make it possible to voyage into "the unknown" and know that you would be able to get home again, but in all parts of the world navigators seem to have relied on variations in the same basic techniques of ocean navigation — using stars to follow lines of latitude to known destinations; using wave patterns, clouds, and marine life as clues to the proximity of land.

Techniques of boat construction varied around the world, though: the invention of the outrigger meant that there was no urgent need for Polynesians to build anything more substantial than a canoe, whilst the Aleutian kayak was always the perfect hunting craft for northern waters, as long as there were sea-lion skins available to make it from. Elsewhere reeds, balsa wood, and eventually split planks were used, although planked construction on a large scale had to wait for the invention of the nail (there were limits to the size of hull that could be built with stitched planks).

A very interesting book, shaped by Fagan's ability to give us a clear digest of the mass of archaeological literature on the subject and season it with his own practical insights into what does and doesn't make sense from a seafarer's point of view.
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