Beneath Another Sky

by Norman Davies

Paperback, 2018



Call number



Penguin UK (2018), 656 pages


Where have the people in any particular place actually come from? What are the historical complexities in any particular place? This evocative historical journey around the world shows us. 'Human history is a tale not just of constant change but equally of perpetual locomotion', writes Norman Davies. Throughout the ages, men and women have endlessly sought the greener side of the hill. Their migrations, collisions, conquests and interactions have given rise to the spectacular profusion of cultures, races, languages and polities that now proliferates on every continent. This incessant restlessness inspired Davies's own. After decades of writing about European history, and like Tennyson's ageing Ulysses longing for one last adventure, he embarked upon an extended journey that took him right round the world to a score of hitherto unfamiliar countries. His aims were to test his powers of observation and to revel in the exotic, but equally to encounter history in a new way. Beneath Another Sky is partly a historian's travelogue, partly a highly engaging exploration of events and personalities that have fashioned today's world - and entirely sui generis. Davies's circumnavigation takes him to Baku, the Emirates, India, Malaysia, Mauritius, Tasmania, Tahiti, Texas, Madeira and many places in between. At every stop, he not only describes the current scene but also excavates the layers of accumulated experience that underpin the present. He tramps round ancient temples and weird museums, summarises the complexity of Indian castes, Austronesian languages and Pacific explorations, delves into the fate of indigenous peoples and of a missing Malaysian airliner, reflects on cultural conflict in Cornwall, uncovers the Nazi origins of Frankfurt airport and lectures on imperialism in a desert oasis. 'Everything has its history', he writes, 'including the history of finding one's way or of getting lost.'The personality of the author comes across strongly - wry, romantic, occasionally grumpy, but with an endless curiosity and appetite for knowledge. As always, Norman Davies watches the historical horizon as well as what is close at hand, and brilliantly complicates our view of the past.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member drmaf
Somewhat bizarre but thoroughly entertaining and absorbing book. Davies, author of the absolutely wonderful Vanished Kingdoms, embarks on a trip across the world, part history, part travelogue. Staring in Cornwall, he visits Baku, the UAE, Delhi, Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, Tasmania, New
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Zealand, Tahiti, before finishing with far less exotic Houston, Manhattan and Frankfurt. He delves deep into the history of each place, highlighting little-known facts and quirks, but also detailing his own visit and encounters with locals, and especially their food. Perhaps I'm an over-sensitive colonial, but I detected a slight tinge of a patronizing attitude towards former British colonies, however this didn't detract from enjoyment of the book, its simply a great read, a lyrical account of near and distant places. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member bookomaniac
Norman Davies once wrote a history of Europe ('Europe: A History') that is among the best in its genre for me: what an erudition, and what a talent to tell a broad and richly varied story! I could also appreciate his 'Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe' about so-called dead
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ends in history, the states and nations that disappeared from the scene prematurely, although that book tended to go in the direction of an encyclopaedic accumulation of facts,. This book, perhaps his last major monograph, also suffers from this shortcoming: it tells the history of 15 places in the world with great detail. The book is only more readable because almost all chapters are also presented as a travel story: Davies offers the impressions of his visits to those sometimes very distant places, scattered all over the world.

But that is where the misery begins: the author regularly offers tourist cliché remarks, stories by taxi drivers, reports on dinners with diplomats, etc. From time to time Davies’ story strongly resembles that of an elderly white man who is stranded in an exotic place. And in that regard, especially his closing chapter is a let-down: Davies makes an attempt to more or less exonerate European nations from imperialist crimes by listing all the serious crimes committed throughout history by just about all nations (even starting with the Celts and ancient Greeks). Putting things into perspective is always in order, but this is going too far for me. Of course I do share Davies' view that more attention should be paid to global diversity and to the fundamental contingency in history. And I must concede, this really comes into its own in this book.
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LibraryThing member heggiep
Davies takes us on a circumnavigation of the globe, although his journey was slightly broken up, and gives us some history, geography and current affairs for each stop along the way. He also squeezes in some notes on local culture and cuisine. I read the book from cover to cover but each chapter
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can stand alone and, therefore, a reader could open to any of the locations and enjoy that place for a while.
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Original language


Physical description

656 p.; 5.08 inches


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