Edge of the World

Once in a while I run into something that I thought I knew about when I started and then found was really unexpected. This is (was) the case with the book The Edge of the World, by Michael Pye. Despite an accurate description on the web site, I saw it as a general history of Northern Europe that would help balance what I have learned about the Mediterranean area. Well, it was that, but it was so much more.

The European history I learned began in Rome and worked its way north through what is now Germany, the north coast countries of Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and over to the British Isles. Pye changes this to a mixture of Roman life with that of what we would call uncultured northmen. A whole different set of living ways evolved, sometimes altering Roman ways and sometimes growing out of the violent ways of the Norsemen. Through chapters on inventing money, spreading knowledge through books, dealing with enemies, writing laws appropriate to the life of the area, changing fashions, and cities developing through trade and other business, readers get an idea of how northern Europe (and ultimately America) came to be developed. The exchange of ideas about economic and social life was not uniform, as in the south under Roman rule, ways of living changed through conflict and new ways of making a living.

I came away with a better understanding of how we got to be the way we are in the United States. Getting that understanding was not easy. It was like a class in a new subject where I was often irritated at not being able to rely on previous knowledge to cruise along. It also made me realize how comfortable I have become in not extending myself intellectually.

Try it! You’ll find it worth the effort.

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