In this overview of the Baltic region from the Vikings to the European Union, Michael North presents the sea and the lands that surround it as a Nordic Mediterranean, a maritime zone of shared influence, with its own distinct patterns of trade, cultural exchange, and conflict. Covering over a thousand years in a part of the world where seas have been much more connective than land, The Baltic: A History transforms the way we think about a body of water too often ignored in studies of the world’s major waterways.
The Baltic lands have been populated since prehistory by diverse linguistic groups: Balts, Slavs, Germans, and Finns. North traces how the various tribes, peoples, and states of the region have lived in peace and at war, as both global powers and pawns of foreign regimes, and as exceptionally creative interpreters of cultural movements from Christianity to Romanticism and Modernism. He examines the golden age of the Vikings, the Hanseatic League, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, and Peter the Great, and looks at the hard choices people had to make in the twentieth century as fascists, communists, and liberal democrats played out their ambitions on the region’s doorstep.
With its vigorous trade in furs, fish, timber, amber, and grain and its strategic position as a thruway for oil and natural gas, the Baltic has been—and remains—one of the great economic and cultural crossroads of the world.
The book shines when the author writes about the region’s cultural history, particularly in medieval times… North’s book provides a valuable service in underlining the centrality of the Baltic region to Europe’s past. The way things are going, it may determine the continent’s future, too.
In this book, North does for the Baltic Sea what Fernand Braudel did for another crucial body of water in his 1949 classic, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II; he treats the sea and the lands surrounding it as an intersection of cultures, armies, economic trends, political formations, and trade routes and as a playing field for the ambitions of major powers… Its manageable length allows North to provide a panoramic view that transcends mere regional history.
[North] presents readers with a sweeping Braudelian-style narrative of how the Baltic Sea functioned as a place of exchange and encounter for all the territories around its shores… The Baltic: A History constitutes a solid benchmark in the writing of a regional history of the territories surrounding the Baltic Sea. It is an engaging and accessible read.
Virtually no aspect of this long story is neglected. All the various major Baltic capitals get their turn in the spotlight, and North covers not only the progress of architecture, warfare, and the herring market but also social and literary life (the chapter ‘Nordic Romanticism’ is a stand-out overview) and the vying fads that swept the area from Bremen to Riga.
This work by North is ambitious [and] erudite… Richly detailed and ably translated from the original German, it generally eschews a narrowly political narrative in favor of a unified history of ‘exchange and encounter’ in the Baltic Sea area. Specialists will appreciate this impressively researched history for its breadth, informed generalizations…and illuminating examples, charts, and illustrations.
Michael North’s The Baltic is a tour de force. The history of the region is an important story that isn’t well known, but should be. North’s book fills a real gap. It is hugely enjoyable, highly instructive—a wonderful work of history.
[A] praiseworthy survey of the history of the Baltic Sea region… To write a history of the entire Baltic Sea region from the ninth century to the present must seem like an overwhelming task, but North has accomplished this with admirable aplomb… North’s signal contributions are in tracing the interconnectedness of the region in terms of trade and culture and in viewing the region more as a coherent whole rather than lands simply buffeted by the historical winds blowing from elsewhere.
- 448 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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