By David Abulafia

Published by Oxford University Press 1,049 pages hardcover $39.95

The most scholarly tome ever reviewed on these pages – and at more than 1,000 pages also the weightiest – The Boundless Sea by David Abulafia describes how centuries of human navigation of the oceans shaped the world we know today.

The main protagonists are the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, which cover more than half of the Earth’s surface and comprise the vast majority of its water. The story begins in the Pacific (“the Oldest Ocean”), upon whose waters Polynesian sailors traveled thousands of miles in hand-hewn outrigger canoes 180,000 years ago. The author then guides the reader into the Indian (“the Middle Ocean”) and finally the Atlantic (“the Young Ocean”). Early exploration linked islands and ultimately continents, with commerce eventually carrying goods, plants, livestock and people (both free and shackled) across these vast waterways.

An Emeritus Professor of Mediterranean History at Cambridge University, David Abulafia is also a fellow of the British Academy and a fellow at the Legatum Institute. His many books include The Discovery of Mankind: Atlantic Encounters in the Age of Columbus, Commerce and Conquest in the Mediterranean, 1100-1500, and The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean, which was awarded the British Academy Medal in 2013. ■