Medieval Maritime Warfare
By Charles D. Stanton
Published in September 2015
Thibault’s Score: 2/5
Medieval maritime warfare is a long and dreary tome that gives a broad overview of maritime warfare in the middle ages from 500 AD until 1500 AD.
I found the book to be very boring. While the subject matter seems interesting, the writing style was very un-engaging. The author admits, in the introduction, that he did not write the book out of passion - and instead wrote it because his editor pointed out to him that nothing had been written on maritime warfare during the period yet.
Survey histories are hard to write. Narratives covering a specific narrow period make it easier to collect individual memorable anecdotes that make human stories easier to remember. I’ve found that survey histories tend to be boring because they are too zoomed out, and ignore the individual human struggles.
Viking Norway in 800 AD is such a radically different place from Mamluk Egypt in 1200 AD that writing this book well would have been very difficult. I’m not surprised that Charles Stanton failed to bring the topic to life - the task would be difficult to accomplish for even the most brilliant historians and writers of any era.
Medieval Maritime Warfare really misses the forest for the trees. Instead of explaining in broad strokes why maritime warfare is important and coming up with interesting anecdotes, it gets lost in the details. I remember being really excited to read about the Hanseatic League. Instead, page after page goes into technical details about the castles on the boats; the ropes and the rigging; the shape of the sails, etc… It was incredibly boring. The chapter about the Hanseatic League could have gone into more detail about the economic and political situation of the area at the time. It also needed good human level anecdotes - a good maritime legend about sailors fighting monsters or a hagiography involving sailing Saints would help make the book much more memorable.
This is yet another case of how modern academic writing styles rot people’s minds. Modern academics sacrifice clarity for detail; memorable anecdotes for statistical replicability; and simplicity for verboseness.
I do not recommend this book.
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