A History of the World in Twelve Shipwrecks

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Pub Date 02 Apr 2024 | Archive Date 16 Apr 2024


From renowned underwater archaeologist David Gibbins comes an exciting and rich narrative of human history told through the archaeological discoveries of twelve shipwrecks across time.

The Viking warship of King Cnut the Great. Henry VIII's the Mary Rose. Captain John Franklin's doomed HMS Terror. The SS Gairsoppa, destroyed by a Nazi U-boat in the Atlantic during World War II.

Since we first set sail on the open sea, ships and their wrecks have been an inevitable part of human history. Archaeologists have made spectacular discoveries excavating these sunken ships, their protective underwater cocoon keeping evidence of past civilizations preserved. Now, for the first time, world renowned maritime archeologist David Gibbins ties together the stories of some of the most significant shipwrecks in time to form a single overarching narrative of world history.

A History of the World in Twelve Shipwrecks is not just the story of those ships, the people who sailed on them, and the cargo and treasure they carried, but also the story of the spread of people, religion, and ideas around the world; it is a story of colonialism, migration, and the indominable human spirit that continues today. From the glittering Bronze Age, to the world of Caesar's Rome, through the era of the Vikings, to the exploration of the Arctic, Gibbins uses shipwrecks to tell all.

Drawing on decades of experience excavating shipwrecks around the world, Gibbins reveals the riches beneath the waves and shows us how the treasures found there can be a porthole to the past that tell a new story about the world and its underwater secrets.

From renowned underwater archaeologist David Gibbins comes an exciting and rich narrative of human history told through the archaeological discoveries of twelve shipwrecks across time.

The Viking...

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Featured Reviews

Is there anything that we are more collectively compelled by than a historic shipwreck? The events of the Titan submersible last summer seem to confirm that way of thinking.

David Gibbins has written an extremely accessible history of famous shipwrecks and how they have changed the course of our world. This book leans much more heavily on the history side of things, it's a history book, not a book about shipwrecks. If you go in with that understanding, and enjoy your history in the interrelated essay variety ( a la The Verge) then this is sure to be a hit for you.

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In this captivating read, the author masterfully weaves a narrative that is both engaging and thought-provoking. Through a blend of richly developed characters and a meticulously crafted plot, the book offers a unique exploration of its central themes, inviting readers to immerse themselves in the story's depth and complexity. The narrative is paced perfectly, balancing moments of intense action with thoughtful reflection, ensuring that readers are hooked from the first page to the last. The author's ability to evoke emotion and create a vivid, immersive world is truly remarkable, making this book a must-read for anyone looking for an exceptional literary experience.

Beyond its compelling storyline, the book stands out for its insightful commentary on the human condition, weaving philosophical questions into the fabric of its narrative. The author's skillful use of language not only enriches the text but also elevates the reader's experience, offering new perspectives on familiar themes. Whether it's the intricate dynamics of relationships, the exploration of identity, or the confrontation with ethical dilemmas, this book tackles complex issues with sensitivity and intelligence. It's a testament to the power of storytelling to illuminate the nuances of life, making it a valuable addition to any book lover's collection. Regardless of genre, this is a work that resonates on multiple levels, affirming the enduring impact of well-crafted literature.

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What a fun idea!! And what a good way to tell history. The premise was great and the particular shipwrecks were most interesting and informative. It did seem to me that the actual purpose of the book was for the author to tell about himself and to promote himself rather than to be historically informative.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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A History of Europe and Britain in Twelve Shipwrecks would probably be a more accurate title for this book, as all of the shipwrecks that are featured are ones that have their origins on that continent, even if not all of them were wrecked there. The book starts with shipwrecks located more in the Mediterranean and in the breadbasket of the Middle East, where civilization advanced most quickly to the point of using ships to move people and cargo, then shifts northward somewhat to the Greeks and Romans, up to the Vikings, with the last four chapters focused on British ships from the time of Henry VIII moving forward. In each chapter, Gibbins looks not only at the discovery and in some cases the recovery of the ships or items from it, but also what the ship itself and its cargo can tell us about the times in which the ship sailed. This is quite possibly the most interesting part of the book, especially the earlier chapters when items like amphora can be used to date the wreck, and also tells a story about wider trade routes than most people assume of the times. While it is increasingly coming to light that Vikings conducted trade with and served for societies in the Middle East, it is wrecks like these that are able to help increasingly validate those connections between distant societies. Each chapter is interesting in its own right, but they can get bogged down with almost too many details for just being a single chapter in a book. They can almost feel too dense with information, be it ship manufacture, archaeological or historical. In truth each one of these wrecks could have a book written as a standalone (some do), that would better allow for breathing room of all the details that Gibbins includes. I enjoyed it, but I wish it had been more reflective of shipwrecks from around the whole world that reflected technology and culture in different areas that received little attention. Also, a personal pet peeve of mine, the bibliography is not included in the book, the reader is directed to the author's website. I don't mind a bibliography also being available on the author's website, but considering how temporary websites can be, I feel that a relatively comprehensive bibliography should always be included within the content of a nonfiction book. A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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WOW! That is the word I would use to describe this book. First and foremost, and in complete transparency, my expectations for this book were moderate, at best. The history of the WORLD in 12 shipwrecks. It seemed a tall order. Do I enjoy reading about ships and shipwrecks – definitely. Do I enjoy history, non-fiction, and the world – certainly. Did I expect that those two things would be so well combined in this book – nope. But somehow, David Gibbins managed to condense an incredible amount of knowledge into just 300 pages. Spanning over 4000 years, this book takes us all over the world, telling the story of ships and wrecks, but also providing historical context at a level that would make most history textbooks envious. In fact, the historical context of the time surrounding the wreck consumes 75% of each chapter. Sure, David weaves in personal stories about his dives, but in a subtle way that seems to understate how impressive his experience diving really is. In my 4 years reading and writing books, I haven’t once returned to a book. However, for this book I will. Because I feel like there is SO much information confined to these 300 pages that it cannot all be absorbed within a single first pass. I also want to give kudos to David for writing this book in a way that feels conversational, something most nonfictions books struggle to achieve. Will I talk about this book beyond this and my Goodreads review page – certainly.
Thanks to David Gibbins, Macmillian Publishers and Netgalley for the advanced copy to read and review.

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Thanks to NetGalley and St Martin's Press for an ARC copy of this book.

This was an interesting premise to this book- world history using the lens of 12 shipwrecks to tell the tale. It really stretches the timeline of world history- starting prehistoric, moving into Greek and then Roman wrecks, and then getting into European focused wrecks that involved kings, pirates, polar exploration, and war.
Overall really enjoyed this book- giving it four stars. Some of the wrecks I had some knowledge about, others were completely new to me. I found myself pausing in my reading to go look up photos of the ships, wrecks, and people who lived on them. In some of the chapters he really gets into the cultural and socioeconomic conditions of the world at that time.
The one criticism I have for the book is the wrecks chosen; I caught on pretty early that the author was only going to focus on wrecks he has dived on, which makes sense from a research perspective. But that left out to me some of the most influential wrecks in history, including the Lusitania, Titanic, Shackleton, and Captain Cooke's fleet. Still worth reading in my opinion, just keep in mind that the perspective narrows the scope of what's covered in the book.

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With a title that positions it to be the Dad book of '24, A History of the World in Twelve Shipwrecks is careful to position itself as a total world history, but "a history of the world, in which the wrecks provide a springboard for looking at the wider historical context," (emphasis in original), a sight which the text lives up to, mostly. It gives the author the permission to go far outside of the wrecks themselves and discuss the underlying history of the time when they happened.

The weakness of this approach is that sometimes the text goes way out to the point of distraction, but the cool thing is that Gibbins has chosen shipwrecks where there is historical information about them, most chillingly in the story of the HMS Terror where the wreck amounts to providing answers in a mystery story, though a few get particularly tenuous in an unprovable, wouldn't it be cool way for the wrecks from antiquity.

Although, I have trouble calling it a world history, due to its eurocentric focus, though it should be said (in a way that I'm sure is going to irritate some of the conservative twitterati) it is conscious of that and tries to provide more scope when it can. But it is more a history of the idea of the world itself rather than a world history.

Twelve Shipwrecks is a history of globalization, from its earliest passages about the importance of British tin in ancient Europe as part of the possibly ritually buried channel-crossing boat of to the multi-national crew and cargo of the final doomed ship in the Second World War. More, it is the history of the culture of globalization, the persons doing the work of moving goods and making war. It reflects how local culture has always had international characteristics, where the movement of goods and people in surprising ways is the rule, not the exception, but also how that activity, primarily in shipping, has its own sort of character. While that character is not consistent over the ages, it certainly rhymes, and is a worthy topic of consideration.

The weakness of the book is the chronology. There are in effect three competing narratives here. The first is the timeline of history itself, which the book is organized around. The second is Gibbins' work as an underwater archaeologist. It is pointedly cool to get a book on the history of a shipwreck where the author can write experimentally about diving the wreck, or being involved in some aspect of the research. The third is the history of underwater archeology itself, in general and in specific for each one of these shipwrecks, their discovery and what has happened with them over the years.

This adds a layer of unintended complexity to the work, and references to events that will be discussed or have been discussed. Each one of the individual chapters is structured to stand on its own, so it does not negatively affect the core, but much like when the history goes way out into the suburbs it feels disorienting. Also, the writing can be on the dry side (rimshot), but as a stylistic choice between that and the breathless hype of some popular histories, I will always choose the dryer read, as I like being treated like an adult who can add the color if necessary.

Gibbins provides a great framework for a way to think about world history, and one that is centered on the human and the individual. It leaves me wanting more of that, but it could not do that without sacrificing the author describing his unique connections to the history.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press, and David Gibbbins for allowing me to review this interesting book. I enjoyed learning about the various shipwrecks and the history of the time periods surrounding each shipwreck. I appreciated that the author included shipwrecks that were not as widely known. I also enjoyed reading about widely different timelines. I am excited to get a physical copy of this book for my history and maritime loving friends. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys history and maritime events. Thank you again for allowing me to review this book.

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Five stars if you are REALLY interested in history, marine archeology and/or the history of ships.

David Gibbins is one of the most famous marine archeologists in the world and so it is logical that he should have written a book detailing twelve famous shipwreck discoveries.

Each chapter is devoted to one of these shipwrecks, in chronological order. By doing so, Gibbins can expand upon the information about the shipwrecks and connect them to to the history of the world at the time, compare them to each other, and to similar discoveries in other locations. This is a clever (and new to me) way to look at history, by focusing on the history of traveling by ship. Gibbins was personally involved in many of the shipwreck discoveries and relates his experiences as a marine archeologist in a captivating and personal style.

Highly recommended if you are a history buff, love archeology and find shipping history fascinating. If you are just slightly interested in these subjects, you might find the pure amount of information to be overwhelming, and that it reads more like a textbook. However, you also might be inspired to go down many rabbit holes (I was!) and find out more.

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This book was incredibly interesting. I enjoyed learning things that I didn't know about these ships and the events surrounding them. The way that the author connected them was so unique!

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OH wow so I’ve been on an under the sea kick and this filled that for sure. I loved reading about the history of our world and seeing it from shipwrecks. I’m slightly obsessed with swimming and water so it was a perfect read for me. At times it came off a little like a textbook but that’s ok I still enjoyed it.

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"A History of the World in Twelve Shipwrecks" by David Gibbins is a captivating exploration of human history through the lens of significant maritime disasters. With meticulous detail and a wealth of archaeological knowledge, Gibbins weaves together the stories of twelve shipwrecks, ranging from the Viking warship of King Cnut the Great to the SS Gairsoppa sunk during World War II. This ambitious undertaking results in a compelling narrative that spans the ages and illuminates not only the maritime tragedies but also the broader historical tapestry.

Gibbins' expertise as a maritime archaeologist is evident throughout the book, as he takes readers on a journey beneath the waves to uncover the treasures and remnants of past civilizations preserved within shipwrecks. The choice of twelve diverse wrecks allows for a comprehensive exploration of different historical periods, including the Bronze Age, Caesar's Rome, the Viking era, and Arctic exploration.

What sets this book apart is its ability to transcend the mere retelling of shipwreck stories. Gibbins skillfully connects these events to larger historical themes, such as the spread of people, religion, and ideas around the world. The narrative unfolds as a tapestry of colonialism, migration, and the enduring human spirit that persists to this day. It's not just a chronicle of ships lost at sea; it's a rich portrayal of the complexities of human history.

The author's writing is accessible and engaging, making complex archaeological concepts and historical periods understandable to a wide audience. Gibbins seamlessly integrates archaeological findings with historical context, offering readers a deeper understanding of the significance of each shipwreck in the broader context of world history.

The inclusion of personal stories, such as those of the people who sailed on these ships, adds a human touch to the narrative, allowing readers to connect emotionally with the historical events. The book succeeds in not only educating but also captivating the reader with the allure of underwater secrets and the untold stories waiting to be discovered beneath the waves.

In conclusion, "A History of the World in Twelve Shipwrecks" is a four-star journey through time and across the seas, skillfully crafted by David Gibbins. It is a testament to the author's expertise, offering readers a comprehensive and enthralling exploration of maritime history. Whether you are interested in archaeology, history, or simply enjoy a well-told tale, this book provides a fascinating and immersive experience that brings the past to life through the secrets hidden beneath the ocean's surface.

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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC!

Really neat read. I learned a lot and appreciated the authors sharing of his experiences and engaging writing style.

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A fascinating look at maritime history. Gibbins makes these disasters accessible and gripping for the modern reader. Sure to be on the best nonfiction lists of 2024.

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I have always been interested in shipwrecks so I had to request this book. I was not disappointed reading this book. Thank you also, for not including the Titanic as there's enough books out there about it.

The author definitely researched. He also is a good writer as this book was well written. This is a definite recommend if your interested into shipwrecks.

Thanks Netgalley and publisher

All thoughts and opinions are my own and aren't influenced by anyone else

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I love shipwrecks: their mystery, their abruptly-destroyed journeys, and what they say about the culture that sent them, and the culture that would receive them. "A History of the World in Twelve Shipwrecks" attempts to distill the history of human communication and transportation into a smattering of maritime disasters, and on the whole it's an engaging, successful and interesting book. From ancient Turkey to the frigid waters of the Arctic, Gibbons not only discusses the specificities of the ships, but how they were discovered, how archeologists studied them (some were by far more readily accessible than others) and how, if applicable, they were brought to the surface. But Gibbons also concentrates on the historical context in which these ships sailed: what they carried, where they were going, and what their goods indicated about human culture and civilization.

Gibbons writes for an audience that's more learned than most - I found myself looking up things he offhandedly referenced, and terms I wasn't familiar with. It's not really written for a general audience, and the vibe leans a little dry and dense here; however the writing itself was detailed, fascinating, and passionate on the subject. I very much enjoyed the structure of the book (a chapter on each wreck) as it sailed closer to modern day. Very much recommended for fans of maritime history, and history in general.

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A shipwreck captures the history of a single moment in time. As an archeology major (even if I don't use my degree in my daily life lol) I love learning about history from the artifacts left behing so shipwrecks have always fascinated me. Gibbins has spent practically his whole life entranced by shipwrecks and has explored many. The twelve shipwrecks highlighted in this book are quite the variety.

I enjoyed getting to learn about the process for making sure an underwater excavation doesn't destroy the items they are trying to excavate. As an archeology nerd, this book was a really fun look into underwater archeology and 12 distinct times in the history of the world. It is dense but I def recommend if you are interested in learning about our world through what we leave for those after us to find.

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Such a cool book, a very cool way to organize information. It's about a lot more than just shipwrecks. In a way, it almost reads as a history of the world, funneled through these shipwrecks as a way to get at the most important facts. Interesting things covered beyond sea-going vessels: where much of the tin came from that helped make the bronze of the Bronze Age (my personal favorite tidbit), the early languages of the Mediterranean and Middle East, who the Sea Peoples likely were and their impact on the end of the Bronze Age, the battles of the Greco-Persian wars in the fifth century bce, the founding and general history of the Roman Republic, the military successes of Justinian's general Belisarius, the origins of Sinbad the Sailor, the history of tea drinking, the ins and outs of the medieval ivory trade, the reach off the Dutch East India Company, and the dangers of the water just off the coast of the most southerly point of the British mainland.

My favorites of the shipwrecks included were "Early sea traders of prehistory in the 2nd millennium BC” "11th century AD Viking seafaring and voyages of discovery," "The Santo Christo (1667): lost masterpieces of the Dutch Golden Age," and "HMS Terror (1848): to the limit of endurance at the ends of the earth."

There were a few times when I was somewhat bored, usually because the time period and place or subject covered was not one in which I'm particularly interested, but usually I had no trouble staying engaged. It took me longer than usual to read this though, because some of the chapter ignited an interest in me that I couldn't ignore. After the early chapters, I had to read a book about the Trojan War. After the Vikings chapter, I had to read a book about William the Conquerer. The mention of Ahmad ibn Fadlan made me want to find a biography of him. After the 1667 chapter, I had to read a book about the Dutch Masters. And then I couldn't start the next chapter until I'd finished these sister reads, as I was worried a new topic would ignite in me. The best type of nonfiction is the kind that makes you want to read other things because what's within is so stimulating.

I received this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for this ARC of A History of the World in Twelve Shipwrecks in exchange for an honest review! Reading this book you can't help but appreciate how much effort and research David Gibbins put into this. I love the insights he's gained from his diving experiences and he's done a great job taking that and other research he's done to write a very interesting history book! I was learning something new with every turn of the page. I think I was fascinated the whole time because Gibbins was so clearly fascinated by what he was telling me. That made me find this book incredibly engaging, especially for a history book!

I think if you wanted to have a very informative evening this book can be read in one sitting. I also think it could be enjoyable to read a chapter or two at a time if you want to pace yourself. I think the length is good for reading it either way.

If you're a fan of history, shipwrecks, or both I would recommend this book! If you look at this book's description and think you might be interested, I'd say you definitely should give it a try!

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Lots of interesting information, but a really slow read. I put it down between chapters, but kept going back for more history.

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Very well researched. An interesting and informative read for anyone interested in archeology, shipwrecks and ancient history. Meticulous descriptions with loads of background information.

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A fascinating look at how 12 shipwrecks influenced history. Focusing mostly on trade and wealth, the book dives (pun intended) into the shipwrecks and how they allow historians to appear into the lives at the time.

I liked the set up of the book, talking about the shipwreck, the location, and the dive. Then it got to the what was found in the shipwreck and how the items relate.

With a particular emphasis on trade and how Europe (for the most part) traded was really insightful.

I wish that there had been more shipwrecks from around the world. It was mostly focused upon Britian and around the island.

Overall I liked the book and learned a lot.

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My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher St. Martin's Press for an advance copy of this book that looks at how the world changed and advanced by studying the ships that never reached their destinations.

"The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever." Jaques Yves Cousteau said this quote and it seems apt as so many were introduced to the wonders of the sea by shi specials and shows about the oceans and what lived there. The technology that gave Cousteau access to the ocean depths all helped archaeologists open a new world of exploration. Shipwrecks. These vessels because of the depths and the cold water have been untouched by people, and ignored by time. Only falling apart when brought to the surface. These wrecks show us the world as it was at the time, a world sometimes far different from what we think, a world that had greater trade routes and even better technology. David Gibbins is an underwater archeologist known for his adventure novels. A History of the World in Twelve Shipwrecks is a look at what wrecks can tell us about the sailors, the merchants and the warriors who lived in these times, what the world was like, and where it was going, just by what is left behind.

The book begins with a bit about the author and how he came to enjoy diving, archeology and writing. Gibbins tells of himself he discusses the changes in diving technology, from old suits with iron heads connected to the surface by hoses and bellows, to aqualungs, and SCUBA. These advances gave archaeologists a freedom to go deeper and stay longer at wrecks and underwater sites. Gibbins discusses a few of his near misses, sharing oxygen while in a underwater tunnel, something that still bothers him when he dives. And also the rush that he gets when he goes to a wreck for the first time, the feeling or what can be found, what new thing will be learned. From here Gibbins introduces us to the shipwrecks, many of which Gibbins has dived on. Gibbins gives a history, when he can about the boat, how it came to its sad fate, their discovery and how what was found fits into the bigger history of what was happening in the world. Trade, war, technology, exploration and more.

David Gibbins is a very good writer and is able to add a lot of novelistic flairs to his nonfiction writing here, which makes for a surprising thrilling read. Gibbins knows both diving, archeology and how to tell a tale that is both interesting and enlightening. Gibbins is able to make things understandable, both about the wrecks and the history, and even more he makes the reader want to know more. Why should a joist matter? Oh I see this explains this and that, and suddenly the reader knows why that joist matters, and why history can be exciting, and more importantly fun. One learns about wood, and why that matters, wine, trade goods, weapons and how it all fits into humanity growth.

Recommended for people who love history. There is a lot here, and a whole slew of subjects are covered and covered well. Also fans of Gibbins fiction and readers of books like the Shadow Divers and Ship of Gold, even The Wager will also get a lot from this.

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