Michael Pye’s new book is bristling, wide-ranging and big-themed. It’s the sort of historical work whose thesis is virtually impossible to prove, but it’s also a reminder that history isn’t an exact science. At its most meaningful, history involves a good deal of art and storytelling. Pye’s book is full of both.
In “The Edge of the World,” Pye concentrates on a murky era — the Middle Ages — and on a region of Europe that seems always to have been blanketed in mist, the North Sea. “This cold, gray sea in an obscure time made the modern world possible,” he declares in his introduction. In the pages that follow, he doesn’t prove that grand statement so much as toss handfuls of paint at it, in many places coloring it in while obscuring it in others.