The Sea and Civilization

A Maritime History of the World

(Alfred A. Knopf, 2013)

Winner, 2014 Maine Literary Award for Nonfiction
(Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance)

2014 Mountbatten Maritime Award, Certificate of Merit (Maritime Foundation, UK)

Choice: Outstanding Academic Titles, 2014

Booklist: Top 10 Literary Travel Books, 2014

The Telegraph: Best history and war books of 2014

The Independent: 10 Best History Books (2016)


A monumental, wholly accessible work of scholarship that retells human history through the lens of maritime travel, revealing in breathtaking depth how people first came into contact with one another by ocean and river, and how goods, languages, religions, and entire cultures spread across and along the world’s waterways.

Lincoln Paine takes us back to the origins of long-distance migration by sea with our ancestors’ first forays from Africa and Eurasia to Australia and the Americas. He demonstrates the critical role of maritime trade to the civilizations of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, and the Indus Valley. He reacquaints us with the great seafaring cultures of antiquity like those of the Phoenicians and Greeks, as well as those of India, Southeast and East Asia who parlayed their navigational skills, shipbuilding techniques, and commercial acumen to establish vibrant overseas colonies and trade routes in the centuries leading up to the age of European overseas expansion. His narrative traces subsequent developments in commercial and naval shipping through the post-Cold War era. Above all, Paine makes clear how the rise and fall of civilizations can be traced to the sea. An accomplishment of both great sweep and illuminating detail, The Sea and Civilization is a stunning work of history.

The most enjoyable, the most refreshing, the most stimulating, the most comprehensive, the most discerning, the most insightful, the most up-to-date—in short, the best maritime history of the world.

—Felipe Fernández-Armesto, University of Notre Dame, author of
Millennium: A History of the Last Thousand Years

“The Sea and Civilization” presents a fresh look at the global past. Bringing to bear a formidable knowledge of ships and sails, winds and currents, navigation techniques and maritime law, Lincoln Paine offers a lively tour of world history as seen from the waterline. The result is a fascinating account, full of little-known episodes and novel insights. A major contribution.

—Kären Wigen, Stanford University, author of A Malleable Map

Paine deftly navigates the complexities of global culture to create an eminently readable account of mankind’s relationship to the sea. Both profound and amusing, this will be a standard source for decades to come.

—Joshua M. Smith, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, editor of
Voyages: Documents in American Maritime History

“I want to change the way you see the world.” This brave ambition is brilliantly realized by Lincoln Paine in this single volume. Thoroughly researched, clearly argued, eminently accessible—we have at last a responsible and persuasive explanation of the inextricable connection between the ocean and world civilization.

—Peter Neill, Director, World Ocean Observatory

Without doubt, the most comprehensive maritime history ever produced.

—Gerard DeGroot, The Times (London)

[Paine] shows an impressive command of both the specifics of maritime studies and a genuinely world-historical approach. What might, in less expert hands, be yet another retelling of a well-worn story is instead rendered as a deep, engrossing, and perspective-shifting read.

—Karen M. Teoh, Asian Review of World Histories (Seoul)

The scholarship evidenced in a narrative that spans so wide a canvas and so lengthy a chronology is impressive…. Lincoln Paine’s monumental work serves to remind us that maritime history offers a valuable perspective on the history of the world.

—Margarette Lincoln, Times Literary Supplement

“The Sea and Civilization” meticulously and systematically reconstructs the maritime history of the world…. That oceans teach us, above all, about the unity of human existence on this planet seems to be the take away from “The Sea and Civilization.”

—Mangalam Srinivasan, The Hindu

In this fascinating and beautifully written scholarly work, Paine steps back from [a] Eurocentric view to tell the story of maritime travel through the entire sweep of human history…. [W]ith its richness of detail, the book does offer an eloquent vision of how the sea served as a path to the modern world.

—G. John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs

A brilliantly researched and ambitious affirmation of the sea and civilisation.

—Philip Hoare, New Statesman

Elegantly written and encyclopedic in scope, with an expert grasp of the demands of seamanship in every age, “The Sea and Civilization” deserves a wide readership.

—John Darwin, Wall Street Journal

This vividly written book is a major achievement.

—Alastair Buchan, Tribune

Paine’s work provides the fundamental research for a fascinating conversation about foreign policy and strategy in a more maritime and Asia-centric world.
It’s a conversation with far-reaching consequences…. As sea service leaders ponder how to oversee the system of liberal trade and commerce while facing down potential rivals for maritime supremacy, they could do worse than gaze back into Asia’s past. “The Sea and Civilization” offers such a glimpse within one cover.
—James Holmes, Education About Asia

Paine’s a lyrical stylist, and the breadth of his historical vision is extraordinary.

—David Mitchell, GQ: Gentlemen’s Quarterly

“The Sea and Civilization” is a well-written and brilliantly organized book…. With its literary grace and richness, one could safely predict that it is destined to become a classic of maritime history.

—Louis Arthur Norton, The Northern Mariner/Le Marin du Nord 

“The Sea and Civilization” is an extraordinary and lucid feat of compression that draws on a mass of scholarship. Paine writes extremely well, chooses his quotations aptly and balances the proportions of the book carefully…. The book is rich in suggestive ideas.

—Roger Crowley, Literary Review

Although more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water, it is generally neither realized nor accepted that the history of the world is very much a maritime history. Lincoln Paine’s “The Sea and Civilization” seeks to rectify this…. The success of the effort is that by the end, the underlying idea seems self-evident: man’s relation to the sea has been a driving force of human history; the interrelations and reciprocal influences are the prevalent condition in world history, and not the exception.

—Juan José Morales, Asian Review of Books (Hong Kong)

This book could easily be titled, “The Greatest Sea Story Ever Told.”

—Sam Craghead, Naval Historical Foundation

The main drift of this learned and deeply researched book is that many human societies evolved as they did largely because of sea-contact with other societies.

            —Alan Judd, The Spectator

Lincoln Paine has no interest in jargon; his book … is clearly written and does not strain to defend any abstruse arguments.

            —David Abulafia, Sunday Times (London)

A magnificently sweeping world history that takes us from the people of Oceania and concludes with the container.

—Ben Wilson, The Telegraph

Lincoln Paine’s expansive survey of humanity’s relationship with the sea from 10,000 BC onwards bills itself as an alternative history of the world; it is more evidently a vigorously crafted compendium of the complex, technical ways we achieve our restless, expansionist ambitions.

—Bettany Hughes, Prospect

Refocusing history is no small task but it’s one that Lincoln Paine tackles with gusto in his new book.

—Alan Wallace, Trib Total Media

Paine enchants the reader with a style that is immensely engaging, erudite and driven by the author’s intellectual curiosity. The prodigious research at the heart of the book is never cloying but serves instead to enlighten and illuminate…. This is a book that asks an investment of time by its readers, but it is time spent in pure, rapturous reading pleasure.

—Bill Lundgren, Lundgren’s Book Lounge

A sprawling, readable history of the world from the sailor’s point of view—and not just on the oceans of the world, but also its lakes and rivers.


Comprehensive and knowledgeable … a sturdy keel for any maritime history collection.

—Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

An invaluable resource for salty dogs and land-lubbers alike.

Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.  

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Published in the United Kingdom by Atlantic Books, 2014.

Down East:
A Maritime History of Maine

(Gardiner, Maine: Tilbury House, 2000)

1-down-eastDown East: A Maritime History of Maine offers an enjoyable, accessible overview of our state’s maritime history, from the geography and ecology that have always shaped life in Maine, to early Native American travel and trade on our waterways, European efforts at settlement that predated the Pilgrims, wars and revolution, burgeoning international trade and shipbuilding, the continuing role of the fisheries, and present-day Maine as vacationland, with pleasure boating and yachting an interesting justaposition to the shipping that makes present-day Portland the largest port in New England.

Down East: A Maritime History of Maine is a fascinating introduction to the history of a unique culture I have known and loved for many years…. Paine’s economy of phrase and clarity of purpose make this book a delight for anyone curious about the past or interested in the future of the great State of Maine.

—Walter Cronkite

The text is a masterful synthesis of maritime history, set within the broader context of Maine history…. I believe it is the best introduction to the state available.

—Professor Joel W. Eastman, University of Southern Maine

Tradition has it that Maine breeds taciturn men whose talk tells much without wasting a word. The author obviously respects tradition, for this slim, graceful volume packs an impressive wealth of history and geography, geology and ecology—all the elements that have shaped the people and places of a singular state.

—Richard Seamon, Naval Institute Proceedings

It has been my experience that histories packed with information are usually temptingly easy to put down, and that readable ones are likely to be superficial. Down East, however, has the uncommon virtue of being both eminently readable and highly informative.

—Thomas S. Kane, author of The New Oxford Guide to Writing

The book’s intent is to give the general reader an enjoyable and accurate overview of the state’s maritime history. The trick is to avoid duplicating other historians and still make it useful to scholars and buffs…. Most writers would have shrunk from the task or failed. Remarkably, Paine succeeds. How the writer accomplishes this provides a pointed lesson to historical writers.

—William David Barry, Maine Historical Society, Maine Sunday Telegram

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Ships of the World:
An Historical Encyclopedia

(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997)

ShipsOfTheWorldUSYou don’t have to be a maritime history buff–or even a sailor–to find Lincoln Paine’s Ships of the World fascinating. Certainly no scholar or student of the history of ships will want to be without it: it consists of more than 1,000 alphabetical entries describing individual ships’ histories and fates. Yet because of the author’s flair for language and the skill with which he has made his selections, the book is a browser’s delight–almost a short-story collection. Look up an entry on any celebrated vessel–the Titanic, the Monitor, the Lusitania–and you’ll find an admirably concise history of the boat and the events that made it famous. But browsing turns up countless unexpected pleasures, from the story of the Politician (a freighter that ran aground in the Outer Hebrides, where its cargo of Scotch was efficiently plundered by locals) to that of Jacques Cousteau’s Calypso. The hundreds of well-chosen black-and-white illustrations help bring the tales alive.

Best of Reference, 1998

—New York Public Library

This was clearly the most fascinating book of the year.

—Library Journal, “Best Reference Sources, 1997”

Lincoln Paine is Homeric in sweep of vision and poetic reverence. . . . It is indeed uncommon for a reference book in that its hard data is organized by a poetic intelligence rather than an analytical one. It definitely belongs on the reference shelves of specialized libraries and archives and in the personal collections of maritime and naval bibliophiles.

—Kenneth Hagan, United States Naval Academy
author, This People’s Navy: The Making of American Sea Power

An impressive achievement . . . and a reference book of real value.

—N.A.M. Rodger, author,  The Safeguard of the Sea

Ships of the World: An Historical Encyclopedia . . . is a most uncommonly valuable book.

—Patrick O’Brian, author, Master and Commander and other Aubrey/Maturin novels

ShipsOfDiscovery                WarshipsTo1900