Beyond the Blue Horizon: How the Earliest Mariners Unlocked the Secrets of the Oceans

Written by Brian Fagan
Review by Kristen Hannum

Brian Fagan is a marvel, not just in his encyclopedic knowledge of history, archaeology, and anthropology, but in the way he offers up all the best parts in coherent, compelling anecdotes, leaving the boring parts back in the encyclopedia. Not only that, but it turns out he’s a sailor, which explains a lot about his own æfintyr, a Norse word he uses several times in this book. He explains it means “‘venture,’ a word that implies a strong element of risk, and the fear and excitement of facing the unknown and unpredictable.” Fagan relates it to “the profound, restless curiosity” that beckoned so many to explore the open water, “no place for the ordinary traveler.”

He focuses on five regions explored by sea travelers in prehistoric times: the South Pacific; the Mediterranean, especially the Aegean; the Indian Ocean; the North Sea and North Atlantic; and the North Pacific off the U.S. coast. The book is a cargo-full of information on winds, shipbuilding techniques, natural history, routes, ancient cultures, and primitive navigation. It’s also an ode to æfintyr, a luring call to the sea. Recommended.