The best books on the North Sea

Many authors have picked their favorite books about the North Sea and why they recommend each book.

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A Venetian Affair

By Andrea di Robilant,

Book cover of A Venetian Affair: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century

This creative non-fiction book is both the real history of a couple in love and the story of di Robilant discovering their letters in the family palazzo. The drama plays out during the 18th century, a time when Venice is heading for decline. His other books are also wonderful, especially Irresistible North about the Zen brothers exploring the North Sea.

Who am I?

I am an anthropologist who became attached to Venice after spending time in Italian language school there and returning over and over, often staying for months. What tourists see is the superficial beauty of the city. But Venice is a place of incredible depth and complexity, both historically and today. During my many visits, I began to hear (on the street) and read (in museums) of the many inventions that happened in Venice. I soon started making a list and, with additional reading, this list grew to 220 inventions—such as quarantine and the paperback book—and realized how much we owe to Venice for how we navigate the world today.


I wrote...

Inventing the World: Venice and the Transformation of Western Civilization

By Meredith Small,

Book cover of Inventing the World: Venice and the Transformation of Western Civilization

What is my book about?

An epic cultural journey that reveals how Venetian ingenuity and inventions—from sunglasses and forks to bonds and currency—shaped modernity.

How did a small, isolated city—with a population that never exceeded 100,000, even in its heyday—come to transform western civilization? Acclaimed anthropologist Meredith Small examines the unique Venetian social structure that was key to their explosion of creativity and invention that ranged from the material to the social.

One

By Conrad Williams,

Book cover of One

Richard Jane, a diver working on a rig in the North Sea, is on a dive when ‘an event’ takes place which devastates the surface of the planet. This is another wonderfully written apocalypse – the descriptions are such that you can’t stop reading, no matter how horrific. The terror of Jane’s frantic escape from the black, ice-cold, subterranean depths is harrowing enough, but the soul-sapping devastation he finds when he reaches the surface is something else altogether. The first part of the book is particularly powerful, as Jane walks south along virtually the length of what’s left of the country to look for his son in the ruins of London. 


Who am I?

I’ve been writing about the end of the world for years, so I know my way around the apocalypse! It’s not as dark as it sounds – it’s not the end of the world itself that I find fascinating, it’s imagining the reactions of the people who inhabit these nightmare scenarios. I’m a people watcher at heart, and these days it seems we’re increasingly restricted by the polarization of society, almost forced to pick a side. Come the apocalypse, all the preconceptions and regulations will be stripped away, and folks will behave as they genuinely want to, not how they think they should. Now that would really be something to behold!


I wrote...

Autumn: Dawn

By David Moody,

Book cover of Autumn: Dawn

What is my book about?

My Autumn series is a zombie apocalypse that’s a million miles removed from The Walking Dead and Night of the Living Dead. I wanted to make the undead believable – there’s no flesh eating, no gore for gore’s sake – and focus instead on the absolute horror faced by the people left behind, trying to survive in a world where the dead outnumber the living by 100,000 to 1. Now, in the shadow of the pandemic, the newest book – Autumn: Dawn – has taken on a new resonance.

Welcome to London. Population seven million. 99.9% of them dead. Can enough survivors band together to make a difference, or has the country - maybe even the entire world - already been lost to the dead?

The Woman in Cabin 10

By Ruth Ware,

Book cover of The Woman in Cabin 10

I loved this tightly plotted thriller set on a luxury yacht. Lo writes for a travel magazine and at first, the trip is seemingly perfect, with clear skies and calm seas. However, when Lo witnesses a woman going overboard and all the passengers are accounted for, the ship continues on its way despite her attempts to get to the truth. Trapped, this is another spine-chilling and brilliantly claustrophobic read. 


Who am I?

I worked as long-haul cabin crew for many years and I love travelling. I’ve really missed being able to travel (as many have too) and I dream of the places I’ll be able to visit again soon. The Ex-Husband was the book I wrote in lockdown so I loved being able to ‘escape’ to the sunny Caribbean. I had fond memories of a trip to Barbados, so the book is mostly set there. I also travelled a lot as a child and one of my first memories is of being on a plane.


I wrote...

The Ex-Husband

By Karen Hamilton,

Book cover of The Ex-Husband

What is my book about?

Charlotte has an unsavoury past, but she’s on the straight and narrow these days. She was so young then – she married the wrong man, falling for Sam’s sweet-talking charm and charisma, and got caught up in his con artist games. Now Sam is missing. But before he disappeared, he left urgent, cryptic messages about someone threatening him – someone who has been threatening Charlotte too.

So Charlotte takes a job as a personal assistant for an engagement party aboard a private luxury cruise ship, the Cleobella, to get far away from anyone who means her harm. But as the Cleobella sails through its glittering destinations, increasingly sinister events haunt the guests, and the turquoise waves and sun-drenched beaches give way to something darker. 

Europe's Lost World

By Vincent Gaffney, Simon Fitch, David Smith

Book cover of Europe's Lost World: The Rediscovery of Doggerland

Ever since deep-sea fishing vessels started to bring up artifacts and the bones of extinct land animals from the floor of the North Sea (UK), there has been a suspicion that a once-inhabited submerged land lay there. Named Doggerland, this land has now been investigated in more detail than any other. We know how people lived there, what the topography and vegetation were like, what animals roamed there. And we know that about 8000 years ago, Doggerland – the last land link between the British Isles and the rest of Europe – became submerged.  A gripping and hugely compelling account.


Who am I?

Growing up in post-WWII Europe, young people’s anxiety was often channelled into searching for ‘lost worlds’, places hope could be nurtured and ancient solutions revived. So I encountered Atlantis and Lemuria and other imagined places but also learned, from training as a geologist, that once-populated lands had actually been submerged. Myths and legends often contain grains of observational truth at their heart. The more ‘submergence stories’ I research, from Australia through India and across northwest Europe, the more I realize how much we have forgotten about undersea human pasts. And how our navigation of the future could be improved by understanding them.


I wrote...

Worlds in Shadow: Submerged Lands in Science, Memory and Myth

By Patrick Nunn,

Book cover of Worlds in Shadow: Submerged Lands in Science, Memory and Myth

What is my book about?

Across the world, we find stories about lands under the ocean said to have once been occupied by people just like us. Most of us think this just cannot be true, so we dismiss these stories as ‘myths and legends’, entertaining yet baseless. Yet after the end of the last great ice age, melting land ice raised the ocean surface 120 meters (almost 400 feet) over several thousand years. This so traumatized coastal peoples that they encoded their memories of land loss in oral traditions which morphed into ‘myths and legends’ to reach us today. 

Our ancestors’ encounters with rising oceans can be reconstructed and, as this book shows, help us rationalize and cope with expected future sea-level rise.

The Swarm

By Frank Schatzing,

Book cover of The Swarm

From one day to another nature seems to have gone mad. Even more: The species on the Earth seem to have conspired against humanity—after being decimated and clobbered by us humans. Like a last-ditch counterattack to ensure survival.

I read this thriller while starting to write my book. And it was exciting—not only because Frank Schätzing—a German fiction author—is a master of suspense. But because what he describes is not so far away from what I describe in my nonfiction (!) book: The epic journey of species toward the poles and up the mountains—with all its consequences for the civilized world as well as our irrational handling of it. Schätzing's fictional story is based on a solid ground of facts. But there is another reason, why The Swarm does not seem too absurd: It´s because climate change is altering life on earth in a way that itself seems like a…


Who am I?

As a science journalist I have concentrated on the consequences of climate change. It´s the most frightening as fascinating experiment, we conduct with our planet. In 2018 I wrote a book on extreme weather together with climate scientist Freddy Otto from the University of Oxford (Angry Weather). After this I got immersed in a different climate consequence: How it is affecting biodiversity and with it the foundation of our societies. But what I also love is good storytelling. I quickly get bored with texts that have no dramaturgy or that don't give the reader any pleasure—unlike the fantastic and highly relevant books on this list.


I wrote...

Nowhere Left to Go: How Climate Change Is Driving Species to the Ends of the Earth

By Benjamin von Brackel,

Book cover of Nowhere Left to Go: How Climate Change Is Driving Species to the Ends of the Earth

What is my book about?

As humans accelerate global warming, animals and plants must flee to the margins: on scattered nature reserves, between major highways, or among urban sprawl. And when even these places become too hot and inhospitable, wildlife is left with only one path to survival: an often-formidable journey toward the poles as they race to find a new home in a warming world. Tropical zones lose their inhabitants, beavers settle in Alaska, and gigantic shoals of fish disappear—just to reappear along foreign coastlines.

Award-winning environmental journalist Benjamin von Brackel traces these awe-inspiring journeys and celebrates the remarkable resilience of species around the world. But the lengths these plants and animals must go to avoid extinction are as alarming as they are inspirational.

Building Anglo-Saxon England

By John Blair,

Book cover of Building Anglo-Saxon England

Blair approaches the history of these centuries by dividing mainland Britain into environmental and cultural zones. In doing so, he highlights the role of geography, geology, infrastructure, trade and even rainfall in determining trends of settlement, social cohesion, and material culture. Blair examines how landscapes were created – the evolution of villages, towns, and religious complexes – while exploring the relationship between centres of power and the satellite hubs around them. The book is richly served by colour images, artists’ reconstructions, maps, and diagrams. Comparisons to Scandinavia (where early timber structures survive) help bring the houses and surroundings of the Anglo-Saxons vividly to life.


Who am I?

Tom Licence is Professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia and a former Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. He teaches Anglo-Saxon History to undergraduates and postgraduates.


I wrote...

Edward the Confessor: Last of the Royal Blood

By Tom Licence,

Book cover of Edward the Confessor: Last of the Royal Blood

What is my book about?

Edward, in the past, was regarded as a weak king whose policies led to the Norman Conquest. This new biography dismantles the old argument and reassembles the evidence to show that Edward was a conscientious ruler, and that others were to blame for the conquest of 1066.

Hornet Flight

By Ken Follett,

Book cover of Hornet Flight

Another great thriller by Follett, what I found different and interesting for this book was the setting, Nazi-occupied Denmark during World War 2. The mixing of fictional and historical events is well accomplished. Typical of Follett, the novel presents intertwining stories in an adept way that builds tension throughout. It is very well researched and the places really come to life. I loved the abundance of technical details that don’t feel overwhelming, though. With memorable, strong characters, all determined to reach their goals, the writer did a great job in placing them into a well portrayed, true-life context. I loved the spinning swirl of actions that accompany the reader until the very end.


Who am I?

I am a former journalist and corporate public relations expert with a Ph.D. in Foreign Languages, I’ve always been passionate about World War 2 history and truly fascinated by the deceptions put in place by both the Allies and the Axis. I believe that a story that mixes fiction with history is highly powerful and evocative. I set my debut novel in the Rome in 1942 because I was inspired by the numerous stories heard from both my grandfathers who fought in the war and because Fascist Italy is not as well-known as it should be. As one of the very few female thriller writers in this genre, I wanted to celebrate the contribution of women in World War 2!


I wrote...

Lucifer's Game: An Emotional and Gut-Wrenching World War II Spy Thriller

By Cristina Loggia,

Book cover of Lucifer's Game: An Emotional and Gut-Wrenching World War II Spy Thriller

What is my book about?

Spies, military secrets, and a personal crusade for freedom…Rome, 1942Cordelia Olivieri is a young, determined hotel owner desperate to escape Mussolini’s racial persecution. But as Fascist leaders gather in Rome, Cordelia is suddenly surrounded by the world’s most ruthless and powerful commanders. In an effort to keep her Jewish heritage a secret and secure safe passage out of Italy, Cordelia forms a dangerous alliance with the British army who wants to push the Axis out of North Africa once and for all.

Going undercover, Cordelia begins obtaining and leaking military intelligence to a British agent, hoping the intelligence will secure her freedom. But the more Cordelia uncovers, the greater the risks – especially for one handsome German Afrika Korps officer. How far must Cordelia go to protect her identity and secure passage out of Rome?

Castles of Steel

By 0679456716,

Book cover of Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea

Massie is a university-trained “popular” historian, that is, he writes especially for the broad, history-loving public audience rather than for professorial specialists. In Castles of Steel, his term for the biggest ships of that day, he succeeds in surveying the entire war at sea in World War One: the Pacific, the South Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the U-boat (i.e. submarine) - infested sea lanes to Britain and France, and of course the critical North Sea, where Britain and Germany squared off against one another for the entire war (1914-1918), not just at Jutland. His fine, very well-written work serves as a lengthy introduction for readers wishing later to probe deeper into the various theaters of the war at sea.


Who am I?

I retired from Drexel University in 2015 after thirty-six years as a professor of German and European History of the 19th and 20th Centuries. My sub-specialty in the History of Technology carried over into publications that over the years focused increasingly on the German army and navy.


I wrote...

Clash of the Capital Ships: From the Yorkshire Raid to Jutland

By Eric Dorn Brose,

Book cover of Clash of the Capital Ships: From the Yorkshire Raid to Jutland

What is my book about?

World War One witnessed the largest engagement between capital ships (i.e. battleships, battlecruisers, and heavy cruisers) in modern times, seventy-two altogether at 1916’s Battle of Jutland fought by antagonists Great Britain and Imperial Germany. Even more “battle wagons” clashed there than in World War Two showdowns at sea like 1944’s Leyte Gulf. Accordingly, hundreds of books have been written about Jutland, including a spate of new works as the centennial approached in 2016. I thought it was necessary to write yet another book that synthesized this vast literature and rendered judgments where historians still disagreed. I also paid special attention to circumstances on both the British and German sides that affected the outcome of the battle – the analysis had to be comparative, not narrowly nationalist. This costly battle, a very expensive British victory, contributed mightily to the allied defeat of Germany.  

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