AT FIRST GLANCE the subject of this book would appear to be pretentious. A world history, encapsulating universal human experience by analysing the processes of exploration, trade, culture, maritime development and warfare in a mere 16 wrecks, seems adventurous, to say the least.
But in the examples that Stewart Gordon takes, he shows how both the existence as well as the reason for and drama of the wreck enlarges our understanding of human existence, its development and process.
In doing so, he deflects the short-sighted view of particular wrecks – the current newsworthiness of treasure, battles and the foraging for fresh trade routes.
From the early beginnings of man’s journey on water with a 6000 BC dugout canoe (the Dafuna) to the tourist cruise disaster of the Costa Concordia in 2012, the author illustrates his theme with well-researched and highly readable accounts.
He is almost up to date with the current accounts (and controversy) of one of today’s hot-potato wreck sites, HMS Victory, which may soon be seen as an avoidable loss, and cultural victim of poor regulation and politics.
When it comes to the Spanish galleon Los Tres Reyes (1634), Gordon has the wreck illustrate several aspects, including silver and the Spanish trading world, and the construction, arming and manning of a warship carrying trading goods in the 17th century.
Of course there are gaps – Gordon hardly touches on the immense impact of the expansion to the East in the many and diverse wrecks of the East India Companies, for example.
However, his main idea, to examine the context, social and economical place of the shipwreck in history, is well and unusually told, and deserves to be read by current shipwreck explorers.
Rex Cowan

ISBN: 9781611685404
Hardback, 290pp, £22