Man was a sailor long before he invented the wheel or straddled a horse, and his adventures at sea changed the course of history. Initially he was able to sail only downwind, but the Cretans and Phoenicians made design improvements to sails that permitted sailing across and eventually against the wind. The Vikings optimized the performance of the square sail, and the Dutch modified the Arab lateen to create the sail commonly used today. Leo Block tells the story of the evolution of sails and relates it to historic events and other factors that affected the performance of sailing vessels. Numerous illustrations help explain the technical factors involved.Focusing mainly on European improvements, Block details the progress of sail design from the lateen to the square, fore and aft, and classic rigs right up to the swift clipper ships of the nineteenth century just before the advent of steam power. Written in laymen's terms, the book is an excellent learning tool for readers who kw little about the history of sailing vessels and a quick reference guide for sailors who want a reminder of how their craft evolved.