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For all the focus on history, Winchester concludes with three chapters examining the current state of the sea. As Winchester points out, the Atlantic will still be the Atlantic, no matter how much we fill it with poison. But the life that it sustains — including our own — might not survive. About Us. Brand Publishing. Times News Platforms. Facebook Twitter Show more sharing options Share Close extra sharing options.

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Scott Martelle. He has written biographies of people before, such as The Professor and the Madman , about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. A body of water as enormous and central to our lives as the Atlantic is a difficult entity to capture in one book, even if it is pages long. This book examines the relationship between the Atlantic Ocean and the people who live on or near its shores. The author finds that over time, people have feared, explored, revered, and then ignored the ocean.

One might say that if the Mediterranean had long been the inland sea of the classical civilization, then the Atlantic Ocean had in time replaced it by becoming the inland sea of Western civilization. The regular replenishment of food sources in tide pools may have first drawn humans to settle near the ocean, in sea caves in South Africa, Winchester writes.

Some sea battle history is included as well as graphic descriptions of the brutality of piracy and the slave trade. The section on commerce notes the importance and former abundance of cod and provides an overview of the whaling industry. The experience of immigrants sailing to North America is also portrayed. In another chapter, Winchester highlights how the Atlantic has influenced artists, writers, and architects over the centuries.

Eventually, he intones dramatically, the Atlantic ocean will cease to be. It had a birth, it had a life, and in about million years, it will have a death. A large part of the weakness of this book, I think, can be ascertained by this epilogue. He speaks of its birth and lifespan and death as if we should be sentimental about it, about the future demise of the Atlantic ocean.

We have been taking it for granted, he has argued, by polluting it, by overfishing it, by killing its life. And he is right that those are unfortunate things. But that is damage being done to the whole of planet Earth, not just to the Atlantic specifically. Things happen around it, things happen in it, things happen to it, but if the only thing all these events have in common is a connection with the Atlantic ocean, then they have nothing in common. Am I a philistine?

But I don't think so.


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  5. I remain unconvinced that it has its own separate identity, a continuity of selfhood, that we should examine as its own precious thing. That was clearly Winchester's purpose, and on that score, the book is a failure. So why read it? Well, as I hope to have made clear, there is a lot of interesting stuff here. The book, in fact, is not a failure, because it does other things, at times very well.

    Some chapters will grab you more than others, and the whole enterprise fails to achieve the goal it reaches for so strenuously, but Winchester has a charming, intimate prose style, a way with an anecdote, and a refreshingly moral approach to history and geography, and he is worth spending a few hours with, at the very least. At worst, you might learn something. Nov 29, David rated it really liked it Shelves: science , adventure , memoirs , history , politics.

    This is a very enjoyable book; it covers many aspects of the Atlantic Ocean. The book describes its formation and its ultimate end, exploration, the use of the ocean for commerce, for food, for battles, and the inspiration the ocean has for literature, art and music. And of course, the book contains some stories of shipwrecks and of the ecological damage that people have inflicted on the ocean.

    Unlike some of the other reviews, I found this book to be an easy read. Winchester writes in a delight This is a very enjoyable book; it covers many aspects of the Atlantic Ocean. Winchester writes in a delightful, literary, almost poetic style. The physical book itself is quite attractive; the newly designed attractive typeface took me by surprise. Some more editing is needed--there are quite a few typos.

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    There are plenty of small, black-and-white illustrations that add to the stories. Sep 01, Chrissie marked it as to-read Shelves: history , science , travel , audible. Mar 12, Chris rated it it was ok. I never managed to get into this book. I think the scope was too broad and the smaller sub-topics were too brief and shallow to make for an interesting read.

    There is no cohesion to the book and Winchester bounces around from topic to topic, interspersing them with personal stories tangentially related to the Atlantic. Maybe if Winchester had narrowed down his list of things to cover, and get into more depth about fewer things, it would have been more informative and entertaining.

    I am noticing a pattern with his books- I am learning a lot, but when it gets dry occasionally, it really draaaaaaags on. Apr 30, Braden rated it did not like it Shelves: non-fiction. Like many others have commented, Winchester tried to cover way too much ground here with an over-reliance on questionable and mostly random "facts. And what interest I did have in those sections came about simply because those other books had peaked my interest. One truly frustrating aspect of this book was its Euro-centrism.

    Last time I checked, thousands of miles of S Like many others have commented, Winchester tried to cover way too much ground here with an over-reliance on questionable and mostly random "facts. Last time I checked, thousands of miles of South American, Central American, and African coastlines border the Atlantic in some capacity but these regions are largely glossed over or merely used as the background for European exploits.

    But most frustrating of all is the complete lack of sources for his often bizarre or irrelevant claims. Yes, there is a bibliography, but these titles are by-and-large secondary sources themselves. And one would have to do an awful lot of reading through these titles to find the source for some claim made by Winchester as he gives absolutely no indication of where he dug up any of his tidbits. Throughout the book, Winchester seems quite enamored by the distances between two random points. A fun drinking game would be to have a shot every time he tells the reader how many miles separate two points on the map.

    In addition to that, if you have a shot each time Winchester inserts himself into the book you'll be drunk in no time probably the first ten pages or so. And if you have a second shot for each time his personal anecdotes paint himself in a ridiculously good light, you'll certainly die of alcohol poisoning. Nov 30, Emily rated it it was ok Shelves: set-aside.

    I'm not sure why I thought I would like this book, given that I haven't liked Winchester's other work. I suppose it's because I've liked other book on maritime themes e. The Outlaw Sea. By the time I made it through the opening anecdote about a transatlantic sea voyage and a drawn-out comparison to flying, and got to his plan to structure the book around the Seven Ages of Man from "As You Like It," I had already totally lost patience. Feb 26, Rita rated it did not like it. I couldn't finish it. While some tidbits were interesting, but they went no where. Jul 20, Mel rated it it was amazing Shelves: nautical , read-in , some-of-my-best-reads , non-fiction , history.

    This was a very engaging read. I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in nautical history and the Atlantic Ocean. I enjoyed it immensely. Nov 03, Cheryl rated it it was amazing. This felt like a whirlwind tour of the ocean, as close to the whirls, eddies, sea breezes and gales of the actual ocean as possible in pages and read cozy on a couch.

    History can be desperately boring in the wrong hands, but Simon Winchester is one of the best writers of history I have read. He is eloquent, poetic, while still practical, a combination that defines the standard, or should. John McPhee wrote an opus on geology and got the same tone, of awe and wonderment and poetry, and it feels l This felt like a whirlwind tour of the ocean, as close to the whirls, eddies, sea breezes and gales of the actual ocean as possible in pages and read cozy on a couch.

    John McPhee wrote an opus on geology and got the same tone, of awe and wonderment and poetry, and it feels like Winchester did the same after writing The Map that Changed the World. Rachel Carson said of her writing about the ocean, that if there was any poetry in her writing, it came from the sea. That is here too. There were gaps and some boring material, but overall I felt this book captured the history of the Atlantic and its feel and moods.

    There was almost years before humans actually crossed it, even though the early Greeks and Phoenicians made small forays outside of their comfort zone in the Mediterranean, it was like space exploration is now, and that uncertainty seems so powerful. In the dark of night, depending where we went and when we went, the smells and sounds of the ocean were paramount, and if the moon was full, the waves in that light were beyond wild and sublime and contrasted to the narrow city life I knew.

    It unlocked me, and this book captures a little of why.

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    It is an ocean that moves, impressively and ceaselessly. It generates all kinds of noise- it is forever roaring, thundering, boiling, crashing, swelling, lapping. It is easy to imagine it trying to draw breath- perhaps not so noticeably out in mid-ocean, but where it encounters land, its waters sifting up and down a gravel beach, it mimics nearly perfectly the steady inspirations and exhalations of a living creature.

    It crawls with symbiotic existences, too: unimaginable quantities of monsters churn within its depths in a kind of maritime harmony, giving to the waters a felling of vibration, a kind of suboceanic pulse. And it has a psychology. It has moods: sometimes dour and sullen, on rare occasions cunning and playful; always it is pondering and powerful.

    Mountain chains with their jaggedly vicious peaks and sheer cliffs, and the dangers of rockfalls and avalanches and lashing storms, are classic examples of the sublime, presenting an aesthetic that inspires awe and reverence. The sea eventually came to be seen as much the same- a thing possessed of an awesome mightiness, a lethal beauty, of which one might be fearful and respective and overcome by, all at the same instant.

    Come the end of the eighteenth century and the sea was not longer an inconvenience to be overlooked…it was a thing to be honored and even embraced, though always warily, for the sea could always strike back, and with irresistible force and power. It first split open and filled with water and started to achieve properly oceanic dimensions about million years ago. But in due, course, these will come. Before what geologists like to think is too much longer, the Atlantic will begin to change its aspect and size very dramatically. Eventually, as the continents around it shudder and slide off in different direction, it will start to change shape, its coasts will move inward and become welded together again, and the sea will eventually squeeze itself dry and vanish into itself, in about million years.

    That is no mean life span. The power of that feeling rings in me still. Just what impelled him to move so far and so fast-curiosity, perhaps, or hunger, or a need for space and living room-remains an enigma. But the fact remains that a mere thirty thousand years after the fossil record shows him to have been foraging in the grasslands of Ethiopia and Kenya- hunting for elephants…building shelters and capturing and controlling lightning-strike fires- he began to trek southward through Africa, a lumbering progress toward the southern coastlines and a set of topographical phenomena the existence of which he had no inkling.

    The weather was becoming cooler as he went: the world was entering a major period of glaciation and even Africa, astride the equator, was briefly and before it became very cold indeed more climatically equitable, more covered with grassland, less wild with jungle. And so in due course, and after long centuries of a steady southern migration, man did reach the terminal cliffs and he did find the sea.

    He would have been astonished to reach what no doubt seemed to be the edge of his known world, at the sudden sigh of a yawning gap between what he knew and what he knew nothing about. At the same time, and from the safety of his high and grass-capped cliff top, he saw far down below him a boiling and seemingly endless expanse of water, thrashing and thundering and roaring an endless assault against the rocks that marked the margin of his habitat. Quite probably he was profoundly shaken, terrified by the something so huge and unlike anything he had known before.

    All of the recently discovered evidence suggest he and his kin stopped where they were and made shelter on the shore. Then-whether timidly or bolding or apprehensively we will never know- he eventually clambered down and made it on the beach proper. Then, while keeping himself well away from the thunder of the breakers, he knelt first to investigate, just as a child might do today, the magical mysteries of the seashore tide pools.

    Pinnacle Point appears to be the place where the very first human beings even settled down by the sea. Specifically there is a cave, known to the archeological community as PP13B, situated a few score feet above the wave line where evidence has been found showing that the humans who first sheltered there did such things as each shellfish, hone blades, and daub themselves or their surrounds with scratchings of ocher. There is a spring fed stream in Utah that I hike and swim in that is about feet from the Colorado River flowing through Moab, and the act of swimming and touching that water before it continues on to where it goes Canyonlands!

    Corona Arch! Grand Canyon! Lake Powell! It is when one begins to add up the total numbers of the vast aggregation of humankind who live in some kind of communion with this sea, of those who can rightly be considered belonging to an Atlantic community, or who are- if they are in any communal sense ocean-blessed or ocean-styled or ocean-crossed- to be considered in some regard Atlantic people-that this complication appears.

    It is a complication offered up by the great rivers that flow into the Atlantic Ocean. A very great number do. Many more rivers flow into the Atlantic than flow into either the Pacific or the Indian oceans. There is the Niger, the Kunene, the Orange, and the almost impossibly vast network of the Congo. There is the Amazon, with its headwaters in Peru, and which brings more water and raind forest mud into the Atlantic than the next eight largest rivers in the world bring to their respective seas.

    There is the St. Lawrence and the Mississippi-Missouri river system which hauls trillions of gallons of water each day down from the prairies and the Rocky Mountains. This is the hydrologic apex of the North American continent. Rainwaters that fall onto its northern flanks flow into Canada and into the Artic Ocean. Waters from its western and southwestern sides slip into creeks that eventually take them into Oregon and on the Pacific.

    Any precipitation that happens to fall on the southeastern slope seeps down eventually into a tiny canyon at the base of which there is an even tinier creek- and which makes it way to the north fork of a river that becomes the Marias River, which flows into the Missouri, then the Mississippi, then the Gulf of Mexico, from where its waters are connected to the Atlantic Ocean.

    With great prescience, the explorers of that rugged and icebound corner of Montana where the Triple Divide Peak rises gave a name to that tiny creek that spills off the summit. They named the very first river that snakes its way downhill, from below the snowline at seven thousand feet to the grassland at five thousand, and its waters coursing swift and pure through a Rocky Mountain canyon. It was almost as though the river knew what the explorers knew-which was where its waters were going.

    For they called it quite simply Atlantic Creek. It is an island much favored by artists, who come for its wild solitude and its total subordination to the nature that so entirely surrounds it. The gale had finally stopped its roaring, and the sun had come out and was edging its way into the afternoon. I was sitting on the cliff edge, my legs dangling over half a mile of emptiness Ahead of me there was just nothing- just an endless, crawling sea, hammered like copper in the warm sunshine and stretching far, fifty miles, a hundred- from up this high I felt I could have been looking out on five hundred miles and more.

    There was an endless vacancy that at this latitude, 62 degrees north or so, I knew would only be interrupted only by the basalt cliffs of Greenland, more than a thousand miles away. There were no ships wakes on the sea, no aircraft trails in the sky-just the cool incessant wind, the cries of the birds, and the imagined edges of the known world set down somewhere, far beyond my range of sight. It was extremely hot water, and it had all manner of noxious and corrosive dissolved gases in it; but it was liquid, it sloshed about, it could and did erode things that it poured over, and most important of all, it was the undeniable aqueous ancestor material to all of our present seas.

    The ocean I gazed down on from the puffin cliffs of Mykines is in essence the selfsame water that was created all those years ago; the principal difference is that while the Hadean sea was hot and acid… the Faroese Sea was cold and clean, had been purified and well salted by millions of years of evaporation and condensation and recycling, was rich in chemical ions from all over, and was vibrant with life of great complexity and beauty.

    Circumstantial evidence hints at the possibility, certainly. Tobacco leaves and traces of coca in Egyptian sarcophagi. A sculpted bronze head in the Louver, said to be Roman of the second century A.

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    Mosaics from near Pompeii with images of objects that resemble pineapples, chili peppers, and lemons. It was like trying to describe the invisible mass of air in a room- as task rather beyond the imaginative and descriptive powers of the time… Matters might have been simpler had the science been called oceanology, but it never was, and now only the Russians use the term. He created art from accounts and descriptions of its many dramas.

    Such pre-Colombian art as depicts the sea is more accepting, more sympathetic to the oceans caprices of calm and storm. The Incas, while not an Atlantic people, gave thanks to Mamacocha, the goddess of their sea. Those who lived on the Pacific coasts saw her as representing a protective embrace, as the supplier of fish and whales…and generally radiating a mood of benevolence that only altered, albeit witih occasionally lethal ferocity, whenever humankind had not been suitably attentive to her needs.

    The Mayans, farther north and on the side facing the Atlantic, were perhaps less spiritually involved with the ocean.

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    There is precious little art that indicates the sea or anything like it, even though their best known color, Mayan blue, would seem the ideal candidate for the makings of paintings related to the sea. They were very commercially connected to the ocean…and the greatest Mayan seaside city. The Mayan creation myth does not reference the sea either… In Atlantic Africa, however, there is still today much of the kind of reference for the ocean that was known among the Inca.

    Female water spirits, benevolent and erotic by turn, are enormously important in the tribal cultures of sub-Saharan coast-especially among the Yoruba of Nigeria…Benin, Ghana, Liberia, and Gabon. A popular figure, Wata-mama, or Mammywater, has appeared for hundreds of years in the folk art of West Africa, also popping up in the enslaved African diaspora in Brazil. Oct 24, Deborah Ideiosepius rated it really liked it Shelves: science-fact , historic-fact , non-fiction , marine-and-oceanic , travel. I am pretty sure I will both re-read it and use it as a reference in future. The book is kind of a biography of the Atlantic Ocean as seen by mankind.

    There is a brief introduction to its formation and information about its habits, tides, winds and other quirks are scattered throughout the book.

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    The narrative is easy, familiar and personalised, I do not recall ever having read anything by this author before but his style is very readable and the book is peppered with personal experiences and recollections of his lifelong, ongoing relationship with the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic is not a fast read at all it has taken me a couple of months to get through it. This is not a bad thing, it is because it is very full of information so that I have to be in the right frame of mind to sit down and read it for any length of time.

    Criticisms of this book, I always have some after all; The early human civilisation and expansion to the West are well covered. You get this with American authors, they get America-centric, one just grimaces and bears it but I do feel that a couple of chapters wandered off into American internal affairs too much. Perhaps not surprising given the title of the book. No, really, just Again, Americans, we just grin and bear them. These small problems are redeemed in the last couple of chapters where ecological issued are presented, and the epilogue describing the geological future of the Atlantic is a graceful and poetic ending to a book I put down with the sense of a book well read.

    View 1 comment. Nov 04, Jack Erickson rated it really liked it. Reading Simon Winchester Simon Winchester is like sitting down at a banquet with an historian, a geologist, a linguist, a meteorologist, a geographer, a novelist, and a world traveler. You're going to hear incredible stories about world events and adventures that will remain with you as long as you live.

    Winchester was an Oxford-educated geologist before he became a journalist and prolific author of books about fascinating topics: the history of the first geological map; an Oxford scholar who wr Reading Simon Winchester Simon Winchester is like sitting down at a banquet with an historian, a geologist, a linguist, a meteorologist, a geographer, a novelist, and a world traveler. Winchester was an Oxford-educated geologist before he became a journalist and prolific author of books about fascinating topics: the history of the first geological map; an Oxford scholar who wrote a multi-volume history of science in China; the professor who wrote the Oxford English Dictionary; the cataclysmic Krakatoa volcano eruption; and the San Francisco earthquake.

    No topic is too large or all encompassing for Winchester. Who else would have the courage and energy to write a book about -- the Atlantic Ocean?