Reviews for Atlantic : Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories
Booklist Reviews 2010 September #1
"Of all of Winchester's amazingly educational and entertaining books, a list that includes the best-selling The Map That Changed the World (2001) and Krakatoa (2003), his latest one is perhaps the most unique and the most creative in its approach. It is presented as a biography--of an ocean! It is as if he is telling the life story of the Atlantic, and, indeed, as we learn from one of the most wondrous facts presented here, oceans actually do have life spans--they have "their beginnings and their endings." The Atlantic, as we are told, was born 10 million years ago by the continental split between Africa and South America, and its death will occur some 170 million years from now. The geological history of this vast body of water is partnered with the human story of habitation around it, and travel over it, because in Winchester's view, the Atlantic has functioned as the "inland sea of Western civilization." His coverage of aspects of human involvement with this ocean is lively and extensive, with topics ranging from the Atlantic as represented in the arts to the effects of climate change and overfishing and from immigration patterns to the use of the ocean's waters for warfare. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Winchester's latest is bound to follow his previous books onto best-seller lists, and this one should be promoted as one of his best." Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.
Choice Reviews 2011 August
People divide the world ocean into smaller bodies of water, an extreme example being the Southern Ocean, a globe-circling space torn out of the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic oceans. But historians have been attracted to the notion of studying influential bodies of water even though such delineations can be quite arbitrary. Weaving his own widespread travels into an episodic historical narrative, the prolific and popular Winchester offers a rollicking "biography of the Atlantic." The subtitle aptly conveys the discursive contents of the text. Richly descriptive, breezy, and vigorous, Winchester's prose abounds with sharp images, and the richness of his vocabulary caused this reader to reach for his dictionary for words like "epibenthic," "pelmet," and "ablating." Curiously, although Winchester argues persuasively for the importance of the Atlantic world as wielder of power and shaper of global civilization, he fails to muse upon or even mention the great shift of economic productivity and influence from the Atlantic to the Pacific that has been such a major phenomenon of the contemporary world. Ultimately, will scholars agree with Winchester's claim that the Atlantic was "the grandest ocean on the planet"? Summing Up: Recommended. General collections/public libraries. Copyright 2011 American Library Association.
Kirkus Reviews 2010 August #1
The prolific journalist and historian returns with a story both geographically immense and profoundly personal.
Winchester (The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom, 2008, etc.) offers a tale about the Atlantic Ocean that is variably genial, cautionary, lyrical, admonitory, terrifying, horrifying and inspiring. He begins with a memory from 1963—his youthful transatlantic crossing aboard the passenger liner Empress of Britain—and returns to the birth of the Atlantic, perhaps 540 million years ago, providing a John McPhee–like history of its formation and development. Winchester then looks at humans' "infant" acquaintance with the ocean, noting that people first settled its shores about 164,000 years ago on the western coast of Africa. They soon ventured out on the ocean, then endeavored to cross it—the Irish could have done it, he says, but there's no hard evidence. The author chronicles the stories of Leif Eriksson, John Cabot and Amerigo Vespucci, and notes that the "schoolboy" phase of the Atlantic's life includes our attempts to understand it—to chart it, measure it, discover its mineral, vegetable and animal bounties and puzzle over its mysteries. For the "lover" phase of the Atlantic's history, Winchester sails across centuries of literature, art and music that in some sense celebrate the ocean. The "soldier" phase involves warfare on and around the Atlantic, from the Vikings to the Falklands. The "justice" section examines maritime laws of various sorts, from fishing to trade to communication. The concluding chapters deal with the depletion and pollution of the ocean, and the author projects a tone of both dire warning and feathered hope. Throughout, Winchester sprinkles passages of personal history, none more powerful than the epilogue about Namibia's Skeleton Coast, "a place so named because of all the skeletons, of both men and the vessels in which they had wrecked."
A lifetime of thought, travel, reading, imagination and memory inform this affecting account. Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2010 June #2
I know what Winchester will pull off here-the biography of an ocean. The author's blend of history and science can't be beat; West Coasters, you'll want, too. With a one-day laydown (Nov. 2) and a 150,000-copy first printing. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal Reviews 2010 September #1
How does one attempt to write a biography of a subject as old and vast as an ocean? Driven by a lifelong fascination with the Atlantic, Winchester (The Professor and the Madman) found inspiration in viewing the ocean and our relationship with it through the categories of Shakespeare's seven ages: infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, old age, and second childhood. Employing a mixture of history, science, and anecdotes from both sides of the Atlantic, he envisions the ocean's birth and eventual death and explores how its boundaries were discovered and defined, the many ways it has affected the development of human society (artistically, militarily, industrially), and humanity's effect on it in turn. Though the sheer size of the subject obviously limits how much of the Atlantic's "life" can be related in a single volume, Winchester does an excellent job at presenting an extensive collection of the most interesting parts of its existence. VERDICT Winchester is in fine form, and his typically engaging style creates a vibrant portrait of an ocean that remains endlessly fascinating. Highly recommended, especially for those who have enjoyed the author's previous works. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/10.]--Kathleen McCallister, Univ. of South Carolina, Columbia [Page 122]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal BookSmack
As much as Bryson's collection is about science, it is also about biography and history. On that note, fans who appreciate Bryson and company's wide view of a topic should find Winchester's blend of science, story, and biography, as he tells the tale of an ocean, a good next read. Winchester writes with the same open invitation to readers to join him in exploration, and he also offers that bedrock sense that something amazing has happened and we are all lucky to get a chance to experience it. In his exploration of the Atlantic Ocean, Winchester covers epic episodes of history as well as the creation of the sea and its future. This is a massive and sustaining story. Neal Wyatt, "RA Crossroads", Booksmack!, 12/2/10 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2010 September #1
Winchester, bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman, returns to the natural world with his epic new book, a "biography" of the Atlantic Ocean, from its origins 370 million years ago through the population of its shores by humanity and their interactions with it. He sees the Atlantic as the vital ingredient in the blooming of Western civilization. He scrutinizes the early explorations from the Vikings and Norsemen through Columbus, detailing the perils of the open sea. With his excellent research and engrossing anecdotes about the ocean as "a living thing," Winchester spotlights its inspiration on poets, painters, and writers in its majestic beauty. Although he does not neglect the chief tragedies of the Atlantic, like the slave trade and the maritime battles, Winchester occasionally flits beelike from scene to scene, and the facts become lost in a blur. Maybe this is the price for such a monumental undertaking. Nevertheless, Winchester's sea saga is necessary reading for those who want to understand the planet better, even as, he notes, our waters are rapidly changing from pollution, overfishing, and climate change. 44 b&w illus.; 4 maps. (Nov.) Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC