Only Simon Winchester, the best-selling author of The Professor and the Madman and Krakatoa, would have the tenacity and the talent to tackle a biography of the Atlantic Ocean. A modern-day Melville, he takes to the waters in pursuit of a larger-than-life creature, adeptly capturing his prey in the engaging Atlantic.
Winchester first focuses on the geological history of the Atlantic, discussing its formation and evolution, then shifts to the more interesting human history. It is here that the reader appreciates Winchester’s abilities as both a researcher and writer, for he is able to present detailed historical information in lively prose. Interspersed among these accounts are musings on his personal relationship with the ocean, beginning as an 18-year-old Brit crossing the Atlantic on an ocean liner bound for America.
But the Atlantic is the real star here, and when you consider Western civilization alone, you realize just what an impact the ocean has had on mankind. Winchester discourses on the explorers, from the Vikings to Christopher Columbus, and writes about how the Atlantic inspired artists, including Shakespeare, Monet, Beethoven and, perhaps most famously, Melville and his Moby-Dick. He relates tales of the warriors of the sea, among them pirates, the British Royal Navy, Old Ironsides and German U-boats. And there were also many tragedies on the sea, including the sinkings of the Lusitania and the Titanic, the slaughter of the whales and the use of the waters as routes for ships bringing slaves from Africa to the New World. Finally, Winchester deals with the contemporary life of the Atlantic, particularly the environmental threats it faces from pollution, overfishing and globa[Wed Aug 27 13:06:23 2014] enhancedContent.pl: Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\enhancedContent.pl line 249. l warming.
To read Atlantic is to take a fantastic voyage filled with romance, drama, tragedy and inspiration. Simon Winchester has once again written a masterpiece of nonfiction, one that likely will be as enduring as man’s eternal quest for adventure on the high seas.
Copyright 2010 BookPage Reviews.
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.
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.