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Atlantic: The Biography of an Ocean by Simon…

Atlantic: The Biography of an Ocean (2010)

by Simon Winchester

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Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories is Simon Winchester's biography of the Atlantic Ocean. Winchester decided that, since the ocean is a living thing, the story of the Atlantic could be told in the format of a biography. In an extension of this comparison, Winchester decided to structure the chapters in the book based on the seven stages of man as outlined in Shakespeare's As You Like It:

"Infant; School-boy; Lover; Soldier; Justice; Slipper'd Pantaloon; and Second Childishness. It seemed all of a sudden, just about the ideal. Pinioned within these seven categories, the stages of our relationship with the ocean could be made quite manageable.

"I could examine in the First Age, for example, the stirrings of humankind's initial childlike interest in the sea. In the second, I could examine how that initial curiosity evolved into the scholarly disciplines, of exploration, education, and learning - and in this as in all the other Ages I could explore the history of that learning, so that each Age would become a chronology in and of itself. I could then become captive in the Third Age - that of the lover - by the story of humankind's love affairs, by way of the art, poetry, architecture, or prose that this sea has inspired over the centuries.

"In the Fourth Age - that of the soldier - I could tell of the arguments and conflicts that have so often roiled the ocean....In the Fifth - that of the well-fed Justice - I could describe how the sea became a sea of laws and commerce....In the sixth Age, that dominated by the fatigue and tedium of the pantaloon, I could reflect upon the ways man has recently wearied of the great sea, has come to take it for granted....And in the Seventh and final Age....I could imagine the ways by which this much-overlooked and perhaps vengeful ocean might one day strike back, reverting to type, reverting to the primal nature of what it always was. (pg. 26-27)"

As a fan of Winchester's books, I was really looking forward to reading Atlantic, and, as much as I enjoyed it, I must add a few precautions for those considering reading this massive narrative. First, it helps if you have read other books by Winchester and appreciate his writing. Since he's a talented writer who has a good eye for interesting details and can share many entertaining anecdotes, many people will find this part easy. Second, this is not an easy-to-read-light-hearted-entertainment. While it is entertaining and Winchester can be humorous, it's also dense, expansive and detailed - it's not a quick read. You need to know you will be investing some time in reading. Third, it will help if potential readers have an appreciation for a wide range of topics from ancient history to geology to art to military history, to exploration.

Atlantic includes: A Table Of Contents, List of Maps and Illustrations, Preface, Prologue, Seven Chapters, an Epilogue, Acknowledgments, A Glossary of Possibly Unfamiliar Terms, Bibliography, and Index.

Very Highly Recommended; http://shetreadssoftly.blogspot.com/
( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
I listened to the book on CD, read by the author. Loaded with details - the first section contained a few more details than I was interested in at the time. Another fascinating subject, well presented, but also a bit depressing. I'm glad I "read" it, but it's probably not a selection I'd choose to give a second reading, unlike some of his other works.

Updated 2014 - I listened to it again! I almost didn't because the start was very slow for me. But oddly enough I didn't remember it...at all! How strange is that? It was rather depressing. I do like listening to his voice though! ( )
  KylaS | Feb 18, 2016 |
slow at the start, gets better. very dense read. ( )
1 vote dham340 | May 10, 2015 |
Winchester took on a huge, and probably impossible, task in "Atlantic". Telling the history of this ocean clearly isn't something that can be accomplished in one book.

That said, the author once again makes what could have been a dreary, boring tale of statistics into an intimate and interesting story, using the Seven Ages of Man as his controlling metaphor. This reader, at least, was pulled along and found very few dragging spots.

Among other aspects of the Atlantic, Winchester discusses the slave trade and the destruction of the Outer Banks cod fisheries--for both of which mankind should be deeply ashamed--to demonstrate mankind's more disgusting uses of what should be one of our greatest treasures.

All in all, a worthwhile read. I could have done with much more about the flora and fauna, but that's my own prejudice. ( )
1 vote bohemima | Feb 25, 2015 |
Enjoyable, meandering, easy to listen to. The kind of book that you can, and probably should, pick up and put down at intervals. I didn't finish it, and I imagine that next time, I'll read it a chapter at a time, with breaks for other books.
  themulhern | Dec 23, 2014 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Simon Winchesterprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lisa VesteråsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Torstein VelsandTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Men might as well project a voyage to the Moon, as attempt to employ steam navigation against the stormy North Atlantic Ocean.Dionysius Lardner, Irish scientific writer and lecturer, 1838
This book is for Setsuko and in memory of Angus Campbell MacintyreFirst mate of the South African Harbour Board tug Sir Charles Elliott who died in 1942, trying to save lives and whose body lies unfound somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean
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(Preface) The ocean romance that lies at the heart of this book was primed for me by an unanticipated but unforgettable small incident.
(Prologue) A big ocean - and the Atlantic is a very big ocean indeed - has the appearance of a settled permanence.
The Kingdom of Morocco has on its most widely used currency bill neither a camel nor a minaret nor a Touareg in desert blue, but the representation of the shell of a very large snail.
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Blending history and anecdote, geography and reminiscence, science and exposition, the author of Krakatoa tells the breathtaking saga of the magnificent Atlantic Ocean, setting it against the backdrop of mankind's intellectual evolution. Until a thousand years ago, no humans ventured into the Atlantic or imagined traversing its vast infinity. But once the first daring mariners successfully navigated to far shores, whether it was the Vikings, the Irish, the Chinese, Christopher Columbus in the north, or the Portuguese and the Spanish in the south, the Atlantic evolved in the world's growing consciousness of itself as an enclosed body of water bounded by the Americas to the West, and by Europe and Africa to the East. Atlantic is a biography of this immense space, of a sea which has defined and determined so much about the lives of the millions who live beside or near its tens of thousands of miles of coast. The Atlantic has been central to the ambitions of explorers, scientists and warriors, and it continues to affect our character, attitudes, and dreams. Poets to potentates, seers to sailors, fishermen to foresters, all have a relationship with this great body of blue-green sea and regard her as friend or foe, adversary or ally, depending on circumstance or fortune. The author chronicles that relationship, making the Atlantic come vividly alive. Spanning from the earth's geological origins to the age of exploration, World War II battles to modern pollution, his narrative is epic and awe-inspiring.… (more)

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