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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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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 |
I love Simon Winchester: Best selling author, broadcaster, journalist at The Guardian. I've been lucky enough to hear him speak and found him charming and delightful. A biography of the Atlantic Ocean would seem a huge and daunting task, even to such an accomplished writer. He fairly says as much while explaining his decision to use Shakespeare's "Seven Ages of Man" as an organizing literary device. We see the youth of early geological formation and exploration, the soldiers of the many wars waged on her expanse and are given a hint of her tectonic demise. Throughout is a fact-o-rama of tidbits, tales, personal stories and anecdotes. If one 'age' doesn't catch your fancy, stick around as Winchester quickly moves along to yet another interesting and unknown account. Some narratives worked less well for me than others. I would suggest this as a book to graze through rather than trying to swallow in one large gulp. ( )
1 vote michigantrumpet | Dec 3, 2014 |
I've read most of Simon Winchester's books, and this is my least favorite. It really is a bulletin board of historical snippets, geology, ecology, and personal anecdotes, centered on the Atlantic Ocean. In the Introduction, Winchester discusses how he fretted about how to tell the tale and how he came to a "seven ages of man" organization. It didn't work for me. In most cases he's superficial, and often redundant. His description of the details of the slave trade is moving, and some of his personal experiences are interesting, but often it seemed like I was reading an almanac from cover to cover. ( )
  wdwilson3 | Sep 3, 2014 |
Themes that tie the work of Simon Winchester together seem to be "geology" "geography" and "history. They are the most frequent tags assigned to the work of the author. Atlantic. A vast ocean of a million stories is similar to some of Winchester's other work in the sense that the work is fragmented, but still forms a unity, tying together geography, geology and history. However, this book seems more voluminous than previous works, quite a whopper at just under 500 pages. The sub-title of the book Great sea battles, heroic discoveries, titanic storms, and a vast ocean of a million stories (not all editions) describes the book very well, although it seems this title was perhaps suggested by the editor rather than the author. In fact, the book as a whole radiates a sense of fatigue, and the reader may wonder whether the idea for the book came from the author or from the editor. In some markets the book is promoted as Atlantic. The Biography of an Ocean. Besides being dedicated to his wife, the book is also dedicated to Angus Campbell Macintyre, a hero, described in the book.

The introduction of the book starts with a peculiar anthropomorphic approach to "the life cycle" of the ocean, which leads to the illogical conclusion that if it has a life (cycle) it might as well have its biography written. This circular type of illogical reasoning seems another attempt of the author to please the editor who probably made that suggestion. The chapter that describes the "birth" of the ocean, with its predictable echoes of other works by Winchester about the "life" or "birth" of geological phenomena, is the most mechanical and boring.

However, in the other chapter, the author brings together an encyclopaedic wealth of knowledge and details about the Atlantic Ocean as the setting or background to historic events from the earliest archaelogical records to the present. Naturally, there is an enormous wealth of material to choose from, describing the travels of the Phoenicians, Vikingsto the history of the great seafaring nations. There are also chapters devoted to the weather, biology of maritime life and the effects of global warming.

Another peculiar characteristic displayed by the author is the tendency to write himself into the narrative. The book does not exactly follow a historical timeline. Rather, it starts with the earliest travel experiences of the author in the early 1980s near Cadiz, which ties together the narrative from the Isles of Mogador to the Phoenicians and the Greeks and Romans passing out beyond the Pillars of Hercules. Later on in the book, attention turns to what should be a black page in British history, the Falklands War in 1982. Are these personal touches there for the author, or are they supposed to create a sense of personal experience?

Still, Simon Winchester has a magnificent command of his maretial and a wonderful writing style. Given that it would be impossible to describe all of the history that accurred around the sea boards of the Atlantic Ocean, the author brings together a both recognizable and novel, original choice of historical data, with a perfect balance between overall, global developments and a myriad of detail. Both American and European history are involved, particulary from the point of view of trade, shipping, travel and communication by various means, both shipping and air travel.

In sum, Simon Winchester has done it again. Atlantic. A vast ocean of a million stories is a huge, and hugely readable book, offering somethin of interest to virtually every reader, provided they enjoy reading, and can handle a book that it itself encompasses an ocean of reading material. ( )
  edwinbcn | Jul 28, 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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