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BEAUTIFUL SWIMMERS (original 1976; edition 1994)

by William W. Warner

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383628,125 (4.19)23
Authors:William W. Warner
Info:Back Bay Books (1994), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:Chesapeake Bay, Blue Crabs, Natural History, Ecology

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Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay by William W. Warner (1976)


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The Beautiful Swimmers of the title are the Atlantic blue crabs aka Callinectes sapidus Rathbun and over the course of the book Warner gives the reader a detailed story of the crabs life cycle and habitat. We are also treated to a wonderful depiction of the Chesapeake as one of the most important estuaries in the world and the lives of the watermen who ply its bays, creeks, and marshes and make their living from its bounty. I really enjoyed Warner's narrative as he went out in all seasons with the watermen, helping (where he could) with their harvest and listening to their stories. Definitely recommended.
  hailelib | Dec 6, 2014 |
This book is everything you have ever wanted to know about crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay. Seriously. It's an extensive look at the watermen who make their living hauling up blue crabs. More than a science tutorial on the quick and aggressive critters, it is also a lesson in personality - the type of individual who makes a living hauling in crabs. The illustrations by Consuelo Hanks are phenomenal. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Apr 23, 2013 |
William Warner’s Beautiful Swimmers is a classic piece of narrative non-fiction, and a fine introduction to the blue crabs of Chesapeake Bay and the working lives of the “watermen” who pursue them. It bears comparison to Rachel Carson’s The Edge of the Sea (for its attention to natural history, and its deft integration of the latest scientific data), to Henry Beston’s The Outermost House (for its portrait of a beautiful, isolated coastline), and to Michael Ruhlman’s Wooden Boats (for its sympathetic portraits of people whose work keeps alive a slowly dying art), but its greatest strength is the way it combines those elements. The design of Chesapeake Bay workboats, changing state and federal fisheries regulations, the economics of the seafood business, and the changing demographics of the bayside communities come into the story, too. Warner’s goal is to craft a fully rounded, fully integrated portrait of the watermen’s world, and he succeeds – brilliantly.

Published in 1976 and based on visits made over several years, Beautiful Swimmers describes the Cheasapeake, and the watermen, as they existed forty years ago. It is, in other words, a time capsule: A window on a world that no longer exists. The middle-aged watermen that Warner put to sea with are retired or dead, now, and the younger ones now grown to gray-haired patriarchs for whom the early seventies are a distant memory. Development, tourism, pollution, and overfishing have – if four decades of changes to my coastal New England home are a guide – erased some of the uniqueness, and some of the insularity, of the world that Warner wrote about.

If Warner could, as he wrote, see such changes coming, he kept his thoughts about them to himself. Beautiful Swimmers isn’t a prescription for what the Bay should become or a cautionary tale of what it might become. It’s a beautifully crafted declarative sentence of book that quietly says: “At this place, in this time, this is how it was.” ( )
1 vote ABVR | Dec 21, 2012 |
This is a truly wonderful book and it is gratifying to know it won a Pulitzer, because its merits are obvious. The story begins as one about the blue crab—beautiful swimmer—but seamlessly shifts focus to watermen, their lives, and the history, culture and ecology of the Chesapeake. Scenes are vivid, characters leap off the page, and the author’s genuine regard for his subject surges through the work. He deftly applies what must have been extensive scholarly research and considerable field observation in a manner that is free from pedantry or the self-indulgence that sometimes colors the exposition of a writer passionate about his subject. It was with eagerness that I returned to each section and with delight that I left it. Warner makes a compelling case for the protection and conservation of the bay without ever preaching or badgering. His admiration, and love for this particular piece of creation, its creatures and the lives of those living there shine through, and make one want to share his concerns. ( )
  JimPratt | May 6, 2010 |
Man, they should make this mandatory reading for people who live in DelMarVa and DC. Great book of local culture and history. ( )
  VenusofUrbino | Dec 4, 2007 |
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Commercial crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay reveals itself very slowly to the outsider.
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Warner presents his study of the pugnacious Atlantic blue crab and of its Chesapeake Bay territory.

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