Atlantic by Simon Winchester

Bookshelf: Atlantic

Atlantic – Simon Winchester

Atlantic is the latest book by Simon Winchester, a geologist/journalist with a range of publications to his name.

Atlantic by Simon Winchester
Atlantic by Simon Winchester

This is my kind of book, but I understand how it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. The subject matter is – by the author’s own admission – impossibly broad, as he seeks to produce a history of the ocean that has been at the centre of exploration, commerce, air and sea travel for centuries.

His approach is to structure the book using Jacques’s speech in As You Like It about the ages of man, and to apply these ages to the ocean. It’s a sprawling, wandering narrative that moves between subjects in an easy, beguiling way.

Much of the focus is on the north Atlantic – this being my only complaint, actually – but it is understandable given that the link between the United States and Britain was the reason for much of the trade, communication and travel across this particular ocean. Winchester is concerned with the Atlantic as it relates to human history, and doesn’t spend much time marvelling at its natural wonders except as they intersect with human events.

There’s a chapter on the ocean as Lover (look up Jaques’s full speech here if you’re confused) that deals with the poetry and art inspired by the ocean. Unsurprisingly I enjoyed this chapter and it was a welcome addition amidst the commercial activity, overfishing and wars described elsewhere in the book!

This isn’t a conservationist paen by any stretch of the imagination, but Winchester recounts the Canadian government’s destruction of the Grand Banks cod fishery – I grasped his version of events more easily than the account in The End of the Line – and touches on the issue of the Patagonian toothfish/Chilean sea bass problem in the south Atlantic. He concludes his book with some sobering speculation on the future of the Atlantic Ocean and its future place in history, given the rate of exploitation and destruction of its resources.

The Atlantic is the ocean I grew up looking at, playing at the edge of, and dreaming about, and its wild character is completely different to the calm, tropical seas and – mostly- limpid waves of the Pacific (for example). It is grey, not blue, for much of the year, and even as a child I knew that it was fierce. As a three year old, sitting on a rock with my parents and a visitor from the UK at the very top of Llandudno beach wearing my favourite blue dress, a freak wave washed up the entire beach, took me off the rock, and spun me around in a washing machine of salty water before my father pulled me out. And I still love it!

You can buy the book here. If you’re not in South Africa click here, and if you want to read it on your Kindle, go here.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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