Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 23: On the High Seas

Welcome to Day 23 in our 24 Days of Books! Christmas is two days away, and we're feeling oceanic. Let's start by talking about Simon Winchester's new book, Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories. As you can tell from the subtitle, the book covers much ground (ok, water, actually) and offers many exciting tales from the S-shaped body of water that covers 33 million square miles.

Winchester calls the book a "biography" of the ocean, borrowing an organizational device from Shakespeare's As You Like It in which Shakespeare presents the seven ages of man. Winchester tells the story of the Atlantic ocean from its geologic origins to today's struggles with pollution and overfishing, delving into early explorers such as the Vikings and Christopher Columbus and modern-day events such as oil spills, and even looks toward the likely future of the ocean.

Winchester is the author of several very popular books, including The Professor and the Madman and his most recent, The Man Who Loved China. Once again, his writing and storytelling in his latest book is top-notch, earning my highest praise of "unputdownable." Just start out reading the introduction and you'll know what I mean. (And the end papers are terrific!)

Here's what The Oregonian had to say about the book.

As long as we're talking about the ocean, I must give a shout-out to one of my favorite books of the year, The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean, by Susan Casey, a beautiful piece of narrative nonfiction. Here's a little bit I wrote about the book earlier in the year.

One last book, sticking with the oceanic theme, is by Geoffrey Wolff: The Hard Way Around: The Passages of Joshua Slocum. Slocum grew up in coastal Nova Scotia under the thumb of a strict father. At the age of 16, he escaped to the sea. In 1895 he set sail -- by himself -- in the small sloop "Spray." More than three years and forty-six thousand miles later, he became the first man to circumnavigate the globe solo, a feat that would not be replicated for another quarter century. His account of that voyage, Sailing Alone Around the World, soon made Slocum famous. A decade later, he set off alone once more and was lost at sea. Wolff intentionally kept this biography on the shorter side (240 pages, versus the massive tomes of many of the other biographies out now) because he wants to encourage people to read Slocum's original narrative in conjunction with this bio. Here's the NYT's take on the book, with a review by a fabulous writer in his own right, Nathaniel Philbrick.

I've always been particularly fascinated by and, frankly, a bit in love with, our planet's oceans. These are all three great reads for anyone in a similar boat (ha ha).

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