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Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms,and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories [Hardcover]

Simon Winchester
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov. 1 2010

Blending history and anecdote, geography and reminiscence, science and exposition, the New York Times bestselling 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. Simon Winchester 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.

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Product Description


“Winchester brings a knowledge as vast and deep as his subject to this history of the Atlantic Ocean.” (Entertainment Weekly)

From the Back Cover

Atlantic is a biography of a tremendous space that has been central to the ambitions of explorers, scientists, and warriors, and 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 gray and heaving sea.

Winchester chronicles that relationship, making the Atlantic come vividly alive. More than a mere history, Atlantic is an unforgettable journey of unprecedented scope by one of the most gifted writers in the English language.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A History of an Ocean March 27 2011
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
For those of us who love to read about the sea and all its mysterious powers, here is a masterful account of maritime history worth reading. Winchester, famous for writing about big topics such as imperial outposts and mighty volcanoes, has produced a colorful and detailed treatment of the Atlantic Ocean as it grudgingly yielded its bathyal wonders to modern civilization. This is a massive body of salt water that, in Winchester's mind, posed all kinds of intellectual, spiritual and physical challenges to early Europeans as they set out in earlier centuries to conquer its waters and claim the vast territory bordering them. In the mind of the ancients, there has always been an enduring legend lying deep beneath its surface: murky depths, strange creatures, fantastical mirages and supernatural forces. For a good part of the modern age, the Atlantic Ocean has been an inspiration for poets, musicians, novelists, and painters as they tried to capture the feelings of being swallowed up in its great and terrifying expanse. A reading of "Atlantic" launches into some of the ingenious and daredevil enterprises undertaken in the name of expanded trade and commerce, military conflict, shipbuilding, fishing, telegraphy, and marine biology. Winchester recounts numerous stories about illustrious people like Alcock and Brown, Drake, Magellan and Nelson who saw this ocean as a natural obstacle to be conquered in order to create a bigger and better world. While ocean travel is now an ordinary experience that has been superceded by high-altitude jet travel, the Atlantic Ocean still retains a dominant and sometimes awesome impact on our lives. It is the source of much of our inclement weather in the northern hemisphere and, up until now, a reliable food source. Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Oct. 30 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"Atlantic" was a wonderful book to experience. I was hooked (sorry!) from the first, with the use of the poem to describe the stages in the ocean's development, comparing with the human stages.
It is rich, absorbing, and full of incredible knowledge.
I have since bought the book: the Kindle couldn't display the maps well, and I want to keep this for my "real book" library.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Atlantic Dec 12 2011
This book is typical Winchester. Well researched, thorough , thought provoking with great accuracy in describing land fixtures. The man's education and past experiences are very obvious and are used in a very charming way.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Atlantic May 31 2011
By Jazz
A very entertaining book Informative and entertaining
A great read for the curious and inquisitive mind
Have bought additional copies to give to friends and relatives
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.6 out of 5 stars  118 reviews
94 of 103 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another hit from Winchester.... Nov. 1 2010
By Robert Busko - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Simon Winchester's Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories is an arm chair explorers dream and yet another installment in a growing list of terrific books. Filled to brimming with stories of exploration and heroic figures, Winchester sees the Atlantic Ocean as the well spring from which all (or the major part) of European history and greatness finds its roots. Atlantic is as much a biography of the Atlantic Ocean as any other biography and a detailed examination of how some of mankind has interacted with that ocean and been affected by it.

Not wanting to omit anything, Winchester begins the story with an investigation into the formation of the Atlantic basic 370 million years ago and rapidly advances to relatively modern times. Vikings, Norsemen, Portuguese, Dutchmen, the French, English, all have their place in Winchester's book. The title includes the phrase "Million Stories" and surely this is true. As I was reading Atlantic, I was often mindful of the fact that the stories included in the book aren't all of the stories; that there are more forgotten tales than there are remembered tales. That realization is numbing when you think about it.

Still, Winchester has managed to pull together a gripping read. If you're a lover of adventure and history you'll want to spend some time with Atlantic.

Simon Winchester's previous works include three terrific books among other writings. The Professor and the Madman (1998), The Map that Changed the World (2001), and The Crack at the Edge of the World (2005) are all extremely readable and highly interesting. Atlantic is certainly equally interesting.

I highly recommend Atlantic by Simon Winchester.

Peace always.
60 of 70 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A rather ridiculous book Dec 22 2010
By David Cavalier - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I have enjoyed a number of Winchester's books, but this was not one of them. He is at his best when he is detailing a story that is not well-known and surprising. That was what drove the success of his previous work. In this book, he takes on an enormous subject and ends up with a catalog of his research interspersed with totally unsupported assertions and some rather dull writing about his travels.

The structural problem with the book is that Winchester has chosen a cumbersome thematic structure to organize his writing: the seven stages of man listed in the "All the world's a stage..." speech from As You Like It. While this may have seemed like a clever way to tackle a sprawling subject like the Atlantic, the structure overwhelms any insight Winchester may or may not have had about the Atlantic. Seeking to fill this outline, Winchester stuffs everything into it that either (a) features the words "sea" or "Atlantic" or (b) happens to have taken place in or near the Atlantic. The result is a combination of the obvious (jet travel ended regular ocean liner service) or the downright tautological (in a section on "cities," Winchester writes brief descriptions of New York, Cape Town, St. Helena, none of which have any connection to each other and all of which essentially boil down to the pointless statement 'these are Atlantic cities because they are on the Atlantic ocean.")

Unsupported assertions abound. Apparently, musical instruments were not powerful enough before the 18th century to tackle the sea as a subject (whatever that may mean in the context of music). The "paramount" issue in the story of the Pilgrims is the Atlantic. What? How do you back that up? Even more bizarre, Winchester then undermines his own point by noting that it was important only as an obstacle to be crossed. Well, yeah. The Pilgrims are remembered for the founding of New England, not for their (total lack of ) seamanship or connection to the Atlantic.

Aside from the structural problems, Winchester's prose is often leaden and tedious. The opening story about his transatlantic crossing drags on for too long, pulls in totally unrelated issues like the meeting between Churchill and Roosevelt that resulted in the Atlantic Charter, and then peters out with no apparent point. As other reviewers have noted, almost everything is weighed down with vague modifiers. I suspect that these pleading modifiers are Winchester's unconscious attempt to make his lack of insight or, frankly, point sound "important."

Put simply, the book is a mess. The interesting subjects are covered in other books in better detail and with better writing. Winchester's writing about himself is dull and overwrought. Readers are better off sticking to books where Winchester has tackled a small, somewhat esoteric subject.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Diffused, muddled and self-absorbed Dec 23 2010
By Peter G. Keen - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I seriously doubt that readers who begin this book will actually complete their reading of it. It is a jumble of unconnected thoughts and very dubious history. It lacks coherence and tautness in the writing -- I personally found it hard to stick with it for more than a few pages at a time. The coverage of naval warfare, the slave trade, and history of navigation is kaleidoscopic -- a grab bag of individual assertions that in many areas are at best selective and in some downright misleading. It's all surface, with the author an often intrusive presence. The writing is smooth and accomplished but it's rather like a dinner guest pontificating to a captive group -- keeping some spellbound and switching off the rest.

Obviously, other reviewers enjoyed it and highlighted its strengths as "entertainment", so my own lack of enthusiasm may reflect that I wanted content rather than the pleasant and often smooth broad brush that is a good feature of the writing. I suggest that you download some sample pages before deciding whether or not to buy it. If you feel on the same wavelength as the author, then it may well be a special read. If, like me, you find it difficult to engage with the writing or have the same concerns about the selectivity of the analysis and examples, then at best you'll skim it and skip ahead more than you stay with the writing.
38 of 49 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Disappointing Effort from a solid author Dec 13 2010
By Robert D. Mitchell - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Simon Winchester is one of my favorite authors. I have read all of his books and did not wait long to order this, his newest. It started like several of his others with a geologist's explanation of history... always interesting. He then laid out the vital importance of the ocean to human evolution, civilization, exploration, and history... good stuff but lacking the detail and real human accounts of Krakatoa or Crack at the Edge of the World.

The disappointment for me was that a large portion of the book is devoted to Dr. Winchester's view on how climate change is affecting the Atlantic and speculation on what future impact it will have. He gives anecdotal stories without solid science or data references and seems to imply that whatever changes have occurred are the result of man's use of the ocean an are harmful or bad - not just historical changes. I felt as if I'd been tricked into reading a case for man-caused global warming. Winchester is obviously passionate about the Atlantic and concerned about its future. However, I bought the book as a historical retrospective and did not care to read an exhaustive op-ed about climate change.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Missed the Mark for Me Jan. 10 2011
By Todd and In Charge - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I've read and enjoyed the author's other books and really looked forward to this one.

I even read it on a cruise ship in the Atlantic, hoping to gain some synergistic insight from the experience.

And indeed, the first 200 pages or so I found thrilling and fascinating, and I enjoyed the many detours and asides along the way.

But then it became apparent that the book was struggling to find an overarching theme, from World War II sea battles to the slave trade, to overfishing of cod to you name it.

At that point I started to question whether this could have been a better book, had the topic and theme been better defined, perhaps along the lines of Salt, or Cod, or the many cross-discipline socio-geographic histories that, frankly, are far superior to this.

In sum I left this better informed, yet oddly disappointed.
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