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A History of an Ocean
on March 27, 2011
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 While ocean travel is now an ordinary experience that has been superceded by high-altitude jet travel, the Atlantic Ocean still retains a dominant and sometimes awesome impact on our lives.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. While humankind continues to build a post-modern civilization on its many shores, we are coming to recognize that in our greed and sense of adventure we have,perhaps, done some irreparable harm by depleting its once abundant resources. This book is a fitting tribute to a natural wonder that still has the capacity to unleash its incredible fury on us. Winchester writes with a flare for capturing the grandeur and gravity of the moment, whether it be storms, shipwrecks, exotic ports, or sea battles.