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Book Review Wednesday: Books About the Ocean

Posted Nov 04 2009 10:00pm

Book.treeEvery Wednesday, we review a selection of new and upcoming books addressing a specific aspect of environmentalism. Today we're recommending books about the ocean.

Jacques Cousteau: The Sea King (by Brad Matsen, $27, Pantheon Books, 2009) A generation was introduced to the oceans' beauty Jacques Cousteau’s TV series The Undersea World and the many documentaries showcasing his oceanic adventures. This biography paints a picture of Cousteau’s private life (warts and all), and shows how he came to love the sea so much.

Sea Sick: the Hidden Crisis in the Global Ocean (by Alanna Mitchell, $25, University of Chicago Press, 2009) This account of the state of the world’s oceans focuses on some admittedly grim topics: ocean acidification, coral reef death, dead zones. But the conversational writing style makes it feel like an environmentally conscious travel journal. The reader follows Mitchell as she hopscotches around the globe to talk with those who are witnessing the changes in our seas.

The Living Shore: Rediscovering a Lost World  (by Rowan Jacobsen, $20, Bloomsbury, 2009) While coral reefs may be more well-known, oyster reefs are equally important to oceans and coastlines because they filter water and anchor estuary ecosystems. This slim, well-paced book documents the author’s journey with a team of marine scientists to study British Columbia’s last remaining Olympia oyster beds and some of the creative efforts enacted to restore them.

Harpoon: Into the Heart of Whaling (by Andrew Darby, $25, Da Capo Press, 2008) More than 20 years after the international ban on commercial whaling, legal loopholes allow industrial fleets to continue killing whales. This book details the history of the whaling industry and is divided into sections devoted to different species like the humpback, sperm, and minke whales. It’s a good read for those who follow the international whaling controversy, and for conservationists inspired by these beautiful giants.

America’s Ocean Wilderness: A Cultural History of Twentieth-Century Exploration (by Gary Kroll, $35, University Press of Kansas, 2008) History professor Gary Kroll argues that the ocean’s environmental problems stem from our conception of it as vast frontier space. He uses the stories of popular naturalists from the 20th century, including Jacques Cousteau and Rachel Carson, to advance this point. The book would be at home in a college classroom, but also provides food for thought to those outside academia.

--Année Tousseau

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