Tuesday, May 10, 2011
The title: AtlanticThe author: Simon Winchester
Publication: Harper, 2010Got it from: La library
April was a disappointing month for me, reading-wise, since most of my reading material was for work and I didn't really enjoy it. (Dragon Tattoo, I'm looking at you). But one of the good things was that Atlantic was one of the books I got to book-talk at my library, so that meant I finally got to finish it.
I love Simon Winchester. I first discovered him when I was in university and I won the British High Commissioner's award, and my prize was a signed copies of two of his books (The Professor and the Madman and The Map at the Edge of the World), which my professor had him sign for me when he visited my university. I quickly became enamored of his writing and had the chance to meet him three years later when I was doing my library degree in Halifax, when I was the last person remaining at the Lord Nelson after his talk and I excitedly had him sign his latest book, Krakatoa. I remain in constant awe of the breadth of his travels, his sweeping narrative storytelling and his ability to ferret out the most fascinating little-known facts about the world. So you can imagine my happiness when I discovered that his next book would be about the ocean I grew up next to and adored.
Of course it would be impossible to write the entire history of the Atlantic, so Winchester has done something ingenious: he gives life to the Atlantic by treating it as a human being and chronicling its birth, life, and eventual death. He does this by dividing the book into seven chapters, each corresponding to one of Shakespeare's seven ages of man (the infant, the schoolchild, the lover, etc.) Humankind has only recently - since the age of Columbus - discovered that the Atlantic was in fact a separate ocean, rather than a dark, treacherous, unthinkably huge body of water. Here are just some of the subject covered by this book, each one made fascinating: Pangaea, the Lusitania. pirates, the Middle Passage, the age of exploration, the evolution of shipbuilding, the collapse of the Newfoundland cod fisheries, early aviation, the Falkland Islands invasion, the Vikings, Hurricane Katrina.
Through the book one thing is clear, and that is Winchester's reverence for and love of this ocean. The sad end to this tale is that we have come to disrespect the Atlantic. We cross it in our airplanes, not realizing its immense size, its awesome power or its incredible history. It has always been a dream of mine to cross the Atlantic by boat; reading this book makes me want to do it even more, if only to see it as it really is. This is a wonderful book, one that will surely resonate with me for years to come.