Summary: Using the seven ages of man from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Winchester plays out the story of man’s history on and around the Atlantic Ocean. The anecdotes follow explorers, warriors, scientists, fishermen and many others as they leave their mark on the Atlantic Ocean and it’s shores and are changed by it in turn.
Review: The gimmick of using Shakespeare’s seven ages to provide structure to the book generally works well, with Winchester lovingly crafting each anecdote and chapter. Ultimately, like most similar recent books and movies, Winchester has a strong message about the importance of learning to live with the sea rather than treating it as a dumping ground. He does not, however, get heavy handed with this message, as many others do. This readers only complaint about this otherwise charming novel was the blatant eurocentrism. Little is written about the non-European cultures bordering the Atlantic, and they are frequently dismissed by the author outright. The very British view of the United States as a bunch of brash Yankee merchants run amok also gets a fair amount of play. That parochialism aside, this is an informative and charming read, if not necessarily a complete picture. The audiobook is read by the author, and is particularly well done.
Read-a-likes: Simon Winchester has written a number of similarly lyrical nonfiction books, of which Krakatoa (in it’s focus on a natural feature with great import for humanity) is perhaps the most similar to Atlantic. For more on the history of the initial trans-Atlantic travelers, Fish on Friday by Brian Fagan and A Voyage Long and Strange by Tony Horwitz are worth a peak. For more on the fate of the North Atlantic fisheries, Cod and The Last Fish Tale by Mark Kurlansky are worth a look. For those looking for nautical stories or fiction, look no further than the works of Clive Cussler, Linda Greenlaw and Herman Melville.
Availability: This item is available from the Lake Bluff Public Library as a book (in both regular and large print) and as an eAudiobook. Click here to check on the availability.
Review by Eric.