Only Simon Winchester, the best-selling author of The Professor and the Madman and Krakatoa, would have the tenacity and the talent to tackle a biography of the Atlantic Ocean. A modern-day Melville, he takes to the waters in pursuit of a larger-than-life creature, adeptly capturing his prey in the engaging Atlantic.

Winchester first focuses on the geological history of the Atlantic, discussing its formation and evolution, then shifts to the more interesting human history. It is here that the reader appreciates Winchester’s abilities as both a researcher and writer, for he is able to present detailed historical information in lively prose. Interspersed among these accounts are musings on his personal relationship with the ocean, beginning as an 18-year-old Brit crossing the Atlantic on an ocean liner bound for America.

But the Atlantic is the real star here, and when you consider Western civilization alone, you realize just what an impact the ocean has had on mankind. Winchester discourses on the explorers, from the Vikings to Christopher Columbus, and writes about how the Atlantic inspired artists, including Shakespeare, Monet, Beethoven and, perhaps most famously, Melville and his Moby-Dick. He relates tales of the warriors of the sea, among them pirates, the British Royal Navy, Old Ironsides and German U-boats. And there were also many tragedies on the sea, including the sinkings of the Lusitania and the Titanic, the slaughter of the whales and the use of the waters as routes for ships bringing slaves from Africa to the New World. Finally, Winchester deals with the contemporary life of the Atlantic, particularly the environmental threats it faces from pollution, overfishing and global warming.

To read Atlantic is to take a fantastic voyage filled with romance, drama, tragedy and inspiration. Simon Winchester has once again written a masterpiece of nonfiction, one that likely will be as enduring as man’s eternal quest for adventure on the high seas.


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