Atlantic by Simon Winchester

Book Reviews

Water makes up most of planet Earth. However, does one every really think about the ocean without standing on its shore?

Simon Winchester in Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Discoveries, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories examines the broad expanse of the Atlantic Ocean which has fascinated him for years.

This ocean which lies between Europe, Africa, and the Americas has seen battles, shipwrecks, and been eulogized in literature and art. The ocean began millions of years ago when the continents known as Pangaea began to separate into their present forms. Since then, the Atlantic has been growing. For much of its existence Europeans did not realize another land mass stood in the way of Asia. The Vikings are now credited with being the first people to reach what became known as North America.

On the other hand, Christopher Columbus felt he had reached India and did not dream that something like another continent stood in his way. The Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci named the two continents on the far side of the Atlantic Ocean and its history began. European explorers crossed it as they learned about what became known as the New World. People started settlements along the sea setting the stage for the expansion of Western Civilization.

The history of this ocean includes naval battles from the Battle of Trafalgar, the War of 1812, both World Wars, and the Falkland Island conflict. Many immigrants braved its crossing as they sought a new and better life. Its darker past includes the slave trade between Africa and the Americas. This history also includes meeting of legislative bodies beginning in Iceland in the tenth century.

Commerce has been the lifeblood of the Atlantic. Fishing and whaling have almost depleted species even though there seemed to be an unending supply. Laws have been written to protect fish from extinction. Ships carry cargo across the ocean using shipping containers constructed for this purpose. Air travel keeps lanes busy in the sky with planes going across.

The debate over climate change is ongoing sea levels continue to rise bringing the threat of storms and the flooding of coastal communities. The author examines the question of whether humans are the ones responsible for global warming but does not reach any conclusions.

Just like the Atlantic Ocean formed years ago, Winchester sees its eventual end. Some time millions of years in the future, the continents will come together leaving no room for this body of water. This ocean which has affected thousands of years of history has been a vital body of water for much of human history.

This is a good work for those interested in the seas. I loved learning about this ocean and its expansive history feeling the waves rolling as I read. I never realized how a body of water can affect historical events and I hope the Atlantic Ocean will continue to play a role in human history for millions of years to come.

About the Author

Judy Klamm is a reference librarian in Central Reference. She has written book reviews for Library Journal and various Presbyterian publications.

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