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Review of “Atlantic,” by Simon Winchester

I wish my dad was still alive. I wish I could recommend Simon Winchester’s Atlantic to him. He would enjoy it.

Simon Winchester is best known for The Professor and the Madman, a history of the Oxford English Dictionary. His best books, however, are The Man Who Loved China (a human story that is also the history of a far-away land) and Krakatoa (about the human consequences of a natural disaster). So it is fittest that Simon Winchester’s latest work, and one of his best, are the interlocking stories about one of the greatest natural features on Earth, the Atlantic Ocean.

Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories is a thematic biography of the ocean, from youth to death. From before the Phoenicians to his imprisonment during the Falklands War to the far future, Simon Winchester paints a vivid and romantic feature of the ocean that is too often overlooked and ignored.

It is impossible to give a brief synopsis of the stories of the Atlantic, but a portion of a paragraph from the epilog gives a flavor:

Parliamentary democracy. A homeland for world Jewry. Long-distance radio communication. The Vinland Map. The suppression of slavery. The realization of continental drift and plate tectonics. The Atlantic Charter. The British Empire. The knarr, the curragh, the galleon, the ironclad, and the battleship. The discovery of longitude. Codfish. Erskine Childers. Winslow Homer. The convoy system. St. Helena. Puerto Madryn. Debussy. Monet. Rachel Carson. … The Atlantic telegraph cable. The Wright brothers. Alcock and Brown. Lindbergh…

The story of the Atlantic is the story of Western Civilization. A fantastic overview of western history. Highly recommended.

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