Wednesday 23 March 2011


Finished March 23
Atlantic: great sea battles, heroic discoveries, titanic storms, and a vast ocean of a million stories by Simon Winchester, read by the author
Having read other books by Winchester, I was delighted to pick up this one and even more so to discover that he was reading it.
He uses a very interesting structure to tell the story of the Atlantic Ocean, Shakespeare's Seven Ages. He begins the book by telling of his own first experience of travelling the ocean, going over to Montreal on the Empress of Britain in 1963 (by coincidence, my birth year!). Then he talks about the structure he will use.
For the first age "At first the infant, mewling and puking in the nurse's arms" includes the physical and geographic history of the ocean, how it came to me and what it consists of. The second age, "the whining schoolboy with his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school", tells the story of discovery. We see the various expeditionary trips across, the misconceptions, the discovery that it was really a bridge to a new land, and all the things we learned about it.
The third age, "the lover, sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad made to his mistress' eyebrow" includes the ocean in art. We hear of poems, prose, paintings, architecture, and music. This is a wealth of wonderful references to the influence of the Atlantic in culture. The fourth age, "a soldier, full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard, jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel, seeking the bubble reputation even in the cannon's mouth" covers the wars fought across and in the Atlantic and they include many battles. The fifth age, "the justice in fair round belly, with good capon lin'd, with eyes severe, and beard of formal cut, full of wise saws, and modern instances" includes trade and commerce. Covered here is not only the trade across the ocean, and around the ocean, but also the commerce of the ocean's wealth, marine life. We see the wealth of the ocean in the fisheries within it.
The sixth age, "the lean and slipper'd pantaloon, with spectacles on nose, and pouch on side, his youthful hose well sav'd, a world too wide, for his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice, turning again towards childish treble, pipes and whistles in his sound" covers the shrinking of the ocean. This is the easy crossing of the ocean, using the new technology of flight; the diminishing of its fisheries due to overuse; the effect of pollution both in and above it, and the lack of respect man has paid to it. The final section, the seventh age, "second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything" looks at the future of the ocean. Will it be able to overcome what we and nature have done to it? Is there hope for new life? As the world warms and ice melts, and the ocean grows, how will that affect those who live around and on it? Will it fight back with more large natural events like hurricanes and tsunamis? Raising lots of interesting questions, this section offers new information, ways to look forward and hope for the future.
Winchester finishes with another personal experience, an Atlantic shipwreak on the skeleton coast that captured his imagination and drew him to search it out and leave his own mark.
As usual, Winchester takes a large topic, makes it come alive and allows us to see its many aspects, and ignites our imaginations. Wonderful.

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