Book Review: Atlantic – Simon Winchester [TSS]

Title: Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories
Author: Simon Winchester
ISBN: 9780061866128
Pages: 512
Release Date: November 2, 2010
Publisher: HarperAudio
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5


In this ambitious book, historian Simon Winchester tackles the entire Atlantic Ocean, writing a biography of this vast body of water.


When I first read that Simon Winchester had written a biography of the Atlantic Ocean, my first response was “What??”.  Not only is it difficult to conceive of what a biography of a body of water might be like, but the Atlantic Ocean is so large with so much history that it’s hard for one’s mind to grasp the concept of writing a biography of it.  But if anyone can do it, renowned historian Simon Winchester can, so I decided to give it a try and see what it was all about.

Atlantic was really an amazing experience.  Winchester starts with the formation of the Atlantic Ocean, but moves quickly to more recent times when humans were exploring and conquering the seas.  Winchester discusses everything from naval battles to trying to lay down the first transatlantic cable in order to send instantaneous messages from England to the United States and back.  It’s a vast and impressive human history, with the framework of the Atlantic Ocean around it.

Winchester also discusses environmental concerns with the Atlantic Ocean.  From overfishing (something I found both fascinating and shocking) to the effect of climate change on the body of water, and how it might change as a result, Winchester isn’t afraid to make predictions for the Atlantic’s future.  At the same time, he makes allowances for the fact that no one knows what is really going to happen and tries to present a balanced view, rather than a global warming horror story.

I listened to Atlantic on audio, and I have to say it was definitely the right choice.  I read Winchester’s The Man Who Loved China a couple of years ago, and found it interesting but dry, and I thought his work might be more engaging in audio.  I’m not sure if it was the book or the wonderful audio production, but I enjoyed this book much more.   Winchester himself was the narrator, and he did an excellent job with the material.  The audio of Atlantic is unabridged and runs 14 hours and 30 minutes.

I really enjoyed Atlantic and highly recommend the audio to anyone who’s interested in non-fiction or history.  Though it did take me some time to get through, I never found myself bored or with wandering attention while listening to it.  Winchester’s approach to the biography was really interesting and the stories he decided to share were fascinating.  I can’t say enough good things about this book and will definitely going back to read his others, most likely in audio as well.

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  1. I’m kind of like you were – I wonder how you write the history of a body of water when there is so much that is unknown about it. I’d give this a try based on your recommendation.

  2. I’m kind of like you were – I wonder how you write the history of a body of water when there is so much that is unknown about it. I’d give this a try based on your recommendation.

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