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Atlantic: A Vast Ocean of a Million Stories [Paperback]

Simon Winchester
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 July 2011

The definitive biography of the world's most important body of water – the Atlantic.

One hundred and ninety million years ago, the shifting of two of the world's tectonic plates led to the creation of an immense chasm. This giant gash in the flanks of the planet slowly opened up and eventually evolved into the most important and most travelled ocean in our world.

In this utterly original biography, Simon Winchester explores the life of the Atlantic; it's birth, its relationship with mankind, and what lies in store for it once man has left the stage. He charts the development of the first settlements by the Oceanside – the communities of Celts and Vikings and whose lives depended on the sea – and delves into the age of exploration, venturing to forgotten worlds. The building of some of the world's most beautiful port cities – London, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Casablanca – is also examined, along with the creation of settlements and colonies in and around the sea.

Completely unique and highly readable, Atlantic takes its reader on a wonderful journey through time, along the waves of our planet's most significant ocean.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPress (7 July 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007341393
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007341399
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 20,652 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Simon Winchester studied Geology at Oxford University. He is the author of 'Atlantic','A Crack in the Edge of the World', 'Krakatoa', 'The Map That Changed the World', 'The Professor and the Madman', 'The Fracture Zone', 'Outposts', 'Korea', among many other titles. He lives in Massachusetts and in the Western Isles of Scotland.

Product Description


'Winchester unfolds this epic narrative with admirable simplicity: his prose style is conversational, and crackles with strange images. He marries even-handed scholarship with a gift for storytelling, neither dumbing down nor assuming any specific knowledge in his readership. This is from start to finish an enthralling book, and one that does justice to the magnitude of its subject' Edmund Gordon, Sunday Times

'Illuminating…a] wonderful, encyclopaedic book, pinpointing key moments in the narrative of an entire ocean and our relationship to it' Philip Hoare, Sunday Telegraph

‘[A] fabulous book’ Scotsman

‘An engaging account’ Mail on Sunday

‘[Winchester] is maddeningly gifted … a rollicking ride’ Washington Post

‘Enjoyable and richly informative’ Telegraph

From the Back Cover

The definitive biography of the world's most important body of water – the Atlantic.

Born 190 million years ago, the Atlantic Ocean was viewed by ancient mariners with a mixture of awe, terror and amazement. Today, we cross ‘the pond’ with little thought, this vast sea perceived by most as no more than a passageway between the Earth’s continents.

In this dazzling biography Simon Winchester brings the Atlantic back to life, charting the ocean’s existence up until its eventual extinction, millions of years in the future. As he travels around its edges and across its expanse, he reveals its most captivating stories – the age of exploration; the colonization of the Americas; the rise and fall of the slave trade; and history’s great naval battles – resulting in an irresistible blend of gripping history, fascinating science and exhilarating reportage.

'Illuminating… [A] wonderful, encyclopedic book, pinpointing key moments in the narrative of an entire ocean and our relationship to it. From start to finish an enthralling book’ Sunday Times

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
54 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Huge subject admirably dealt with 3 Oct 2010
Simon Winchester adds to his growing ouevre and reputation with this enthralling and fascinating book. What could have been a daunting read is made simple and enjoyable by the author's chatty and good humoured style - you get the impression that he would be a fine companion over a pint or two. This is not just a geographic study though. Historical and social aspects of the ocean are admirably dealt with the voyages of discovery, slavery and environmental issues all being covered in some depth. There are many interesting and diverting stories in this book and all in all I can't recommend this book highly enough.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Colourful stories in historical context 5 Mar 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Simon Winchester is a story teller and a romantic - historical context, detail and colour brings this book to life. He dedicates the book to Able Seaman Angus Campbell McIntyre who was shipwrecked in 1942 on the notorious coast of Namibia in the South Atlantic in a failed attempt to rescue survivors from the SS Dunedin who had been similarly shipwrecked. Stories like this abound.

But he paints on a wider canvas to describe the importance of the Atlantic over the years - an ocean that with today's air travel does not have a high profile. For example parliamentary democracy as it is understood today was very much an Atlantic creation. No such institutions arose in Russia or China or Greece. The Icelandic Rock of Laws set the pattern for governance of the rest of the world, mimicked by the Faroe Islands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Britain.

He approaches the Atlantic from all angles, from its early exploration to pirates and the slave trade; from sea battles through the ages to commerce; from the laying of the transatlantic cable and air routes across the ocean to climate change, ocean currents and receding ice cap.

The question of what motivated men to make the dangerous voyage into the Atlantic before America was "discovered" is answered by fish and whales. He makes a convincing case that the Norsemen created settlements in Newfoundland and Labrador between 975 and 1020 AD. The allure of fish, and specifically cod, drew the Vikings and the Basques as well as John Cabot who named Newfoundland before the imperial claims made by Christopher Colombus in 1492.

The technical tribulations of the USS Niagra and HMS Agamemnon in laying 2,500 miles of transatlantic cable in 1857 is ascribed as the most ambitious construction project ever envisaged in the world.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Epic Ocean 30 May 2013
By Nico
What an interesting concept writing a book about the history of an Ocean? It works well because Simon Winchester is able to combine geomorphology and human history so well together and come up with an absolutely fascinating story. The time scales involved are just immense it's hard to imagine that once the Atlantic Ocean didn't exist and some time in the future will cease to exist again. From a human history perspective it is also fascinating. Clearly the Atlantic has been the most significant of all the worlds Ocean's since the industrial revolution, if not before. It deserves a wonderful accounts of it's life thus far. This book delivers that account. I would highly recommend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vastness 19 April 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Simon Winchester has taken the Atlantic ocean and its coast lines and drawn a picture of history across it. Imagine if you can, because I couldn't before I read it. From the beginning when ships first dared to sail far enough to discover the world was not flat. The action and importance of the ocean during the WWars, the life of the people through time living on the coasts of Africa and America and other small islands. If you're interested in history from another angle this is for you.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Bobbing around in the doldrums 19 April 2011
By Leabhar
If you're anticipating something akin to Mark Kurlansky's "Cod" or "Salt" you might well be somewhat disappointed by Atlantic.
In Simon Winchester's favour, he is erudite, informed, and wherever it is he writes about, he has been there and seen for himself. But he's much harder work for the reader. One minute you're storming along with the wind in your sails, and the next you're becalmed in the doldrums with every page seeming to take an age.

The root problem is the structure. In any book of this type readers will find some bits fascinating, other bits dull. But there is no means of selecting your personal passage through this book, which lays itself out as a continuous narrative. It's worth repeating here that the subtitle is "A vast ocean of a million stories" just to underline how counter-intuitive this structure is. More perversely, the oblique chapter headings give no advance indication of their subject matter.
Two fellow readers agreed with me that the first chapter is the most frustrating hurdle of all. I was instantly intrigued by the opening passage recalling a liner voyage to Canada, only to find the social history cut short and morphing into geology and the shifting of tectonic plates - a subject that (for me) redefines slow and makes drying paint seem like watching a DVD on fast-forward.
I felt like a bar across the harbour mouth was in my way, with all the call and adventures of the ocean so tantalisingly close but withheld from me.
Persevere and Atlantic has its rewards - but it isn't the book it could be.
One unfortunate error (let's be fair, a volume this wide-ranging will have one or two) - Barra Head is not the northernmost tip of the Hebrides.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Simon never disappoints
Atlantic lived up to my expectations with a gripping account of many facets of the Atlantic. Typical of Simon Winchester, it was difficult to put down once I started Chapter... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Ken Taylor
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read on an unusual subject.
Simon Winchester really knows how to tell a good story. Although some of the chapters appear a bit laboured overall it was a good read and quite informative.
Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Atlantic
Krakatoa was vastly entertaining and informative and Atlantic comes up to the same high standard. It's a book to treasure.
Published 9 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent history of the atlantic
Even just to dip into Atlantic you are given a brilliantly told history of man and this ocean, whether talking of how the first humans ever to settle did so at the tip of Africa in... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Mr. Robert Marsland
4.0 out of 5 stars ok

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Published 16 months ago by peterR
4.0 out of 5 stars A pleasingly typical Winchester epic
Simon Winchester shows his usual thorough research and storytelling skills in 'Atlantic'. Covering (amongst other things) plate tectonics, history, politics, navigation, fish... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Steve Mansfield
3.0 out of 5 stars Typesetting clangers
Breezy, informed, thought-provoking, revealing, wide-ranging....all of this applies to this fascinating if chaotic read, opening up a world of unvisited watery straits and shores. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Matt
2.0 out of 5 stars Plain sailing
I usually enjoy Winchester's books, the esoteric fact-filled pages, leaping hither and yon from one subject or academic discipline to the next, giving food for thought for hours... Read more
Published 21 months ago by Malik Hills
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite a splash!
It might be full of an exhaustive amount of information and bursting with facts, but its a great read...well worth the effort. Read more
Published 22 months ago by The Countess of Coles Green
4.0 out of 5 stars A Jump into the Atlantic
I actually found this book quite interesting. There are a lot of things to like about Simon Winchester's "Atlantic." First off, the structure of the book is quite creative. Read more
Published on 22 Jun 2012 by R Helen
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