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One of the most important books of the 90s
on 4 July 1999
I cannot, absolutely cannot, stress of how much import this book is. Safina writes of politics, poverty, economics, history, technical minutiae, and biological science with the flair of a poet - combined with passages that will make you weep for their ability to communicate the visceral experience of what it's like beneath the water. It's not just a book about marine biology - it's an extended essay on the forces that have shaped civilization at the end of the millennium and its relation to the world at large. The hardest thing is to get across how compulsively readable it is - digressions into issues involving privitization of land and the beuracratical nightmare of listing a species as endangered are communicated so lucidly, cleverly, and with such humanity that the book never devloves into that category called boring that would cause most people to skip it. Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I wish everyone in that region would read Safina's exhaustive overview of the destruction of the salmon fisheries. Only now, later in life, do I have a clear picture of what those headlines I saw as a kid even meant.
And somewhere within all this, you discover that not only is Safina an objective scientist, an environmentalist who cares for the well being of other humans and is actually concerned for the plight of those who make their living off the seas; he is also a gifted writer.
I kid you not. This is a book about marine science. It made me bawl like a baby. It is, despite it's complex issues, so innately human. And that's what makes it essential. Safina is no tree hugging environmentalist - he appraises it with a keen eye for its beauty and its terror but is also a firece guardian - of the system which allows us to live with it. He has extraordinary empathy for those right minded individuals who have lost their jobs due to overfishing and the political nightmare that has followed. What provokes his anger is how that system is abused; and what emerges is that it is never a case of the usual solutions that pit conservationist vs. fisherman - it is a case of the entire economic situation we live in writ large that has led to our abuse of the oceans.
And despite the unrelenting nightmare you face during his journey, as it seems the whole ocean is vanishing before your eyes; there is hope, in the unlikeliest of places and his ability to essay that hope is miraculous and affirming.
Howard Hall, the legendary underwater photographer, said something like: if you were to start diving today you'd see a world you couldn't imagine... But it's nothing like what you would have seen only thirty years ago. I think any sceptic, or even the most hardened of political conservatives who believe the environment is designed to withstand relentless punishment, cannot disregard the arguements made in the book. I started diving only recently. I'm a young guy. Chances are I won't be able to ever see the great coral reefs of the South Pacific - they won't be there. This book will convince you that our children will not be able to experience the oceans and its life that we have still today; unless we change the essential underpinnings of how we relate to each other as a society we will not be able to restore this.
Enough ranting. Just get this book, read it, and try to tell me you weren't fascinated. This single book will change your worldview, and teach you in so many disciplines, that you can't ignore it. And please, some company publish this in the UK for the Brits pronto... Until then, Mr. Safina is my hero and I hope he writes more.