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Atlantic: The Biography of an Ocean

3.63 of 5 stars 3.63  ·  rating details  ·  2,325 ratings  ·  400 reviews
"Atlantic" is a biography of a tremendous space that has been central to the ambitions of explorers, scientists, and warriors, and continues profoundly to affect our character, attitudes, and dreams. Simon Winchester makes the Atlantic come vividly alive. Spanning the ocean's story from its geological origins to the age of exploration--covering the Vikings, the Irish, the ...more
Paperback, 512 pages
Published November 1st 2011 by HarperCollins Canada / Fiction (first published October 27th 2009)
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Will Byrnes
Using as his central pillar a Shakespearean monologue from As You Like It that lists the seven stages of a man’s life, Simon Winchester offers us the life of an ocean.

He covers a very wide swath in his examination of that very un-pacific Atlantic. Beginning with big-picture geology, he looks at the infant Atlantic and gives a preview of what the world will look like when the Atlantic is no more. There is plenty here about tectonics, volcanism and the mighty forces of a planet that is constantly
Oh, dear, Simon Winchester, I think you have to stop being my literary boyfriend now. Someone get this man an editor, quickly. I've never skipped over so many pages of a book before.

It's not that he hasn't dug up fascinating facts and interesting tidbits. It's just that it feels like he took all his notes on 3 x5 cards, then threw them in a pile on the floor and wrote the book like that. I'm reading an interesting description of St. Helena, and then there are poems? A passing mention of how the
I can't be objective about this guy. I listened to this as a talking book - and I just love this guy's voice. I could listen to him reading the telephone directory and still be fascinated. This is a 'let me tell you everything I know about the Atlantic' kind of book. He tries to give it a structure, but really, this is just someone very intelligent talking about something they are very interested in.

The stuff towards the end about the damage we are doing to the ocean - particularly the fish that
Michael Feaux
As a fan of historical nautical books like Seawolves and Barrow's Boys, and of Golding's Ends of the Earth series, I started this book figuratively rubbing my hands in anticipation of some great sea stories and novel science facts to quote to people down the pub. But after about 70 pages I couldn't stand it anymore.

One reason was Winchester's explanation of the thematic thread of the book, a story arc following the idea of Shakespeare's seven ages of man. That it needed explanation just pointed
This was a very engaging read. I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in nautical history and the Atlantic Ocean. I enjoyed it immensely.
In short...a great opportunity wasted. Winchester set out to accomplish the bold task of describing the natural and human history of the Atlantic Ocean...probably an impossible task for anyone.

Winchester does an admirable job of describing the geologic past and future of this ocean basin, but in between it seemed like he was unable to develop a meaningful train of thought. And even worse, he couldn't keep himself out of the narrative. It's almost like he didn't think anyone would believe him un
This is a biography of the Atlantic ocean. It tells of the story of every major event that has ever taken place on the sea. We get to learn about the early days of exploration by ship, of development of the the slave trade, of the sinking of the Titanic, of naval warfare, of maritime trade, of the laying of the first transatlantic cable, the rise and fall of the Grand Banks fishery, the explosion at Halifax, the first days of cross-ocean flight, and dozens more amazing stories and periods of tim ...more
This is a very enjoyable book; it covers many aspects of the Atlantic Ocean. The book describes its formation and its ultimate end, exploration, the use of the ocean for commerce, for food, for battles, and the inspiration the ocean has for literature, art and music. And of course, the book contains some stories of shipwrecks and of the ecological damage that people have inflicted on the ocean.

Unlike some of the other reviews, I found this book to be an easy read. Winchester writes in a delight
It isn't a bad book but it too quickly skips over the subjects I was interest in goes considerably faster then I would like to the modern era. I believe my problem with this book as it needed to be twice as large or half the scope and finally its preachy global warming message in the last part was a bit annoying, I understand why it was there but a history book should be about history, your results may vary.

Now that all the bad parts out of the way the book does give a very good overview of a v
I'm not sure why I thought I would like this book, given that I haven't liked Winchester's other work. I suppose it's because I've liked other book on maritime themes (e.g. The Outlaw Sea). By the time I made it through the opening anecdote about a transatlantic sea voyage and a drawn-out comparison to flying, and got to his plan to structure the book around the Seven Ages of Man from "As You Like It," I had already totally lost patience.
People have critiqued the sprawling nature of this book, but such a nature seems fitting for a book on something as large (geographically, historically, geologically) as the Atlantic Ocean. Besides, overall he groups his material into considering the Atlantic from various angles: geological, exploration history, commercial history, military history, and environmental impact. I listened to this book as an audiobook, and it was simply a pleasure to have Winchester in my car for several weeks, tell ...more
As a space enthusiast, I sometimes encounter opponents who argue that my priorities are misplaced. They criticize my cosmic fixation by reminding me that, without leaving the surface of the Earth, one can reach a vast and largely unexplored frontier: the ocean. Their argument has great merit. So, having read and enjoyed Simon Winchester’s Krakatoa , I was very excited to see Atlantic show up on the new release shelf in my public library. Here was an irresistible chance for me to give the oceans ...more
Deborah Ideiosepius
This was a very enjoyable book and I am very glad that I took Will’s recommendation and bought it sight unseen. I am pretty sure I will both re-read it and use it as a reference in future.

The book is kind of a biography of the Atlantic Ocean as seen by mankind. There is a brief introduction to its formation and information about its habits, tides, winds and other quirks are scattered throughout the book. The narrative is easy, familiar and personalised, I do not recall ever having read anything
Karl Rove
I admit I'm a Simon Winchester fan. I met him with THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN, a slim and fascinating book about the compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary. Being the son of a geologist, I was wowed by THE MAP THAT CHANGED THE WORLD and blown away by his KRAKATOA. So I was eager to dive into ATLANTIC. It's good, but not great. Winchester is a wonderful storyteller, particularly good at coming out of left field with a connection of Point A and Point B that's unexpected and brilliant. But ...more
Jack Erickson
Reading Simon Winchester Simon Winchester is like sitting down at a banquet with an historian, a geologist, a linguist, a meteorologist, a geographer, a novelist, and a world traveler. You're going to hear incredible stories about world events and adventures that will remain with you as long as you live.

Winchester was an Oxford-educated geologist before he became a journalist and prolific author of books about fascinating topics: the history of the first geological map; an Oxford scholar who wr
Andrew Walczak
I am a huge Simon Winchester fan...My dad consistently passes his books down to me, and was quite pleased when Atlantic finally showed up at my house!

In sum, this book is all over the place. Winchester has a background in geology, so a good bulk of the book describes the scientific history of the Atlantic. By no means am I a scientist, but his descriptions on the origins of the Atlantic were informative, and the type of science writing a novice like me can comprehend. From there, Winchester del
Caitlin Marineau
I really wanted to love this book. I love stories about sailing, adventure, and the sea, and, as a history nut this seemed right up my alley. However, I just could not get into it. I listened to the audiobook of this particular title, and I kept getting lost because it just could not hold my attention, and his subjects switched around so much that if I ever zoned out I completely lost the thread of the book. Though full of interesting information, the book feels disorganized, rather like the aut ...more
I didn't feel this book lived up to its title: "Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms,and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories". Part of my disappointment may have been thinking it would live up to the subtitle and be more exciting. The only part of the subtitle which seemed accurate was the part about "a million stories". Winchester covered a lot, perhaps too much, from the formation of the earth and oceans over the past millions of years to early man all the way through to using t ...more
Simon Winchester is a magic man of words,cunning and devious at sucking you into his subject matter. He takes on a mighty subject, the Atlantic, embarking on a voyage to places like Hy Braseal, St. Helena,
Tristan de Cunha, Patagonia and Vinland. He shows us bloody-handed pirates, dogged rescuers, explorers, daredevils and merchant adventurers. We get a look at desperate battles, with heroes such as Horatio Nelson and Francis Drake. We double Cape Bojador with Gil Eannes, a Portuguese navigator.
Dileep Sankar
I give a full rating for the book. Mr. Winchester has done a great job. The effort he has given for the book is extremely appreciable. I now feel as though the whole history, present and the future of The Atlantic has just been unfurled in an unbroken flow.
The author has supplied intricate details of many an event, that common man will never even guess, leave alone be knowing. After reading the book, I am really happy to mention that I was not aware of almost 90% of the matter mentioned in the
Winchester takes a great topic and makes it a crashing bore here. Covering the ground he intends in 450 pages would already be a tall order, as he's looking at the geologic history of the Atlantic, its exploration, scientific discoveries related to the ocean, military conflict on the ocean, piracy, commercial enterprise on the ocean, its environmental degradation, and its geologic future. But he aggravates this problem by wasting about a third of those pages on personal stories that seem to have ...more
It definitely was no Professor & Madman. Not a bad book, but certainly uneven in its pacing, quality of information and writing. Some of it was very interesting, especially those parts about the age of exploration and global warming. Other parts had all the hallmarks of Wikipedia writing. The parts Winchester seemed rather weak on were the geology and early Atlantic exploration. Granted, the evidence for the latter is less fulsome and more mythic, but he certainly didn't seem to have a stron ...more
Even people incredibly good at some things aren't good at everything. Simon Winchester is an amazing writer. He's incredibly good at drawing connections between events in history and bringing out magic in moments that might be mundane in the hands of a lesser writer. 80% of Atlantic is on par with Winchester's best books, but he goes seriously off the rails for me when talking about climate change. It took a while to put my finger on what went wrong, but it mostly comes down to him not taking a ...more
J M Leitch
A beefy book about the Atlantic Ocean and the significant role it has played in mankind’s development on planet Earth, Winchester uses the unusual approach of structuring his novel according to Jacques’s 7 stages of man in the “All the world’s a stage…” speech from As You Like It. Jam-packed with fascinating kernels of information (like the young men from the Faroe islands of Scotland who risk life and limb every Spring clambering up sheer basalt cliffs to place single lambs on patches of luxuri ...more
Jenny Brown
Contains huge chunks of information taken from other recent books without attribution, for example the story of the castaways whose fate is echoed in Shakespeare's Tempest laid out in the book, The Brave Vessel, by Hobson Woodward. It struck me as one of those books that would never have been published had the author not been a bestseller. The research is so sloppy that I noticed quite a few errors. Franklin would not "go on to" discover the lightning rod after his voyage in the mid 1780s, for e ...more
Scott Gilbert
This author knows how to tie up history and pop science into a lovely package. Winchester has a unique and wonderful mid-to-late-20th century personal history as a journalist and worker in and around ocean-based industries. He bleeds anecdotes from that, along with larger handfuls of interesting and fashionable historical and geographical scientific tidbits into a base of decently built prose to make a verbal stew which culminates in a tasty and satisfying dinner of casual reading. Is it nourish ...more
It rarely gets much respect. Whether we're trying to fly over it, abusing it as a source of food or using it as receptacle for myriad wastes, we don't often stop to think much about the Atlantic Ocean. As a Midwestern landlubber, I must confess that most days pass without any Atlantic oriented thoughts. Acclaimed author Simon Winchester tries to remedy this sorry situation with Atlantic, a comprehensive biography of this fascinating and ever changing body of salt water.

You can read the rest of

Simon Winchester's books are a pleasure to read -- non-fiction that comes to life. You certainly will enjoy his books -- no "dry non-fiction".

A thorough, entertaining history of EVERYTHING about the Atlantic Ocean -- from battles, to poems about, to pirates, to charting the oceans.

LOVE books with maps. Thanks for both maps, which I referred to often.

Preface Quote from book:

"Men might as well project a voyage to the Moon, as attempt to employ steam navigation against the stormy North
Dan Ward
This is truly a books of a million stories. And they all seem to be told at once. There were bits of interesting tidbits amongst the sea of prose that could truly be interesting. Basing the book on a poem by Shakespeare was a reach. The book seems to be written mainly from a northern European viewpoint, primarily England. I couldn't finish the book as it was just too random. Very few war stories, storm stories etc as the title suggests. I'm thinking this book could be about 1/2 as long and would ...more
This was a book-on-CD read by the author in his perfect Oxford University voice, balm to the ears. The collection of stories was wide ranging and never boring from Grace Darling's heroic rescue of the shipwrecked to the evil goings on of Christopher Columbus, from undersea tectonic movement to the changing weather patterns in the Antarctic, continual edge of the seat storytelling. Highly recommended.
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Simon Winchester, OBE, is a British writer, journalist and broadcaster who resides in the United States. Through his career at The Guardian, Winchester covered numerous significant events including Bloody Sunday and the Watergate Scandal. As an author, Simon Winchester has written or contributed to over a dozen nonfiction books and authored one novel, and his articles appear in several travel publ ...more
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