The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas
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The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  319 ratings  ·  67 reviews
If fresh water is to be treasured, the Great Lakes are the mother lode. No bodies of water can compare to them. One of them, Superior, is the largest lake on earth, and the five lakes together contain a fifth of the world's supply of standing fresh water. Their ten thousand miles of shoreline boundeight states and a Canadian province and are longer than the entire Atlantic...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published June 1st 2004 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 2003)
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I read this for the Weque summer bookclub, and it was very fun to read this so close to Lake Michigan, about which a good portion of the book is written. This book contains so many fascinating scientific and historical facts, stories, anecdotes, and wonder, it is hard to summarize it in a few sentences. There were so many familiar place-names among the Great Lakes explorers - Champlain, Hennepin, Charlevoix (a priest, as it turns out) Nicolet, Joliet, Marquette. I found it fascinating to read ab...more
Jan 13, 2008 Pam rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone in the Great Lakes region
Jerry Dennis is simply a great story-teller, and he weaves together history, ecology, and memoir into a great yarn. He clearly loves the Great Lakes as much as I love Michigan, and is on a mission to impress the reader with their rich histories, power, and environmental fragility. I also appreciated that his adventure writing was not bogged down by machismo. I would've liked more detail about historical and contemporary Native American groups and their interactions with the Lakes. In his re-tell...more
Stevi Kosloskey
This is the review I wrote about the book for my environmental science class:

I found this book to be quite interesting and informative. Dennis has a way of weaving an entertaining story of his personal experiences along with historical information, and at the same time educating the reader about the ecosystem of the Great Lakes and environmental challenges they face. At no point did I feel that this book was taking a self-righteous approach about saving the Great Lakes, instead Dennis makes you...more
Feb 22, 2013 Sueij rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Sueij by: Nicola's, by way of Scott
Shelves: book-club
I was astonished by how much I loved this book. Our favorite indie bookstore recommended it, so Scott got it for me for Mother's Day.

The author does a fantastic job of mixing the history (old and new) of the Great Lakes with his personal experience living along them, visiting them, and sailing on them. He moves seamlessly from history to encounters. There's everything from the Native Americans who lived alongside, to the lakes' discovery by Europeans, to their use and abuse over the last several...more
This book was our community "Reads" book for 2010. It tells the story of a crew sailing the Malabar from Grand Traverse Bay (on Lake Michigan) to a harbor in Maine -- through 4 of the 5 Great Lakes, part of the Erie Canal, the Hudson River, and on into the Atlantic.

My husband is also reading it - he enjoys the languid pace. I don't really have an opinion (positive or negative) on the pacing, but I got really annoyed at how the book jumps back and forth. The author will be writing about their jo...more
Mark Gromko
The main story line follows the journey of the author on a ferro-cement hulled tall ship from Traverse City, MI to Bar Harbor, ME. Throughout the narrative, the author punctuates the events of the journey with stories, history, and environmental concerns of the Great Lakes. The trip proceeds north from Traverse City, through the Straights of Mackinac (pronounced "Mack-in-awe", not the way it is spelled), through Lake Huron, the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair, the Detroit River, Lake Erie, along...more
Kat Hagedorn

Yet another example of fantastic science writing. And my second of two in a row that puts the author front and center in the drama surrounding the science.

Clearly, I am not correct in thinking that Rebecca Skloot was unique in making her personal story an important and integral part of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Because that's also what Jerry Dennis does in this volume-- in order to tell the story of the Great Lakes, he actually journeys them, describing his...more
Having grown up by Lake Michigan I have tremendous respect for the water, watching peaceful mornings turn suddenly into stormy afternoons with waves growing in size and intensity. I know how lucky I am to be able to go exploring along the shores for a day or an hour. And, silly me, I thought I knew enough of the history of all five lakes to be 'knowledgeable'. After reading this book, however, I realized how little I knew of the other Great Lakes, the history surrounding all of them and geologic...more
Since I started working on a research project around the entire Great Lakes, I have had a renewed interest in their history. I find it amazing that I have lived most of my life within a short distance from Lake Ontario but knew very little about it except that it was huge. This book is centered around personal experiences of the author as he sails/explores all of the lakes. I learned a lot through a mix of physical history, initial European exploration history, human history (development), and e...more
Dave Gaston
Dennis details the Great Lakes voyage of an old sailing schooner called the Malabar. The trip originates in Lake Michigan. Malabar (and crew) travels up through the Great Lakes, through the Erie Canal, into the Hudson River and finally the old ship takes port at Long Island. The sailing trip serves as a tour de force of the Great Lakes and the spine of Jerry Dennis’s fine book. That said, his writings often tact far from Malabar’s main voyage. His side stories round out the ancient history and l...more
Sean Eddy
This book is part naval history, natural history and modern day adventure about the Great Lakes all rolled into one with some great writing that captures their awe and splendor. And a dose of humor along the way helps. On passing through Canadian customs on the Welland Canal: "any alcohol on board? Any firearms?"
No and no. But he [the captain] forgot to mention...dozen cases of homemade beer and some bottles of rum and single-malt Scotch and two or three jugs if wine. Also a cannon.
“Nature had won again: the labor of thousands was forgotten.”
–Chapter 14
The title, The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas, rings a bit schmaltzy to me now that I’ve read the entire book. But it’s certainly appropriate. Having stood on a giant dune overlooking Lake Superior, I know what it’s like to be mesmerized by these freshwater colossi.

This book is a more personal journey than I expected. It benefits from a journalistic depth, yet the author’s seaborne reflection...more
James (JD) Dittes
I read this in advance of a road trip through Ontario and Michigan, and it was an excellent resource: lots of adventure, plenty of history (both natural and human), and as much care for the future of the six great lakes as its past.

The basis of the boat is a voyage on a two-masted schooner, The Malabar, from Traverse City, Michigan to Bar Harbor, Maine, via lakes Huron, Erie and Ontario, through the Erie Canal & the Hudson River to Long Island Sound. Despite the limited trip, Dennis's scope...more
While reading this book I discovered a friend was in it, one Carleen and I visited when we went to the Great Lakes State Games in Marquette, so I called and congratulated him on his 15 minutes of fame. He said he was also in two other books by the author and had gone on a trip with him canoeing the rivers of Michigan. Neat! Also turns out I sailed on this ship before it was retired, with my friends Hong Jun and Najin, and have a picture of us on the deck of the Malibar. Hong Jun was seasick and...more
Jul 09, 2011 Kirsten rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who sail, REALLY love boats
I love the Great Lakes, so I thought I would love this book...not really so. I like the idea of it, and am jealous of his trip, but I didn't care for the way it was presented.

I thought it was kind of erratically put together, just kind of a collection of stories and thoughts. A tiny bit of history and science was woven in , but for the most part just random stories about sailing. And talking about the boat. And random people/meals. I got bored, so apparently sailing is not a viable mode of trans...more
Jerry Dennis loves being on the water, he loves the Great Lakes, and he loves telling us about it. His enthusiasm propels his narrative through a rambling voyage on America's lakes. He sometimes flirts with self-indulgence, but redeems himself with an unfettered zest for the journey.

A little sober analysis of the native ecology would have been welcome, something more substantial than his flighty once-over, but with the overall mood of the book, it's not really expected. A pleasant jaunt, populat...more
A lot of Michigan great lakes history in a nutshell. Well worth reading, and additionally, I would recommend it to anyone interested in sailing.
Kent District Library
Join us for a friendly discussion. This month's title is "The Living Great Lakes" by Jerry Dennis. For adults. Book Discussion will take place on May 8, 2014 at Kent District Library's Grandville branch, from 6:30-7:30 pm.

“Dennis weaves the history and nature of the Great Lakes with stories about his life growing up on Lake Michigan and sailing on the Lakes. His stories are very compelling and the history and nature of the Lakes will capture anyone who has lived around these beautiful bodies of...more
I learned so much about these great lakes and had a fun trip in a sea worthy but dumpy boat.
John P
Excellent. Very well written and engaging. Having spent most of my life in Michigan I have to say that Mr. Dennis does a fine job of including a boatload (pun intended) of Michigan lore in the telling of his tale. Moving deftly between such topics as local history, including geologic and human, the Big Mac race, personality quirks and conflicts among his crew, life and death on the big lakes, and the journey of the Malabar itself, he shines as a storyteller.
As a novice sailor on Lake Huron, I wa...more
Loreen Niewenhuis
Jerry Dennis is one of the best 'Great Lakes Writers.' His work has inspired me, and this account of his journey by boat through four of the Great Lakes all the way to the Atlantic Ocean is a great read.

I'm not much of a boater, but I do enjoy learning about the lakes and this book explores many aspects of the lakes.

Dennis also tells of his time as a crew hand on a sailboat in the Chicago to Mackinac Island race. I've been in Chicago for the start of this event when the lake is filled with sai...more
This is an amazing book, with interesting historical, geological, and social perspectives of how the Great Lakes have shaped the land and our country and what an adventure it is to sail them.

The book is interspersed with many Jon Krakauer like adventures of life on the freshwater seas of the Upper Midwest, both today and 'yesterday'.

I was surprised that I enjoyed this A2 / Ypsi Reads book so much. As someone said for such an uninteresting title, there is alot going on here.

Dec 10, 2010 Bob rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Bob by: Peg O'Bryant
The book is structured like a coat rack -- the trip's stages provide hooks on which to hang a surprising variety of information: local history, geology, environmental concerns, fishing, and sailing stories, and though I thought it was clumsily done (his trip actually bypassed nearly half of the places he talks about) the stories are wonderfully told, the local history has meaning for outsiders, and the science is elegantly presented. A plus for me was that his trip complemented my own drive dur...more
I really liked this.

The narrator is a Michigan native, a journalist who decides he wants to really understand the Great Lakes. He mixes the story of a trip he takes sailing from Traverse City to Maine through the Great Lakes with memories of growing up, snippets of ecological history, and descriptions of how things have changed over the years.

Highly recommended to anyone with an interested in the Upper Midwest, sailors, or those curious about the environment and how much these lakes mean to our...more
Great book for the stories. The author went through a great deal of detail on the History of the Great Lakes. Mr. Dennis thoroughly researched the historial contents and was able to convey them in a fun and interesting story.

Unfortunately, the authro tends to rable and often goes onto great detail in areas that dont need the detail he goes into.

Read it for the history and the lore, but don't expect it to be like one of your summer reading books. It's easy reading, it just feels unorganised.
James Garner
A captivating history/adventure story/ecological examination of the five sweetwater seas. The author signs on to help sail a renovated concrete-hull schooner from Traverse City to Maine, which gives him the chance to talk about everything he knows as a long-time resident and scholar. It includes a trip on the Chicago-to-Mackinac Race, a harrowing story of the night of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald,lore about Lake Erie and the Erie Canal, and much more. A great overview of my favorite regi...more
I don't often get into non-fiction. I'll read something if I'm interested in the subject matter but even if there is an interest, I'm seldom grabbed by the book. This book grabbed me - it helps that I love the Great Lakes. And it helps that the author lives in one of my favorite Lake Michigan cities so there were plenty of references with which I'm familiar. But even without that tie, his account of sailing across the Great Lakes out to the Atlantic is a great read. I loved it.
Perfect book for a Michigander, brought up vacationing on the Great Lakes. It has a little bit of everything, science, history, nature, ecology and adventure. The author works as a hand on the Malabar and chronicles the ship's trip from Traverse City to Bar Harbor, Maine. It brought back great memories but I learned a lot, too. The book makes me realize we need to do our best to take care of these magnificent lakes.
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“I asked him what he thought of the Great Lakes now.
I'm surprised at how much seamanship is required to sail them. I always thought they were for wussies, that only the oceans were worthy of tough guys like me. But in the ocean there's not much to hit, it mostly requires endurance. These lakes can kick your ass.”
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