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

4.19  ·  Rating Details ·  636 Ratings  ·  112 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 bound eight states and a Canadian province and are longer than the entire Atlanti ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published June 1st 2004 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 2003)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Dec 30, 2007 Pam rated it really liked it
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
Jul 05, 2011 Corinna rated it really liked it
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
Ted Hunt
May 29, 2015 Ted Hunt rated it really liked it
This book was exactly what I was hoping it would be. Ever since reading "Blue Highways" 35 years ago, I have enjoyed books that are about journeys, and this book is about a trip on a sailboat through the Great Lakes. And like the other great books of this genre, it provides a look at the places that the author visits (both in this journey and in previous boating expeditions), and touches on history, ecology, biology, and even some persona philosophy. Not being a boat person, the book didn't real ...more
Edward Westerbeke
Mar 18, 2016 Edward Westerbeke rated it it was amazing
A boat and a crew sailing the Great lakes from Travers city to Bar Harbor, ME with lots of storms thrown in for excitement. The author throws in a a a lot of history about the the areas they are sailing through. The history of this area goes back to the 1600s I especially enjoyed this part. I I read this book because I live on Lake Michigan I learned a lot about the lake that I hadn't known before..
Katey Schultz
Jun 23, 2016 Katey Schultz rated it it was amazing
[I had the honor of introducing Jerry after studying his work.]

Jerry Dennis Intro

Those of us who identify as book-lovers, those of us who lived inside stories throughout our childhoods—we know the work of a living legend when we encounter it on the page. Similarly, those of us who have built careers out of the well-shaped sentence, the fully-formed paragraph, the intentionally crafted essay—we know what it’s like to learn from a colleague whose body of work represents a deeply significant contri
Tim Martin
Jan 15, 2017 Tim Martin rated it it was amazing
This was a thoroughly enjoyable book, the type of travel book I like best, with interesting discussions of both the human and natural history of a particular part of the world blended with the personal experiences and adventures of the author in the region. The historical and scientific information was fascinating and I learned quite a bit, while the personal experiences were often riveting, even daring at times, and I very much enjoyed reading them.

The framing narrative of the entire book was
Feb 25, 2015 Kim rated it really liked it
This was the 2015 Kalamazoo Public Library Reading Together book. I felt the title was a bit mis-leading, because it felt more like history. It was still a good read. It did seem to divert off the main story quite a bit, and I felt that was distracting.

With one exception. Have you ever seen, "Everybody Loves Raymond"? In it, he has said that when is wife talks, sometimes all he hears is blah, blah, blah. Turns out, I feel that way about fishing. There were a few pages where all I remember readin
Shirley Freeman
It's good to be surprised by a book sometimes. This wouldn't normally grab my interest but I'm glad the community read program nudged me to read it. Jerry Dennis seems to have spent his life interacting with the great lakes. He writes engagingly about their history and biology,including environmental concerns, business/shipping concerns and human interest stories. Dennis spent a month crewing a tall ship from Chicago all the way through all the lakes and then down the Erie Canal to the Atlantic ...more
Sep 21, 2014 Wendy rated it really liked it
While it took me a bit to really get into this book, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is rich with historical and anecdotal stories that bring the Great Lakes to life. This is the Kalamazoo library's community read this year. I look forward to attending the author visit and other events surrounding the book to learn even more.
Mar 19, 2017 Kate rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel, history, favorites
I love the Great Lakes and I loved this book! Jerry Dennis travelled through the lakes on a tall ship being delivered to the coast of Maine. He interspersed his travelogue with his own experiences living in Northern Michigan, travels around Lake Superior (where this trip didn't go), history, environment, and interesting characters. It is easy to read, easy to picture and a joy to experience for someone who pines daily for that scenery.
David Ellis
Jan 18, 2017 David Ellis rated it really liked it
This book spanned genres; it touched on elements of nature, travel, and history. Dennis signed on as a crew-member, sailing a tall-masted schooner from Lake Michigan to the Atlantic. This voyage is the backbone of his book, an exploration of the natural and human history of the Great Lakes. I found it to be an informative and involving story.
Tom Engle
Mar 17, 2017 Tom Engle rated it it was amazing
Enjoyable read for someone who has grown up in Michigan. An interesting way to learn the ecology, economy and history of the Great Lakes region.
Feb 06, 2017 Katie rated it it was amazing
Most enjoyable book if you're interested in the history of the Great Lakes and enjoy travelogues.
Oct 12, 2016 Michael rated it it was amazing
A must read for residents who live in the Great Lakes basin. This is my second reading of this work. Jerry Dennis takes the reader on an informative, interesting ride through these precious water resources.
Stevi Kosloskey
Feb 02, 2014 Stevi Kosloskey rated it really liked it
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
May 19, 2010 Kevin rated it really liked it
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
Dec 18, 2014 Mark rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-star, history, nature
The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas, by Jerry Dennis, 2003. There are a good number of passages in this plunge of a book into the Great Lakes. Dennis writes well, and he has a wonderful and diverse subject. Listen to this – from his chapter on the Canadian North Shore of Lake Superior, about walking through the woods along the shore:
“The trees entwined their branches from crown to ground, tangling in an understory dense with blueberry bushes, Labrador tea, laurel,
Kat Hagedorn
Jan 16, 2013 Kat Hagedorn rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, non-fiction

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
Nov 25, 2009 Tricia rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Sep 02, 2010 Susan rated it really liked it
Recommended to Susan 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
Sep 14, 2011 Jane rated it really liked it
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
Sep 15, 2015 Katie rated it liked it

I had mixed feelings about this book. I felt that the beginning and the ending were interesting. However, I disliked most of the book overall. In the beginning, the book discussed Lake Michigan and that was interesting to me because I have liked near Lake Michigan most of my life so far. Another part of the book I enjoyed was the information about the Great Lakes shipwrecks and how they gave detail about the differences in how deep each Great Lake is.

I think the next person to pick this book up
Jan 20, 2010 Jake rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
“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
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
James (JD) Dittes
Mar 09, 2012 James (JD) Dittes rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 12, 2009 Diane rated it it was amazing
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 03, 2011 Kirsten rated it liked it  ·  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
Oct 01, 2015 Dooug rated it really liked it
great read about the great lakes. as the book progresses it becomes more a memoir of author's experience sailing in an historic tall ship. Dennis intersperses his life experiences, shipwreck history, some natural history, ecological facts and challenges, human impact and pollution, and lots of colonial history, as he recounts his trip sailing from Chicago to Maine through the Great Lakes. although some of the shipwreck or history was a bit mundane, more like reading a text book, the majority of ...more
Nov 05, 2009 Nathan rated it it was ok
Shelves: aquinas-library
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
Jan 26, 2015 Joanne rated it really liked it
If you love our Great Lakes (really, GREAT lakes), read this book. It's a bit distracting, to me, that he is taking an actual sailing trip through the Great Lakes. But maybe that is the thread that weaves it all together. The Great Lakes contain one-fifth of the fresh water in the entire world and we must protect it, keep it clean, use it but not abuse it, love it, respect it. But in order to do those, and more, we must understand it and how it works. This is a great beginning, with more informa ...more
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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.”
“Michigan alone is bounded by 3,200 miles of coastline—only Alaska has more.” 0 likes
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