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

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  927 ratings  ·  153 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 ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published June 1st 2004 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 2003)
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“The wind grew stronger by the moment. It shifted, backing from south to east. Thirty seconds later, it swung to the north. The changes were abrupt and alarming, and each brought increased velocity. The new wind blew the tops off the waves, raising a horizontal spray that raced us downwind. Waves became confused, running south and north at the same time, slamming together and clapping spouts that the wind stripped away in banners. [The schooner] Malabar jumped like she’d been jabbed. We went ...more
Kelly Sedinger
Jun 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My actual rating for this amazing book would be 4.75 stars, because it barely mentions the greatest of all cities on the Great Lakes, BUFFALO, NEW YORK!!!!

OK, that bit of local jingoism aside, this is a truly fantastic book about a region of the country that many don't really seem to think all that much about. Author Dennis combines history, science, personal memoir, and travel narrative in one book that journeys through all five of the lakes, and also down the Erie Canal and the Hudson River to
Dec 30, 2007 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 ...more
Katey Schultz
Jun 23, 2016 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
Jul 05, 2011 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 ...more
Ted Hunt
May 29, 2015 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 ...more
Edward Westerbeke
Mar 18, 2016 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..
Steve Fox
Sep 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
This hit several marks for me: It is written by a journalist; it is about the Great Lakes, which surround me now but were not part of my childhood; and the author tells relevant stories while explaining current situations. I enjoyed this book, which was also recommended by my wife and son. I learned a great deal about the lakes.
Sep 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
H-O-M-E-S - I grew up on Lake Erie, and that's the acronym we learned for remembering the names of the Great Lakes. Huron - Ontario - Michigan - Erie - Superior. Individual bodies of fresh water - 1/5 of the fresh water in the world - that are joined by canals and rivers, and make our inland sea.

Jerry Dennis recounts two voyages on the Great Lakes, and in doing so gives us: History - natural, cultural, political; marine science and lore, adventure, an environmental warning, a cast of characters
Sep 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Gave me an increased appreciation for the Great Lakes. Also, beautiful imagery!
May 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I finished this in time to meet the author at an event in Northern Michigan! I loved the history and biology incorporated into this well-told adventure story.
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 ...more
Feb 25, 2015 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
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
May 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Jerry Dennis is a master of making his love for the Great Lakes (and nature in general) real for his readers. His descriptions are clear and crisp, his tales are told as if you're sitting on a porch, shooting the... breeze, but he can call up pertinent data and facts galore that expand upon his story. A great read, especially for those of us who are just learning to appreciate the amazing resource we have in the Great Lakes.
Sep 21, 2014 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.
Tim Martin
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
Oct 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the United States. Their surface area of 95,000 square miles is greater than New York, New Jersey, ...more
Aug 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I wanted to know more about the Great Lakes and this book fit the bill, but left me wanting even more. Dennis writes about his real-life adventure, signing on to the crew of a two-masted schooner and sailing from Lake Michigan to Bar Harbor, Maine through all five of the Great Lakes. Dennis is a fair storyteller, describing each day and each scene, then weaving in a little science and history to boot. I didn’t really enjoy his commentary on the guys on his boat, but I was fascinated by the ...more
Jeff Van Valer
Nov 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: great-lakes
My first Jerry Dennis book. A friend recommended it, and its name caught my eye, as I was already familiar with another book named The Late Great Lakes. It's always been my thought that Jerry Dennis's book was an answer to the other. The Great Lakes are a dynamic ecosystem, even if non-indigenous species now live in them. They're very much alive. The book deftly highlights each Lake's history as he journeys through them (and past Superior) on a schooner called the Malabar. The Malabar was moored ...more
Joshua Carney
Jul 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It took me a while to figure out that book is written as a kind geo-memoir as the Dennis explores sociological, ecological, and historical realities as he sails through (or near) the lakes aboard the Malabar, a former Traverse City sailing vessel rehabilitated and sent to the east coast.

In this journey Dennis catalogues his experience while using local referents as reason to introduce to the issues at hand. At times I thought it was a little slow, but that was only because I had encountered
Mary Lewis
Jan 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I knew about halfway through that this was going to get five stars from me, no matter what happened throughout the rest of the book. I've spent 25 of my 27 years in Michigan, and love letters to the Great Lakes always remind me of how much I truly do love this state and its history. I only wish that this book was just a little more, forgive the unintended pun, current. I would love to know the contemporary facts and figures re: invasive species, public opinion on drilling, efforts to keep the ...more
Dec 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
I loved the way the author wrote about the great lakes, as though they are living beings--and they are. Just like all things in this world, they are in constantly changing moods and health, sometimes giving life, sometimes taking it. They are also, despite their might, at the mercy of the selfishness or selflessness of us humans. As frequently happens, we tend not to appreciate things until we discover they are in danger of being gone. In addition to his natural history and maritime history ...more
Keith Taylor
Mar 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Too many things to say about this wonderful book! Dennis found a way to organize a bunch of information along the line of a personal narrative. The whole book gets informed by knowledge and experience. I've read it three times, and I should probably read it again soon.

Here's a little thing I wrote about it quite a while ago:
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, history, travel
A fascinating look at the Great Lakes - the history, science and people. This is the story of one man's journey through the lakes, but it's much more than just a memoir. Dennis incorporates the science of water and land resources with tales told to him by those who work on the lakes and the lore that he learned growing up and living on lakeshores.

I really enjoyed this book! If you are a Great Lakes fan, an adventure fan or a history fan, there's something in the book for you.
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
Actually, a well written book. Why two stars? Don't name your book "The Living Great Lakes" and then focus on your trip down the Erie CANAL and to Maine via the OCEAN. With a title like this you'd expect Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake on the planet, to garner more pages than the Erie Canal but, no. Rename the book and I'll rate it as the 4 stars it deserves as a voyage down what I'm sure is a nice canal.
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
The author does a great job of weaving a narrative about the history, environmental issues, and culture of the Great Lakes region. I docked a star because it spends a lot of time talking about the ship the author sails (the Malabar) and it's very light on information about Lake Superior (the best lake, let's be honest). There is an awful lot of death and tragedy involved, which is about right since the lakes are notoriously dangerous. But overall it's a great read!
Tess Bandos
Jan 08, 2020 rated it it was ok
This was a book club book, but I don't think it's one I would have chosen for myself. I appreciated the imagery and it was cool to read about places I was familiar with, but in my opinion, this book lacked purpose or plot. I know that having a strong plot was probably not the point of this book, but that's why it was harder for me to connect with it. Looking forward to the book discussion to see what other people got from it.
Donna Kremer
Jul 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Jerry Dennis writes well of a boating adventure, weaving in bits of history, geology, ecology, and the weather. His writing skills pull you in and make you part of the journey: "It has taken us a week to go a distance we could have driven in eight hours. We were living in schooner time now...the pace was comforting and natural, like a heart beating at rest."
Amy Brugam
Aug 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Not quite what I expected....but better. The writing is superb. Read this on a mini-vacation in Northern Michigan, after my first (very short) sail in a similar boat, and am familiar with many of the locations addressed. Includes great historical portions and commentary on current (and past) environmental hurdles.
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Jerry Denis grew up in rural northern Michigan, and was born in Flint in 1954. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Louisville in 1981, after attending Northern Michigan University and Northwestern Michigan College.

As he began his writing career, he worked as a carpenter for five years. To date, he has written for many publications. Journalistic assignments sent
“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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