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The Gulf: The Making of An American Sea

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  1,948 ratings  ·  333 reviews
When painter Winslow Homer first sailed into the Gulf of Mexico, he was struck by its "special kind of providence." Indeed, the Gulf presented itself as America’s sea—bound by geography, culture, and tradition to the national experience—and yet, there has never been a comprehensive history of the Gulf until now. And so, in this rich and original work that explores the Gulf ...more
Hardcover, 608 pages
Published March 14th 2017 by Liveright
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Average rating 4.21  · 
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 ·  1,948 ratings  ·  333 reviews

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Jun 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Last summer I noticed a new nonfiction book entitled The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea. With a cover featuring birds and palm trees along a coastline, I viewed this book as a must read. Having vacationed or visited family and even lived in Florida although not on the Gulf side, I feel a special affinity for Florida even though I am not a native of the state. While I did not get a chance to read this book last summer, something else reintroduced me to this book: this year's Pulitzer announc ...more
Sep 01, 2019 rated it really liked it

I’ll be the first to admit I would never have picked this up if it wasn’t a book club selection.

The good news is that it’s well written with interesting facts. After a few initial chapters that bring us up to the 19th century, the author then concentrates each chapter on a specific interest - fishing, birding, Beachgoing, oil, etc. I have to admit to learning a lot, not just about the gulf about American history in general. I can’t begin to imagine the amount of research needed to put a book li
This is an immersive, readable account of the history of the Gulf of Mexico. Jack E. Davis does an incredible job bringing the Gulf to life in this ambitious undertaking of a book. The reader is taken on a journey from the early days of the Pleistocene era to the present. Davis uses geological, ecological, social, environmental, colonial, economical and biological frameworks to provide a detailed analysis of what the Gulf of Mexico means to the United States.

I highly recommend this book to anyon
Woman Reading
3.5 ☆
Nature's object in making plants and animals might possibly be first of all the happiness of each one of them, not the creation of all for the happiness of one.
- John Muir's journal entry
The Gulf: The Making of An American Sea won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in history, but that wasn't my motivation for reading it. I love the earth's seas and I've read several ocean-themed nonfictions in the past year. When this title was suggested as a buddy read in the NFBC, I decided that this would be a
Craig Pittman
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
What a brilliant, deeply researched, beautifully written book this is. I've lived on or near the Gulf of Mexico almost all my life, and covered environmental issues in Florida for 20 years, and still this book taught me a lot that I did not know. My hat's off to University of Florida professor Jack E. Davis for this stunning achievement, and I highly recommend this book to anyone who cares about the Gulf or its coastline.

Davis starts off the book in an unusual way, showing us how painter Winslow
Judith E
Apr 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: southern, non-fiction
Like Homer Winslow and Walter Anderson, author Jack Davis has painted a bucolic and pristine picture of the Gulf of Mexico when Europeans invaded this inland sea. Men continued to coexist with the bounty and miracle of a naturally rejuvenating ecosystem for many centuries ... that is, until gluttony and excess impeded this waterway’s ability to remain healthy and productive.

Davis methodically unveils a compelling argument which is tirelessly researched and beautifully presented so readers are u
The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea by Jack E. Davis, an environmental historian, was a sweeping history and riveting exploration of the Gulf of Mexico from Galveston, Texas to Key West, Florida, documenting its impact over time from the earliest Aborigine settlers to the Spanish explorers and conquistadores to modern day. Davis keeps one interested by interspersing not only history and science but literature and art through the ages, as well as featuring some very interesting people and the ...more
Feb 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: pulitzer-history
The Gulf by Jack E. Davis

I am a fan of environmental books but I’m not a huge fan of lengthy books with brief threads that while individually interesting often have little flow or depth. Every paragraph or two in this book details yet another person and a different place and even interesting topics that quickly become ephemeral.

Here is a typical example.

Whatever one’s version of the ideal, Southwest Florida still had expansive tracts of undeveloped land available to transform into it. Redfish
Helga Cohen
This Pulitzer Prize winning book for History, by Jack Davis, by an environmental historian, gave a riveting history and exploration of the Gulf of Mexico. Davis does an impressive job of bringing the Gulf to life in this incredible work. He documents the impact of the Gulf from the earliest settlers and explorers to the development of the Gulf to modern days. He uses geological, ecological, social, environmental, colonial, economical and biological frameworks to analyze the Gulf of Mexico.

The Gu
Diane S ☔
Mar 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nf-2021
3.5 thoughts soon.
"It means managing our own behavior, not nature's."

"We cannot destroy or control the sea, although we can diminish its gifts, and when we do, we turn away from our providence and diminish ourselves."

Great book. Reminds one that the environment matters and we can make a difference for good or evil.
Feb 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
An extensive and detailed book about the Gulf of Mexico and its coastal areas from the early days of the Spanish explorers to the present. The central message is environmental. The human relationship with the Gulf environment has been lopsided and exploitative - whether it's sport and commercial over-fishing, the wholesale killing of birds for feathers, onshore and offshore drilling and the subsequent pollution, or the dredging of the Gulf to expand the waterfront for resort development, just to ...more
Lee Irby
Jan 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I managed to procure an advanced copy of this breathtaking book and it is brilliant and important work--highly academic yet completely accessible and filled with the kinds of insightful vignettes that Davis was a keen eye for. This body of water defines the lives of millions of people, and here is a work that manages to capture the complexity and contrasts of an American tragedy in the making. It reads like a novel--a very fine novel. Davis is one of the finest writers of prose in the English la ...more
James Carter
Apr 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was terrific--entertaining, insightful, relevant, depressing and inspiring by turns. I've long been fascinated by many aspects of what goes on in the Gulf of Mexico--my own family's ties to Galveston and the petrochemical coast of east Texas, my dad's stories of the childhood summers in Panama City, and an amateur weather-buff's fascination with tropical storms--and this gave me the backstory and context I wanted in style. A great blend of natural, social, cultural history, with a good dose ...more
Aug 16, 2017 rated it liked it
The Gulf of Mexico used to be a bounteous habitat of sea life and birds, but the oil industry, pollution, and overfishing have changed that, according to the author. Davis is an engaging writer, but the last half of the book is a drag to get through. Also, this is a book about the northern Gulf; he doesn't explore the southern Mexican coast. ...more
Amanda Van Parys
There are so many angry things I can say about the treatment of The Gulf, but I can't organize my thoughts. Maybe I can just list them:

1. There's this one cutesy commercial that plays (I'm assuming if the Hulu algorithms determine you are a Gulf coast resident) ecouraging you to vote for "safe offshore drilling" and it is made up of cute little blocks dancing around the screen and making little houses and families and such. I hate this commercial.

2. There was an amendment on the ballot in the 20
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, pulitzer
A wonderful study of 'America's Sea' from its very creation all the way up to the Deepwater Horizon spill. Unsurprisingly, Davis' main objective is to illustrate our damning behavior towards our gift-giving Gulf and the need to let nature do its thing and stay out of the way. And he succeeds, but the most enjoyable parts of this book are some of the individual characters Davis introduces and their bold and strange exploits. This is not nearly as dry of a read as you might expect. Well deserving ...more
Apr 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, nautical
Gulf: the Making of an American Sea (2017) is Jack E. Davis’s history of the Gulf of Mexico, a body of water overlooked in most histories of America’s growth and of growth’s consequences. Davis, a professor of environmental history at the University of Florida, has written a masterpiece. For those of us who live in the southwest Florida, the Gulf is an all-important body of water, and Davis’s history is both relevant and enlightening. The book is filled with information new to many of us, and it ...more
I read this book for buddy read at GR Nonfiction Book Club and for my personal challenge 21 All About Texas in 2021. To read a book about Texas--with a focus on South Texas requires a book on the Gulf of Mexico.

The discussion in The Gulf focuses mostly on Florida, some on US Gulf Coast, less in Caribbean islands, and less on South American Gulf Coast. It is a large work of environmental history. I wish it had been labelled better. I wish the that when Davis said "American sea" and "America's se
Susan O
"We should abandon the impulse to lead and instead follow, holding ourselves to the precept that nature takes better care of itself than do humans." (p 529)

"We cannot destroy or control the sea, although we can diminish its gifts, and when we do, we turn away from our providence and diminish ourselves." (p 530)

A very well-written history and assessment of the health of the Gulf of Mexico. There is a lot of bad news along the way that was depressing to read, and the struggles continue. There are
This book was fine but it didn’t really pull me along so I stopped reading. I don’t think I have enough curiosity about the history of the Gulf of Mexico to be compelled to finish.
Porter Broyles
For me, the book started very slow, but then took off. It took me about 2 weeks to finish the first third and 2 days to finish the last 2/3rds!

The book starts out talking about the physical features and geology of the Gulf of Mexico. It discusses what constitutes a Gulf vs Sea vs Ocean vs inlet etc. It talked about the earlies names for the Gulf. It wasn’t always the Gulf of Mexico. It covers the earliest known usages for the Gulf and early European exploration of the Gulf. Some of this section
Nick Crisanti
A Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of the Gulf of Mexico or, as the author stylizes it, the American Sea. The first half of the book relates the history of the gulf and its flora and fauna. From its European discovery, the search for the mouth of the Mississippi, the aboriginal inhabitants and their way of life, to the numerous species of fish and birds, and the beautiful coasts, islands and estuaries, Jack E. Davis provides a scintillating story of this unique treasure. The second half is about ...more
Brett Monty
Mar 08, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a slow and steady read for me. Though it was hard to make progress at times, I thoroughly enjoyed it! The Gulf is such an important part of our history, culture, and economy. It was great to dive into the specific facets of its prominence over time. I learned a great deal and really loved this book.
Jun 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I live about a mile 3 miles from Santa Rosa Sound and a football field's length from Escambia Bay. I love the Gulf of Mexico and my family has been inhabiting the Pensacola area since 1960. This book was eye-opening and easy to follow considering the vast about of time and geography it covers.

The theme is, unchecked Capitalism is bad for nature! Basically, it is a summary of the Anthropocene Extinction in the Gulf of Mexico. Sometimes it felt like there was too much about fis
This book took me forever to read -- more a function of too many outside distractions than anything to do with this book.

Davis is a Florida historian who specializes in the environmental history of the Gulf states. The book covers the geology, natural history, weather, and human history of this body of water that much of America outside of the region doesn't give much of a thought. Living just 130 miles from the Gulf myself, it doesn't seem to affect me much. Or so I thought.

I confessed I prefer
Nicholas Bilka
Apr 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an important and challenging look at the Gulf with a particular focus on the Gulf Coast of the United States and the human impact on this body of water. The Gulf offered native populations and later European invaders an unsurpassed natural bounties in its sea life, wild life and its petroleum resources. As American's became more comfortable living by the sea, the Gulf's Coast was exploited by developers who saw an opportunity to sell the landlocked middle class the dream of living in a w ...more
Aug 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is the 2nd time I've read this book and it blew my mind AGAIN. There's just so much information to absorb and learn that I needed and wanted to read it again. I particularly love the chapters on Louisiana, because that's my home state, but I learned a lot about Walter Anderson, Cedar Key, the Mississippi River, the history of land ownership and usage in the US/Louisiana, and much about the oil industry. I added many books and people to my "to read" list, have many notes and topics to resear ...more
Jun 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Along the same lines as the "Atlantic" and "Pacific" books by Simon Winchester, this book by Jack E Davis tackles the history of the Gulf of Mexico from Aboriginal settlement, European exploration (and often devastation) to modern day growth, over-growth and ultimately pollution.

I loved the historic tales of the bounty of fish within the Gulf and the irony of European explorers starving and resorting to cannibalism as they sight to oppress the "savages" who had grown strong on the local catch.

Honey Rand
Jul 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Amazing story, beautiful writing and totally deserved the Pulitzer. I read all but the last two chapters—I listened to those on an audio book purchased for my husband. As good as the audio was, the reading was even better. History, economics, our role in protecting or affecting the Gulf from the beginning through today. The issues, the value, the breadth and beauty and the tragedies that have befallen America's Sea ... all covered in poetic and immensely readable prose. Loved it. ...more
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Jack Emerson Davis is Professor of History and the Rothman Family Chair in the Humanities at the University of Florida. He is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea.

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