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Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  1,188 ratings  ·  115 reviews
The classic Pulitzer Prize-winning study of the Atlantic blue crab and the people of the Chesapeake Bay who have depended on it for generations.

For decades, William Warner's exploration of the Atlantic blue crab and the Chesapeake Bay has delighted thousands of readers and become a modern American classic. Nature enthusiasts and fans of fine literature alike will find Beau
Paperback, 352 pages
Published March 21st 1994 by Back Bay Books (first published February 1st 1976)
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 ·  1,188 ratings  ·  115 reviews

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Jul 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I had long taken the Chesapeake Bay for granted until my grandparents began talking in earnest about selling their boat. On a trip down there this summer, they recommended this book as a way of coming closer to the bay. As the title indicates, Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay sets forth a rich and nuanced view of the Chesapeake crabbing trade, from the little beasties themselves to the government policies (as of 1976) that affect the trade.

If you'll pardon the cliche,
Paul Haspel
Aug 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: chesapeake
“Beautiful swimmer” is how the Greek term Callinectes translates; and Callinectes sapidus is the scientific name for the Chesapeake blue crab, the amazing little animal that serves as a key object of study for William Warner in his book Beautiful Swimmers. Natives or residents of the Chesapeake region may take special pleasure in seeing how Warner traces the influence of this ill-tempered little marine crustacean that happens to taste astonishingly good. (Sapidus, in case you were wondering, is ...more
Dec 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This book of non-Fiction is written with such care of the subject, and the grace of the language and discriptions of everything from the beautiful swimmers (chesapeake blue crabs) themselves, to the history of the Chesapeake bay, the crab-pot watermen to the pickers and packers. Warner truly takes the reader into the world of watermen, and branches out to the world around them with a style that kept me reading, not wanting to put the book down. Every chapter completed, I thought I had learned al ...more
Bob Newman
Mar 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful book on an unlikely subject

As a kid in Marblehead, Mass. I liked to catch crabs off the rocks. When I grew up a bit, I learned to eat them too---a very succulent food that I still love. But, I must confess that I never thought of reading books about them until one day I ran across William Warner's BEAUTIFUL SWIMMERS in a college bookshop. This wonderful work contains all you ever wanted to know about the life cycle of one particular kind of crab that lives in Chesapeake Bay (the kind
May 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Chicken neckers
A lovely book -- maybe even a love letter to a vanishing way of life -- about the blue crab, its Chesapeake Bay home and the folks who separate the two. Highly readable and absorbing, the only thing that would improve it would be recipes.

2020: Loved this when it came out in 1976. But, this is outdated and, sorry to say, strikes me as sexist in 2020. Warner's writing is frequently lyrical, but with rising water levels and bay pollution, this book seems quaint. Earl Swift's Chesapeake Requiem is a
Bill Sleeman
Jan 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing

Beautiful Swimmers: Waterman, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay by William Warner –although dated - proved to be timeless, not unlike the Bay itself. The people he meets and learns from are still present although perhaps in fewer numbers. I especially enjoyed Warner’s humility, he is clearly there to learn from these grizzled veterans of the crabbing and oyster industry. In 1976 the explosive algae blooms that now populate the Baltimore Sun news stories every summer were still on the horizon althoug

Emma Refvem
Jun 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wow- I finished it! Byron got me this book in like 2015 bc it is very good (Pulitzer!) and involves an estuary (my favorite ecosystem!). I get weird with other ppl telling me how to live my book life and I’m even weirder about nonfiction so it’s taken me until now to actually read it. I’m glad I did. Excellent history of a lifestyle surrounding the blue crabs of the Chesapeake. I learned a lot about the bay, the people, and the blue crabs!
A. Bowdoin Van Riper
William Warner’s Beautiful Swimmers is a classic piece of narrative non-fiction, and a fine introduction to the blue crabs of Chesapeake Bay and the working lives of the “watermen” who pursue them. It bears comparison to Rachel Carson’s The Edge of the Sea (for its attention to natural history, and its deft integration of the latest scientific data), to Henry Beston’s The Outermost House (for its portrait of a beautiful, isolated coastline), and to Michael Ruhlman’s Wooden Boats (for its sympath ...more
Apr 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was asked to read Beautiful Swimmers for our book club. I really enjoyed reading this book about the history of the watermen on the Chesapeake Bay, the blue crab and its life cycles, and the islands on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia. It was interesting to read about the declining trade and the erosion due to the increase in population. The book is wonderfully descriptive, I enjoyed learning about the various subtleties in color between the male and female crabs. I learned a lot abo ...more
Sep 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: environment
So, there you are, in 2017, reading a 1994 reprint edition of a 1977 Pulitzer Prize winning book in non-fiction. You've already lost the interest of millions of potential readers who believe the only good book is a fictional one, or at least a non-fictional one structured to feel just like a fictional one, with a clear plot, central characters, and the rest. To be sure, this is not one of those books written -- how should I say it? -- with lots of creative flair. Then, to add to its problems, it ...more
Paul Haspel
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
William Warner's Beautiful Swimmers is justly regarded as a classic of Chesapeake Bay literature. Writing in the year of the nation's bicentennial, Warner paid tribute to the odd and fragile beauty of the Atlantic blue crab that is -- or used to be -- found in such abundance throughout the Chesapeake. Indeed, Warner draws the title of his book from the scientific name of the crab, Callinectes sapidus; Callinectes translates from the Greek as "beautiful swimmer." (Sapidus translates as "savory," ...more
Lindsay Luke
Apr 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
I came across this book as I was reading Chesapeake. Although it was written in the 1970s, it is still a great companion piece to that book. The descriptions of semi-modern life on the Bay for both the watermen and the crabs and oysters were very vivid - a wonderful homage to a unique way of life. I haven't been to Smith Island since the 80s. It made me want to go back and see how things have changed, as I am sure they have. Well worth reading for those who are familiar with the area or interest ...more
Dec 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I can't remember how I came across this but am so glad I did. It's very well written and tells many great, personal stories of the history and lives of crab fisherman on the Chesapeake. Anyone who likes great stories and lives near the Bay will appreciate this. ...more
Jan 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Non fiction about the Chesapeake Bay and the crabbing industry by a Pulitzer winner, 1976. For Marylanders who live and love "The Bay" it is worthwhile. ...more
Marie Carmean
Jun 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
A thoroughly wonderful book about the Chesapeake Bay, delving deeply into the world of the watermen. With great detail the book also covers the lives of the crabs and oysters, and the Bay itself, and all that entails. It also covers the history of the Bay and it's possible future (so endangered!) It follows the daily lives of the men who work the crab and oyster boats; a fascinating group of people with very physical jobs, working long hours in hot sun and cold wind. Having watermen in my husban ...more
Ann T
Who knew there was that much to write about CRABS!! Interesting read and reminding me of my summers as a kid on the Oregon Coast. My family spend the summers up and down the Oregon Coast and as I grew up I got more interesting in crabbing. We rented crab nets and crabbed on the piers. We didn't catch much but it was so much fun. Later, my parents got me my own crab net and necessary accessories for Christmas one year. It was truly the best Christmas present ever. I spent that summer on the piers ...more
Jesse Kraai
Jul 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Got turned onto this one through my in-laws, who have spent some summer in Chincoteague. It's mostly a horrific place, with mosquitos biting flies and a climate that is designed to kill you. But this book at least gives some insight into the people and ecosystem. The book was written at a time before the I narrative became popular. Ie. I did this and experienced that. And that makes the book a little hard to follow, because Beautiful Swimmers is essentially about our author's experience but he w ...more
Michael Sallada
Feb 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I liked this book a lot. It was slow, and not the easiest book I have ever read, but I worked through it, enjoying the story of the Blue Crab, and the watermen who make a living on the Chesapeake Bay. The book was written in the early 1970's, and much has changed in the ensuing 45 years, some of the problems the bay faced in 1970 are worse today, some are better. The most amazing thing was the prices at that time. He talks about bushels fo craps for $15, I wish! ...more
Oct 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I am a water person who used to work on Chesapeake Bay issues, so I am horribly biased in favor of the topic of this book. Time has passed since the events and interviews described. Technology and process has changed a bit in the industry. But this is still relevant and time does not tarnish great writing. This is a wonderful companion to John McPhee’s Founding Fish and Mark Kurlansky’s Oyster.
Jun 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I learned a ton, was constantly hungry for crabs while reading, admired Warner's writing style immensely, and feel even fonder for The Bay. The sad part, however, is that since it was written in 1976, a lot has undoubtedly changed in the crabbing industry. But then again, after visiting Tangier island a few years back, I got the impression not much had changed there in 100 years. ...more
Jay Wright
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book while dared is still relevant. The watermen despite the worries expressed in this book have continued to ply their trade. I grew up onthe water. Running crab pots and fishing were fun, not a livelihood. In some ways the Bay is in better shape than then, so the work on pollution has paid dividends. There are still issues, but the old life lives on.
Hollis Fishelson-holstine
Aug 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
i read this many years ago and always remember it as one of my favorites. upon re-reading i still thought it was a wonderful overview of all life in the chesapeake, made special through the authors own humanity but not necessarily one to keep
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: maryland, science
A bit outdated, but highly recommended to anyone interested in blue crabs, the people that catch and sell them, and the Chesapeake Bay. Am glad the eutrophication of the Bay did not occur by 1995 as predicted by scientists in the mid-70s.
Jan 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019-challenge
Not my style, and it was written in 1976, so now I am curious enough about what has been going on with the MD/VA crab and oyster industry that I am going to have to do some additional reading. I did like the continuing visits with the crab guys, but the stats and scientific stuff left me cold.
Aug 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: eastern-shore
I’m admittedly partial to the Chesapeake, but I didn’t really believe that a book largely devoted to the blue crab could hold my attention for 13 chapters. It’s a testament to the author’s genuine love of the place, people and, indeed, the crab, that lured me in. I would read it again. Fascinating
Tara Scanlon
If you are familiar with Maryland’s eastern shore you will enjoy this book about the waterman and the crab business. This was written in the 70s from a patrician wasps view point which can be grating but the interviews and ride along with the watermen really capture a lost world
Mar 10, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some beautiful passages, and informative, if a little boring at times!
Jul 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
an old favorite
Burck Smith
Nov 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great way to understand the Chesapeake Bay, though dated by now.
Tim Milligan
Jun 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
This book is so beautifully written that I think anyone would enjoy it, even if they didn't have an interest in Maryland. ...more
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