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Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms & a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  4,232 ratings  ·  625 reviews
"Variably genial, cautionary, lyrical, admonitory, terrifying, horrifying and inspiring…A lifetime of thought, travel, reading, imagination and memory inform this affecting account." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Blending history and anecdote, geography and reminiscence, science and exposition, New York Times bestselling author Simon Winchester tells the breathtaking sag
Hardcover, 495 pages
Published November 2nd 2010 by Harper (first published October 27th 2009)
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Will Byrnes
Aug 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
Using as his central pillar a Shakespearean monologue from As You Like It that lists the seven stages of a man’s life, Simon Winchester offers us the life of an ocean.

He covers a very wide swath in his examination of that very un-pacific Atlantic. Beginning with big-picture geology, he looks at the infant Atlantic and gives a preview of what the world will look like when the Atlantic is no more. There is plenty here about tectonics, volcanism and the mighty forces of a planet that is constantly
Jan 26, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommended to Michael by: Will Byrnes
This “biography” of the Atlantic strives with impossible ambition to paint a picture of the role of the Atlantic Ocean over all of human history using Shakespeare’s scheme of the Seven Ages of Man. A bit of a poetic stretch but ultimately a practical way of framing all the scientific and cultural perspectives he works to include. This is no dry linear account, but a meandering and often lyrical narrative with lots of idiosyncratic digressions energized from personal experiences from Winchester’s ...more
Mar 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
I suspect that to really savor this book, one has to accept the author's premise: treating the Atlantic Ocean as the subject of a biography. In fact the original title was to be, "The Atlantic--A Biography". Simon Winchester once commented that the premise for & structure of a book are more important than the actual story or the words used to tell it. While there are sections of this book, paralleling the 7 stages of man, as listed in Shakespeare's As You Like It, that do tend to seem less compe ...more
Margaret Schoen
Jan 05, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: didn-t-finish
Oh, dear, Simon Winchester, I think you have to stop being my literary boyfriend now. Someone get this man an editor, quickly. I've never skipped over so many pages of a book before.

It's not that he hasn't dug up fascinating facts and interesting tidbits. It's just that it feels like he took all his notes on 3 x5 cards, then threw them in a pile on the floor and wrote the book like that. I'm reading an interesting description of St. Helena, and then there are poems? A passing mention of how the
Mar 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, science
I can't be objective about this guy. I listened to this as a talking book - and I just love this guy's voice. I could listen to him reading the telephone directory and still be fascinated. This is a 'let me tell you everything I know about the Atlantic' kind of book. He tries to give it a structure, but really, this is just someone very intelligent talking about something they are very interested in.

The stuff towards the end about the damage we are doing to the ocean - particularly the fish that
Joy D
Part science, part history, this ambitious non-fiction includes almost every aspect of the Atlantic Ocean. It covers a diverse array of topics such as its origins, discovery of the gulf stream, early inventions for maritime navigation, explorations, famous shipwrecks, piracy, the slave trade, maritime battles, migration, commerce by ship and air, artistic and literary references, information dissemination, global warming, and predicted lifespan. The author includes many of his own anecdotes from ...more
Michael Feaux
Aug 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
As a fan of historical nautical books like Seawolves and Barrow's Boys, and of Golding's Ends of the Earth series, I started this book figuratively rubbing my hands in anticipation of some great sea stories and novel science facts to quote to people down the pub. But after about 70 pages I couldn't stand it anymore.

One reason was Winchester's explanation of the thematic thread of the book, a story arc following the idea of Shakespeare's seven ages of man. That it needed explanation just pointed
Feb 04, 2016 rated it liked it
This “biography” of the Atlantic ocean is not a straightforward, objective history, not even trying to be. The tone of the book was a bit surprising: how dreamy and abstract Winchester’s attitude towards the Atlantic is! He opens with a journey he once took from England to Montreal by ship, and as he recalls what it felt like traversing the Atlantic for the first time, we can almost see Winchester getting all misty-eyed. He heightens his prose. He reaches for the paint brush. He waxes poetic. Th ...more
Nov 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is a very enjoyable book; it covers many aspects of the Atlantic Ocean. The book describes its formation and its ultimate end, exploration, the use of the ocean for commerce, for food, for battles, and the inspiration the ocean has for literature, art and music. And of course, the book contains some stories of shipwrecks and of the ecological damage that people have inflicted on the ocean.

Unlike some of the other reviews, I found this book to be an easy read. Winchester writes in a delight
Mar 12, 2013 rated it it was ok
I never managed to get into this book. I think the scope was too broad and the smaller sub-topics were too brief and shallow to make for an interesting read. There is no cohesion to the book and Winchester bounces around from topic to topic, interspersing them with personal stories tangentially related to the Atlantic. Maybe if Winchester had narrowed down his list of things to cover, and get into more depth about fewer things, it would have been more informative and entertaining.
This was a very engaging read. I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in nautical history and the Atlantic Ocean. I enjoyed it immensely.
Feb 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Basically a collection of essays on the Atlantic, wide ranging and interesting, that covers things such as history, oceanography, literature, environment, seafaring, and a host of other topics. Winchester is a good writer and this is a nice addition to his bib. Surprisingly, most of the information I was pretty much familiar with, but there was still a lot of new things and refreshers, as well.
Rabbit {Paint me like one of your 19th century gothic heroines!}
I am noticing a pattern with his books- I am learning a lot, but when it gets dry occasionally, it really draaaaaaags on.
Apr 30, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
Like many others have commented, Winchester tried to cover way too much ground here with an over-reliance on questionable and mostly random "facts." The most interesting sections of the book were ones that covered a topic on which I had read much more in-depth, focused books. And what interest I did have in those sections came about simply because those other books had peaked my interest.

One truly frustrating aspect of this book was its Euro-centrism. Last time I checked, thousands of miles of S
Nov 30, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: set-aside
I'm not sure why I thought I would like this book, given that I haven't liked Winchester's other work. I suppose it's because I've liked other book on maritime themes (e.g. The Outlaw Sea). By the time I made it through the opening anecdote about a transatlantic sea voyage and a drawn-out comparison to flying, and got to his plan to structure the book around the Seven Ages of Man from "As You Like It," I had already totally lost patience. ...more
Feb 26, 2016 rated it did not like it
I couldn't finish it. It was too shallow & the writing was pretentious to the point of annoyance.

While some tidbits were interesting, but they went no where.
Nov 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This felt like a whirlwind tour of the ocean, as close to the whirls, eddies, sea breezes and gales of the actual ocean as possible in pages and read cozy on a couch.

History can be desperately boring in the wrong hands, but Simon Winchester is one of the best writers of history I have read. He is eloquent, poetic, while still practical, a combination that defines the standard, or should. John McPhee wrote an opus on geology and got the same tone, of awe and wonderment and poetry, and it feels l
Brian Griffith
Winchester has had a lifetime of Atlantic crossings, and can weave his personal accounts in with those of vast numbers of other voyagers down the centuries. It's a rambling and enthusiastic book, full of historical lore and incredibly detailed vocabulary. It features the drama of geological plate tectonics, but mostly focuses on Western man, especially English man, at sea. There's the early explorers, the seaside cities, the naval wars, and commercial advances. Only late in the book does Winches ...more
Deborah Ideiosepius
This was a very enjoyable book and I am very glad that I took Will’s recommendation and bought it sight unseen. I am pretty sure I will both re-read it and use it as a reference in future.

The book is kind of a biography of the Atlantic Ocean as seen by mankind. There is a brief introduction to its formation and information about its habits, tides, winds and other quirks are scattered throughout the book. The narrative is easy, familiar and personalised, I do not recall ever having read anything
Jack Erickson
Nov 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Reading Simon Winchester Simon Winchester is like sitting down at a banquet with an historian, a geologist, a linguist, a meteorologist, a geographer, a novelist, and a world traveler. You're going to hear incredible stories about world events and adventures that will remain with you as long as you live.

Winchester was an Oxford-educated geologist before he became a journalist and prolific author of books about fascinating topics: the history of the first geological map; an Oxford scholar who wr
Oct 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
"One cannot but hang one's head in shame and abject frustration. We pollute the sea, we plunder the sea, we disdain the sea, we dishonor the sea that appears like a mere expanse of hammered pewter as we fly over it in our air-polluting planes--forgetting or ignoring all the while that the sea is the source of all the life on earth, the wellspring of us all."
That environmental theme pops up quite a bit in the narrative of Simon Winchester's "Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titani
Nov 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
People have critiqued the sprawling nature of this book, but such a nature seems fitting for a book on something as large (geographically, historically, geologically) as the Atlantic Ocean. Besides, overall he groups his material into considering the Atlantic from various angles: geological, exploration history, commercial history, military history, and environmental impact. I listened to this book as an audiobook, and it was simply a pleasure to have Winchester in my car for several weeks, tell ...more
Oct 17, 2011 rated it it was ok
In short...a great opportunity wasted. Winchester set out to accomplish the bold task of describing the natural and human history of the Atlantic Ocean...probably an impossible task for anyone.

Winchester does an admirable job of describing the geologic past and future of this ocean basin, but in between it seemed like he was unable to develop a meaningful train of thought. And even worse, he couldn't keep himself out of the narrative. It's almost like he didn't think anyone would believe him un
Feb 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This book. Wow. I learned so, so much. Some of the things...mind-blowing. Mental paradigm altering. Reading this changed me and my perception of the world.

Winchester covers the length and breadth of Atlantic affairs, from tectonic movements to the history of shipping containers, from murex dyes to Monet. Instead of delving into specific topics deeply, Winchester skims and skips like a stone over waves, touching briefly on a vast array of interesting subjects. Just enough to really whet the appe
Nov 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a biography of the Atlantic ocean. It tells of the story of every major event that has ever taken place on the sea. We get to learn about the early days of exploration by ship, of development of the the slave trade, of the sinking of the Titanic, of naval warfare, of maritime trade, of the laying of the first transatlantic cable, the rise and fall of the Grand Banks fishery, the explosion at Halifax, the first days of cross-ocean flight, and dozens more amazing stories and periods of tim ...more
Jill Hutchinson
Oct 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This will be short and not too sweet. I have enjoyed some of Winchester's books and others have left me cold. This one left me tepid. He attempts to cover every aspect of the Atlantic Ocean....a biography of the lifeline between the Americas and Europe/Africa and there is just too damn much to tell. His description of the geological beginnings and fantastic maps of the forming of that great body of water are quite fascinating but then things start to go down hill. He adds a surfeit of personal s ...more
Oct 07, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: science, history
It isn't a bad book but it too quickly skips over the subjects I was interest in goes considerably faster then I would like to the modern era. I believe my problem with this book as it needed to be twice as large or half the scope and finally its preachy global warming message in the last part was a bit annoying, I understand why it was there but a history book should be about history, your results may vary.

Now that all the bad parts out of the way the book does give a very good overview of a v
Paul Weiss
"… gray and heaving, washing and waiting, extending out to the deeps … "

The inside flap of Simon Winchester’s lengthy chunkster ATLANTIC is a great summary of the book in general terms:

"ATLANTIC is a biography of a tremendous space that has been central to the ambitions of explorers, scientists, and warriors, and continues profoundly to affect our character, attitudes, and dreams. Poets and potentates, seers and sailors, fishermen and foresters – all have had a relationship with this great b
Jul 17, 2020 rated it liked it
I can't imagine the research that went into this non-fiction book about the Atlantic Ocean and man's impact on it. Simon Winchester is a master at writing great non-fiction books on interesting topics. Even the Queen agrees making him an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. Lots of dry spots but oh so many interesting facts about this mighty ocean..32 million square miles, ¼ of the planet's total water area, a creature not discovered until 1986 (Prochlorococcus) produces as much as 1/5 of ...more
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Play Book Tag: Atlantic by Simon Winchester - 3 stars 3 10 Mar 10, 2019 08:02AM  

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Simon Winchester, OBE, is a British writer, journalist and broadcaster who resides in the United States. Through his career at The Guardian, Winchester covered numerous significant events including Bloody Sunday and the Watergate Scandal. As an author, Simon Winchester has written or contributed to over a dozen nonfiction books and authored one novel, and his articles appear in several travel publ ...more

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