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

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  3,102 Ratings  ·  507 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
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
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
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
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
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 uninteresting 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.
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.
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.
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
Oct 07, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 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
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.
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 c ...more
Jan 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
As a space enthusiast, I sometimes encounter opponents who argue that my priorities are misplaced. They criticize my cosmic fixation by reminding me that, without leaving the surface of the Earth, one can reach a vast and largely unexplored frontier: the ocean. Their argument has great merit. So, having read and enjoyed Simon Winchester’s Krakatoa , I was very excited to see Atlantic show up on the new release shelf in my public library. Here was an irresistible chance for me to give the oceans ...more
Andrew Walczak
Jun 21, 2011 rated it liked it
I am a huge Simon Winchester fan...My dad consistently passes his books down to me, and was quite pleased when Atlantic finally showed up at my house!

In sum, this book is all over the place. Winchester has a background in geology, so a good bulk of the book describes the scientific history of the Atlantic. By no means am I a scientist, but his descriptions on the origins of the Atlantic were informative, and the type of science writing a novice like me can comprehend. From there, Winchester del
Joseph Ferguson
Dec 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Biography on a grand scale, Atlantic combines the life story of an ocean with the narrative of the human race and its relationship to this vast body of water.
Winchester’s elegantly written chronicle, packed with anecdote and scrupulously researched detail, takes the reader from the Atlantic Ocean’s geological inception, to its ultimate demise at the hands of plate tectonics. Along the way we meet humanity, from its first tentative shoreline settlements harvesting fish and mollusks, to daily ro
Christopher Fox
Sep 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
As riveting, delightful, captivating a book as I've read in a long, long time. The author's superb story-telling is perfect for this comprehensive survey of all things Atlantic: formation, history, assets, power, influences, sustained life, man's effect on and use of and ultimately its death. He weaves tendrils of history, meteorology, chemistry, astronomy, economics, archaeology, geology, agriculture, diplomacy, ichthyology.... into a multi-hued tapestry. It's all here in copious, enthralling t ...more
Karl Rove
I admit I'm a Simon Winchester fan. I met him with THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN, a slim and fascinating book about the compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary. Being the son of a geologist, I was wowed by THE MAP THAT CHANGED THE WORLD and blown away by his KRAKATOA. So I was eager to dive into ATLANTIC. It's good, but not great. Winchester is a wonderful storyteller, particularly good at coming out of left field with a connection of Point A and Point B that's unexpected and brilliant. But ...more
Dileep Sankar
Jun 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I give a full rating for the book. Mr. Winchester has done a great job. The effort he has given for the book is extremely appreciable. I now feel as though the whole history, present and the future of The Atlantic has just been unfurled in an unbroken flow.
The author has supplied intricate details of many an event, that common man will never even guess, leave alone be knowing. After reading the book, I am really happy to mention that I was not aware of almost 90% of the matter mentioned in the
Feb 06, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I didn't feel this book lived up to its title: "Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms,and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories". Part of my disappointment may have been thinking it would live up to the subtitle and be more exciting. The only part of the subtitle which seemed accurate was the part about "a million stories". Winchester covered a lot, perhaps too much, from the formation of the earth and oceans over the past millions of years to early man all the way through to using t ...more
Caitlin Marineau
Jul 23, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
I really wanted to love this book. I love stories about sailing, adventure, and the sea, and, as a history nut this seemed right up my alley. However, I just could not get into it. I listened to the audiobook of this particular title, and I kept getting lost because it just could not hold my attention, and his subjects switched around so much that if I ever zoned out I completely lost the thread of the book. Though full of interesting information, the book feels disorganized, rather like the aut ...more
Mar 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
Simon Winchester is a magic man of words,cunning and devious at sucking you into his subject matter. He takes on a mighty subject, the Atlantic, embarking on a voyage to places like Hy Braseal, St. Helena,
Tristan de Cunha, Patagonia and Vinland. He shows us bloody-handed pirates, dogged rescuers, explorers, daredevils and merchant adventurers. We get a look at desperate battles, with heroes such as Horatio Nelson and Francis Drake. We double Cape Bojador with Gil Eannes, a Portuguese navigator.
Dec 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
Winchester takes a great topic and makes it a crashing bore here. Covering the ground he intends in 450 pages would already be a tall order, as he's looking at the geologic history of the Atlantic, its exploration, scientific discoveries related to the ocean, military conflict on the ocean, piracy, commercial enterprise on the ocean, its environmental degradation, and its geologic future. But he aggravates this problem by wasting about a third of those pages on personal stories that seem to have ...more
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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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“But wait—was that not how the world at large had come to think of the ocean as a whole? Wasn’t the ocean just distance for most people these days? Didn’t we all now take for granted a body of water that, so relatively recently—no more than five hundred years before, at most—was viewed by mariners who had not yet dared attempt to cross it with a mixture of awe, terror, and amazement? Had not a sea that had once seemed an impassable barrier to somewhere—to Japan? the Indies? the Spice Islands? the East?—transmuted itself with dispatch into a mere bridge of convenience to the wealth and miracles of the New World? Had our regard for this ocean not switched from the intimidation of the unknown and the frightening to the indifference with which we now greet the ordinary? And” 1 likes
“Montana named Triple Divide Peak.” 0 likes
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