Atlantic : A Vast Ocean of a Million Stories, Paperback

Atlantic : A Vast Ocean of a Million Stories Paperback

3.5 out of 5 (3 ratings)


The definitive biography of the world's most important body of water -- the Atlantic. One hundred and ninety million years ago, the shifting of two of the world's tectonic plates led to the creation of an immense chasm.

This giant gash in the flanks of the planet slowly opened up and eventually evolved into the most important and most travelled ocean in our world. In this utterly original biography, Simon Winchester explores the life of the Atlantic; it's birth, its relationship with mankind, and what lies in store for it once man has left the stage.

He charts the development of the first settlements by the Oceanside -- the communities of Celts and Vikings and whose lives depended on the sea -- and delves into the age of exploration, venturing to forgotten worlds.

The building of some of the world's most beautiful port cities -- London, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Casablanca -- is also examined, along with the creation of settlements and colonies in and around the sea. Completely unique and highly readable, Atlantic takes its reader on a wonderful journey through time, along the waves of our planet's most significant ocean.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 400 pages, Illustrations, maps
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: General & world history
  • ISBN: 9780007341399



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Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.

Review by

The concept of this book about the English lake sounds much better than the finished product. Man is a land-based animal, so Winchester ends up writing about the places that border on the Atlantic rather than the ocean itself. He also restricts himself to the English-speaking parts. Africa and Latin America have to take a backseat to the Falkland Islands. Some stories are better told elsewhere, some actually botched by Winchester. The battle of Trafalgar happened after a desperate chase across the Atlantic and back, all of it omitted by Winchester.Winchester shows the growth of connections (ships, cables, planes) between Europe and America but neglects to mention that the Atlantic acts as a huge barrier. Trade within America and within Europe is massively larger than the trade between those regions. The biology of the Atlantic is also not given sufficient space. What are the highlights and specialties of that ocean? Compared to the more intimate portraits of the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic described by Winchester remains an amorphous and indistinct beast.Overall, a very weak effort. Winchester is coasting off into the sunset.

Review by

This is an excellent history of the Atlantic by Winchester. The way he tells the story is not necessarily in date order but rather from using bits and pieces of a poem from Jacques describing the stages of life itself.What follows is not a linear narrative but one replete with historical triumphs and tragedies, heroism and mundane existence and Winchester's personal anecdotes all residing near or within the waters of this great ocean.Though it ends on a rather pessimistic note about the environmental fate of the Atlantic in recent years, there is something eternal in the fact that this immense body of water ever existed at all and, as with every living thing, will cease to exist again.

Review by

Themes that tie the work of Simon Winchester together seem to be "geology" "geography" and "history. They are the most frequent tags assigned to the work of the author. Atlantic. A vast ocean of a million stories is similar to some of Winchester's other work in the sense that the work is fragmented, but still forms a unity, tying together geography, geology and history. However, this book seems more voluminous than previous works, quite a whopper at just under 500 pages. The sub-title of the book Great sea battles, heroic discoveries, titanic storms, and a vast ocean of a million stories (not all editions) describes the book very well, although it seems this title was perhaps suggested by the editor rather than the author. In fact, the book as a whole radiates a sense of fatigue, and the reader may wonder whether the idea for the book came from the author or from the editor. In some markets the book is promoted as Atlantic. The Biography of an Ocean. Besides being dedicated to his wife, the book is also dedicated to Angus Campbell Macintyre, a hero, described in the book.The introduction of the book starts with a peculiar anthropomorphic approach to "the life cycle" of the ocean, which leads to the illogical conclusion that if it has a life (cycle) it might as well have its biography written. This circular type of illogical reasoning seems another attempt of the author to please the editor who probably made that suggestion. The chapter that describes the "birth" of the ocean, with its predictable echoes of other works by Winchester about the "life" or "birth" of geological phenomena, is the most mechanical and boring.However, in the other chapter, the author brings together an encyclopaedic wealth of knowledge and details about the Atlantic Ocean as the setting or background to historic events from the earliest archaelogical records to the present. Naturally, there is an enormous wealth of material to choose from, describing the travels of the Phoenicians, Vikingsto the history of the great seafaring nations. There are also chapters devoted to the weather, biology of maritime life and the effects of global warming.Another peculiar characteristic displayed by the author is the tendency to write himself into the narrative. The book does not exactly follow a historical timeline. Rather, it starts with the earliest travel experiences of the author in the early 1980s near Cadiz, which ties together the narrative from the Isles of Mogador to the Phoenicians and the Greeks and Romans passing out beyond the Pillars of Hercules. Later on in the book, attention turns to what should be a black page in British history, the Falklands War in 1982. Are these personal touches there for the author, or are they supposed to create a sense of personal experience?Still, Simon Winchester has a magnificent command of his maretial and a wonderful writing style. Given that it would be impossible to describe all of the history that accurred around the sea boards of the Atlantic Ocean, the author brings together a both recognizable and novel, original choice of historical data, with a perfect balance between overall, global developments and a myriad of detail. Both American and European history are involved, particulary from the point of view of trade, shipping, travel and communication by various means, both shipping and air travel.In sum, Simon Winchester has done it again. Atlantic. A vast ocean of a million stories is a huge, and hugely readable book, offering somethin of interest to virtually every reader, provided they enjoy reading, and can handle a book that it itself encompasses an ocean of reading material.

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