The Atlantic is “a living thing”, declares Simon Winchester, “forever roaring, thundering, boiling, crashing, swelling, lapping” – so it’s a shame we no longer treat it with the same “awed respect” as our ancestors did. This mighty arena of trade and war is, he argues, as important to our modern world as the Mediterranean was to the Greeks and Romans, but an era of cheap transatlantic flight has reduced it to “the pond”. Here, in this polluted and overfished ocean, is our despoliation of the natural world in microcosm.

’s ruminative prose is capable of keeping any amount of Atlantic trivia afloat, from memories of crossing it by liner in 1963 to the horrors of the slave trade, from the Anglo-Saxon poem The Seafarer to Churchill and Roosevelt meeting at sea to discuss the Atlantic Charter.

Later, Winchester strikes a more sombre, admonitory note, meditating on the melting ice caps and the impact of climate change on coastal cities, and finally imagining the death of this “grey-green vastness” in “about 170 million years”.

Atlantic: A Vast Ocean of a Million Stories
Simon Winchester
Harper Press, 2011

— By Ian Pindar


Copyright © Guardian News & Media, 2011