The Reef (Hardcover)
A Passionate History
Scientific American, 9780374248192, 336pp.
Publication Date: May 20, 2014
Stretching 1,400 miles along the Australian coast and visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef is home to three thousand individual reefs, more than nine hundred islands, and thousands of marine species, and has alternately been viewed as a deadly maze, an economic bounty, a scientific frontier, and a precarious World Heritage site. Now the historian and explorer Iain McCalman takes us on a new adventure into the reef to reveal how our shifting perceptions of the natural world have shaped this extraordinary seascape. Showcasing the lives of twenty individuals spanning more than two centuries, "The Reef" highlights our profound desire to conquer, understand, embrace, and ultimately save the world's most complex ocean ecosystem.
Opening with the story of Captain James Cook, who sailed unknowingly into the southwest entrance of this vast network of coral outcroppings, McCalman shows how Cook spent months navigating this treacherous underwater labyrinth, struggling to keep his crew alive and his ship afloat, sparring with deceptive shoals and wary native islanders. Through a series of dramatic tales from intrepid explorers, unwitting castaways, inquisitive naturalists, enchanted artists, and impassioned environmentalists who have collectively shaped our ideas about the Great Barrier Reef, McCalman demonstrates how this grand natural wonder of the world was built as much by human imagination as by the industrious, beautiful creatures of the sea.
A romantic, historically significant book and a deeply personal journey into the heart of a marine environment in peril, "The Reef" powerfully captures the delicate relationship between humanity and the natural world.
About the Author
Praise For The Reef: A Passionate History…
Praise for The Reef
“The Great Wall of China is dwarfed to nothingness, along with everything else proud humans have built, by the minuscule polyps that fashioned the Great Barrier Reef. T hat living reef, the world’s largest, is in desperate trouble, the victim of climate change and a melancholy legacy of carelessness, indifference, and greed. The Reef is more than a lament; it is a brilliant history of our long interaction with this precious feature of our world, weaving together coexistence, terror, exploration, exploitation, scientific curiosity, and love. Iain McCalman has a rare gift for conjuring up both famous and forgotten lives and for awakening our wonder.”
—Stephen Greenblatt, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
“Usually a subject of natural history, the Great Barrier Reef finally finds a place in a contradiction fundamental to the history of modernity: the desire to preserve nature while exploiting it for profit.
With this book, Iain McCalman cements his reputation as one of the finest historians of our time.”
—Dipesh Chakrabarty, Professor of History, University of Chicago
“History doesn’t get any more lively than this. A stylish, racing read, The Reef surprises with every turn of the page, investing one of the world’s greatest natural structures with human drama. In almost cinematic episodes that veer from scientific epiphany to physical brutality, from the eighteenth century to our own conflicted age, Iain McCalman introduces an amazing cast of characters. In the process—and it’s a very entertaining one—he creates an entirely new account of a natural marvel, couched in gripping historical narrative, both witty and rigorously scholarly, sweepingly grand and vividly detailed.”
—Philip Hoare, author of The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea
“The magnitude of the awesome Great Barrier Reef is matched here by Iain McCalman’s deep exploration of its compelling history and colorful ecology. An important biography of a fragile place.”
—Katherine Harmon Courage, author of Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature in the Sea
“In The Reef, Iain McCalman artfully weaves scientific inquiry and historical rigor into the life stories of twenty individuals. As we experience this extraordinary place through their eyes, we come away informed and inspired.”
—Jim Toomey, creator of Sherman’s Lagoon
and executive director of Mission Blue
“No other historian I know brings together exploration, science, the environment, and strange experience with the erudition and the eloquence of Iain McCalman. The Reef is utterly absorbing as well as richly informative.”
—Nicholas Thomas, director and curator of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge
“Iain McCalman’s The Reef, like its subject, builds slowly into beauty, offering an account of the Great Barrier Reef as it exists in culture, language and dream, as well as in marine biology.”
—Robert Macfarlane, The Guardian
Praise for Darwin’s Armada
“Expansive . . . McCalman evokes the physical hardships and social intricacies navigated by his heroes . . . and also the feel of an era when ‘adventure and science went hand in hand.’” —The New Yorker