Simon Winchester

There’s a lot of water in the Atlantic Ocean, and there’s a lot of history sloshing around in Atlantic (Harper, $27.99). Simon Winchester starts before there was any such ocean, just a single continent that would gradually divide into a map we recognize today. (Though, the English writer warns, the Atlantic is inexorably widening, and the facing continents will eventually collide ass to ass.) Previously the author Krakatoa and The River at the Center of the World, Winchester tacks among many subjects here: Caribbean pirates to the Spanish Armada, The Tempest to J.M.W. Turner, cod to conquistadors. He also interweaves some of his own sailing journeys and adventures in journalism; the effect is like sitting back after dinner to let a polymath tell you, over several expensive bottles of port, all about the Atlantic Ocean. Only here the telling takes a relatively abridged 500 pages. Itself comprehensively indexed, Atlantic is like the index to all the other Atlantic histories at the library. Not that you’re likely to read them—that would be like swimming across the Atlantic. Winchester’s Atlantic is more like a manageable Olympic-sized pool length. Your arms may be tired at the end of it, but you’ll have learned a little something. BRIAN MILLER

Wed., Nov. 17, 7:30 p.m., 2010

 
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