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The Green Life: Book Roundup Wednesday: Waves and the Sea

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May 25, 2011

Book Roundup Wednesday: Waves and the Sea

Book Roundup WednesdayEvery Wednesday, we review a selection of new and upcoming books addressing a specific aspect of environmentalism. Today we're recommending books about waves and the sea.

The Sea (by Philip Plisson, $60, Abrams, 2010): Renowned French photographer Philip Plisson brings the ocean to us in immersive, atmospheric portraits. From headless tuna lined up for processing to an oil rig pummeled by a storm to the barely lit face of a captain at dusk, Plisson’s shots aren't just of the pristine deep, but of our relationship to it. The images are shot from a human’s perspective, from a bird’s perspective, and in the most stunning instances, from the perspective of the ocean itself. The only thing better would be to close the book and get out onto the sea.

The Wave (by Susan Casey, $28, Anchor Books, 2010): At the outset, Casey makes an good point: We know more about subatomic particles than we do about rogue waves. There the story begins, of scientists' fierce curiosity, surfers' courageous (foolhardy?) attempts to take on 100-footers, and Casey's own drive to understand these elusive giants. Through vivid, visceral, and enthralling prose, the reader is pulled into the book's undertow, learning as much about the science and history of massive freak waves as they do about the people drawn to them. The undertone of this fantastic book is one of awe, infused with the knowledge that as Earth warms, waves will get bigger.

Deadliest Sea (by Kalee Thompson, $26, William Morrow, 2010): This book probably should be made into a movie. Documenting the most epic cold-water ocean rescue in U.S. Coast Guard history, Thompson channels her journalistic talents into an action-adventure tale that reads like a Deadliest Catch episode.  Even with limited time spent on character development, the reader nevertheless sees glimpses of humans stretched to their limit. You'll come away with an appreciation for the brutally challenging work of fishermen, rescue swimmers, and the Coast Guard.

The Wave Watcher's Companion (by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, $23, Perigee, 2010): Within the first few pages of this quirky book, we see waves compared to a psychic imbued with spiritual energy, and a mention of "that time" a bishop threw holy oil into the sea and the storm ceased. Push aside your inner cynic for a moment, and you'll find the book to be a fascinating, albeit less than scientific, look at the omnipresent phenomenon of waves — all kinds of waves. Pretor-Pinney discusses brain waves, sound waves, standing waves, shock waves, tides, photons, and others, all the while throwing in dubious analogies and comically captioned diagrams. Perhaps we like this book simply because it connects the enormity of tsunamis to the fluttering of a photon wave-particle. The realization that our entire universe is energized by waves in some form or another is alone worth the read.

Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them (by Ted Danson and Michael D'Orso, $33, Rodale, 2011): Eloquently showing us the perils facing our oceans and what the way forward might look like, Danson and D'Orso balance cold, hard fact and inspiration by which to do something about it. Beautifully rendered with stunning photographs, Oceana is a collection of essays by experts, activists, and surfers who help illuminate issues like overfishing, plastic pollution, and oil spills. Facts are clear and well-illustrated, but the book wisely doesn't fall into the doomsday rhetoric. We particularly applaud the "What you can do" page at the end of each section, and the final chapter devoted to solutions. At the end, the authors fade off with a stunning photo essay and the quote, "Never believe that one person is too small to make a difference. Everything connects. Everthing matters."

--Christa Morris


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