The Reef: A Passionate History

The Reef: A Passionate History


By (author) Senior Research Fellow Research School of Social Sciences Iain McCalman

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  • Publisher: Scientific American
  • Format: Hardback | 336 pages
  • Dimensions: 157mm x 229mm x 33mm | 499g
  • Publication date: 20 May 2014
  • ISBN 10: 0374248192
  • ISBN 13: 9780374248192
  • Illustrations note: black & white illustrations, maps
  • Sales rank: 99,872

Product description

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.

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Author information

Iain McCalman is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, a historian, a social scientist, and an explorer. He is the author of "Darwin's Armada," "The Seven Ordeals of Count Cagliostro," and "Radical Underworld," and is a professor of history at the University of Sydney.

Review quote

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 compel