Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Book Review: The Bountiful Sea

The Bountiful Sea
Seabrook Hull
Prentice-Hall, 1964

Why review a book on the oceans written in 1964?  Well, as I spend more time reading the literature on marine life and the oceans, I've come to appreciate a lot of past work. Because we have infinitely more data today than we did in 1964 doesn't make this book useless: Good science writing is still worth reading.

This is a surprisingly valuable book even in 2013. The over-optimism of the author's era is here, of course. We don't have submarine freighters or elaborate seafloor bases (such bases never made sense for the military, and civilian researchers found cheaper ways via robotics). The seas don't offer an unlimited food supply no matter how we manage them and what the mix of wild and farmed production is. But this is an excellent book to pick up if you want to understand how marine science and military applications developed up to the early 1960s. Hull's explanations of marine research, food chains, ocean minerals, and submarine technology are well-researched and very well expressed: he's excellent at presenting technical concepts in non-specialist language. Most impressively, for the era in which it was written, this book is ahead of its time for its firmly expressed convictions that, vast as the oceans are, we were doing real damage, extent unknown but serious, with industrial pollution and the practice of dumping radiative waste at sea.

Good job, Mr. Hull.

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