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Publisher's Summary

Humanity can make short work of the oceans' creatures. In 1741, hungry explorers discovered herds of Steller's sea cow in the Bering Strait, and in less than 30 years, the amiable beast had been harpooned into extinction. It's a classic story, but a key fact is often omitted. Bering Island was the last redoubt of a species that had been decimated by hunting and habitat loss years before the explorers set sail.

©2007 Island Press (P)2007 Island Press

Critic Reviews

"Thoughtful, inspiring, devastating, and powerful, Roberts' comprehensive, welcoming, and compelling approach to an urgent subject conveys large problems in a succinct and involving manner. Readers won't be able to put it down." (Booklist)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Superb! A unique and important history

This is a very good book. It's mostly about the history of man's exploitation of the sea. For example, whaling and over-fishing. There are not many books about the history of how over-fishing and over-hunting in the past has created the environment we have today.I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in fisheries, marine mammals, and the history of maritime exploration and commerce.

The first book I read by Callum Roberts was Oceans of Life, which is also superb, and is more focused on the oceans as ecosystems.

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  • Story

A great tale of the sea. Read it.

Even if you think you know what we've done to the oceans, the fact is, you probably don't.

Roberts does a great job making you aware of this in painstaking, but never laboured, detail.

Particularly interesting is the treatment of secular hero, and Darwin ally, Thomas Huxley, who managed to be hopelessly wrong about the interaction between natural systems and market forces not once, but twice, and who doubtlessly went to his grave thoroughly convinced that it was reality that was the party at fault! His high-handed, patronising treatment of witnesses at his inquiry is cringe-inducing, and gave me a new perspective on the man, and the foibles of intellectual arrogance.

Which, really, is the message of the book. Free markets in the oceans are a disaster. Marine parks and competent regulation are the solution.

At the very least you'll gain an insight into why your grandchildren ended up living off jellyfish...

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Very engaging re: history, ecology, and policy

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

This book is a vivid, excellently written chronicle of the concept of "shifting baselines", which is an important concept in ecology, conservation, and history. The descriptions of the abundance of marine abundance in decades and centuries past sound almost impossible in the present context of fisheries collapse and biodiversity loss. The author narrates the book, and brings a clear enjoyment to the work- even go so far as to create distinct voices for other "characters" (modern and historical persons quoted) in the book. I would highly recommend this book to anyone, even those who might not think the subject matter is quite for them.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • B
  • Washington, DC, United States
  • 02-04-11

Not good as an audiobook

I don't know if it's the tinny sound quality or the author's reading voice, but I find it very hard to engage with this even though I'm keenly interested in the topic. Probably better as a "book book" than an audiobook. Two specific (albeit minor) complaints: (1) author should vary pace of reading and pause more so that the listener can pick up main points in this relatively dense history, and (2) very annoying that measurements given in metric system are then followed by conversion for Americans EVERY time especially since it sounds like the conversion was spliced in post hoc.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Fish for You

If you are a fish lover it delivers. This Cat has all the details about the sea through time. It could have been read with a little more tempo than it was. Educational but slow for me. I think someone else should have read it.

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  • Susan
  • Fairbanks, AK, United States
  • 06-14-10

Fabulous book, fabulous narrator...

I love history and sea books and this is the best of both. The narrator has a delightful, rich English accent and clearly knows his history. It's a sad story, but we have to take a hard look at the worst "before a path to the better there be." Highly recommended.

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  • ShoeDoodles
  • 10-23-16

A must read.

Learning about slavery and colonisation of other countries made me ashamed to be white and European, thus book made me ashamed to be human. I shed a tear when I learned how humans have ravaged the seas for their own gain, only thinking of short term profit.

It makes for pretty depressing reading for the more sensitive of us (me). As a pescatarian, I've now made the decision to go full veggie unless the fish are from a sustainable source.

The book itself was for me pretty hard going, it began very well but lost me a bit half way. I'm glad I continued though because it ended spectacularly. It's left me pretty emotional though.

I wish I knew how to help end the ravaging of the seas, but even reading thus book and being aware of the destruction is a start. A massive eye opener, a heartbreaking tale.

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  • Robert
  • 02-05-16

Yar

A valuable book for anyone interested in marine biology and the effects of fishing upon our oceans. Provides an interesting account of our once bountiful seas, what we are doing now and where we are heading in the future. Callum Roberts accents throughout the book are great, if he wasn't a scientist he could do impersonations. I did up the pace of the book to 1.25 or 1.5 though because I found it slightly better listening. I highly recommend Callum Roberts other book "Oceans of Life" as well.