• The Gulf

  • The Making of an American Sea
  • By: Jack E. Davis
  • Narrated by: Tom Perkins
  • Length: 20 hrs and 45 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (375 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize winner, History, 2018.

Winner of the 2017 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction - the tragic collision between civilization and nature in the Gulf of Mexico becomes a uniquely American story in this environmental epic.

When painter Winslow Homer first sailed into the Gulf of Mexico, he was struck by its "special kind of providence." Indeed, the Gulf presented itself as America's sea - bound by geography, culture, and tradition to the national experience - and yet, there has never been a comprehensive history of the Gulf until now. And so, in this rich and original work that explores the Gulf through our human connection with the sea, environmental historian Jack E. Davis finally places this exceptional region into the American mythos in a sweeping history that extends from the Pleistocene age to the 21st century.

Significant beyond tragic oil spills and hurricanes, the Gulf has historically been one of the world's most bounteous marine environments, supporting human life for millennia. Davis starts from the premise that nature lies at the center of human existence, and takes listeners on a compelling and, at times, wrenching journey from the Florida Keys to the Texas Rio Grande, along marshy shorelines and majestic estuarine bays, profoundly beautiful and life-giving, though fated to exploitation by esurient oil men and real-estate developers. Rich in vivid, previously untold stories, The Gulf tells the larger narrative of the American Sea - from the sportfish that brought the earliest tourists to Gulf shores to Hollywood's engagement with the first offshore oil wells - as it inspired and empowered, sometimes to its own detriment, the ethnically diverse groups of a growing nation.

Davis's pageant of historical characters is vast, including the presidents who directed western expansion toward its shores, the New England fishers who introduced their own distinct skills to the region, and the industries and big agriculture that sent their contamination downstream into the estuarine wonderland. Nor does Davis neglect the colorfully idiosyncratic individuals: the Tabasco king who devoted his life to wildlife conservation, the Texas shrimper who gave hers to clean water and public health, as well as the New York architect who hooked the "big one" that set the sportfishing world on fire.

Ultimately, Davis reminds us that amidst the ruin, beauty awaits its return, as the Gulf is, and has always been, an ongoing story. Sensitive to the imminent effects of climate change, and to the difficult task of rectifying grievous assaults of recent centuries, The Gulf suggests how a penetrating examination of a single region's history can inform the country's path ahead.

©2017 Jack E. Davis (P)2018 Tantor
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

What listeners say about The Gulf

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Decolonize gulf history

Correctly diagnoses the problem (European and then American colonization) but fails to reach the obvious conclusion, the imperative of decolonization. Instead imagines a future for settlers absent indigenous people. I was hoping for environmental history and instead got environmental nationalism. The narrator is excellent though, no problems there.

11 people found this helpful

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Very dry narrator

The information is interesting, but the narrator is very dry. It’s hard to stay focused on the content because of the lack inflection. Book is well written. Narration ruins it

10 people found this helpful

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Not the right narrator for this book

For all of the voices at Audible's disposal, and for a book that won the Pulitzer, I don't know why they can't find someone with a more engaging voice to read this book. His dry, nasally delivery kept much of the story from really coming to life, which is really sad because I was super excited to read this book.

8 people found this helpful

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Like Getting a Master's Degree in the Gulf

Living at the beaches of Tampa Bay this book was really important for me to read. I loved it and will probably listen to it again in a year or two. Jack Davis has written the equivalent of getting a Master's Degree in the Gulf of Mexico. The Book is impressive in so many different dimensions including the Land, Sea and Air surrounding the Gulf.

8 people found this helpful

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  • me
  • 05-15-18

Not impressed at all

If you want a general hippy history this might be up your lane, if you're looking for something impartial with regard to history this isn't it.

7 people found this helpful

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A far-leftist will tell you about the Gulf

First off, the good. The book is filled with a ton of facts and interesting tidbits.

The bad... those good parts are wrapped in an alt-left sandwich.

The author is such a hateable turd. Every white man in his story is bad, everything is about race, everything intention, every discovery, about conquest and evil. Meanwhile he has the typical racist leftist view of non-whites that they all need whiteys protection because they're basically subhumans. So cannibalism? Nah, no big deal, we can't expect anything less. Rape and murder, including more rape? Well, that's what Indians naturally do and who are we to judge them. That's how these nutjob racist leftists view Indians and that's how it comes across in this book.

Then if that wasn't enough, he's whining about oil discovery as it happens yelling 'climate change'. Shut-up you idiot and just tell the story.

That's what's so frustrating about this book, there's an exceptional story to be told here, but instead the author is some triggered dope who is still mad about 2016 and thinks putting politics into a book about a body of water is a great idea.

As for the reader, he was fine. PEOPLE, use the SPEED feature. I had this author at 1.2x and everything you were complaining about goes away. IF you don't like an reader, just try some speed options, it fixes almost all of them.

5 people found this helpful

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americacentric

ignored almost completely the massive mexican side of the gulf ie veracruz, tamaulipas, campeche, merida, etc not to mention cuba

5 people found this helpful

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Cheese Ball - History, Economics, and Environment

Very long book, written by a non expert, ignoring many basic facts, and simplifying many ground breaking engineering feats. This is a Chicken Noodle History Book not a serious HW Brands level book.

Also simplified and Anti-Hispanic history. The Spanish ruled and settled this area for longer than the USA has been a country, but you would not know it from this book. The Native tribes that lived here also get little mention. More time talking about an obscure water color painter from Mississippi than the geopolitics that resulted in the USA taking control of the region. More time about hotels than geo-politics. Then you have the harangue on 19th century engineering, the heroes that made slavery obsolete, gave Billions of people food security, and eliminated child labor. They are bad guys in this book because they could not foresee the impact on coast-lines. But few people would even live on that coast-line if not for electrification and water management. Circular logic of the scribbler non-expert.

If you compare this book to HW Brands, this is not even a book, it is a hugely long, banal article from a Airline Magazine. Could be 20 minutes, not 20 hours. "Spirit" magazine from Southwest is the perfect place for this sad book.

4 people found this helpful

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What a book!

Every summer in my childhood from before I can remember, we vacationed on the gulf coast, somewhere from Pensacola, Florida to Gulf Shores, Alabama and later also to Biloxi, Mississippi. At least one day was on a deep sea fishing charter boat and I joined my dad starting when I was 8. It was a world of wonder to a child and even a teenager and you couldn’t keep your line in the water more than a few minutes before catching something.We saw sharks and flying fish and porpoises raced the boat. The pure white sandy beaches and emerald green water were what I thought all beaches were until I visited the Atlantic coast in my late teens and Texas’ coast in my 20’s. We had a family friend who operated a motel in Biloxi and I remember the devastation of Hurricane Camille. So, this book was fascinating and brought back many memories. 

And much that I didn’t know, too. When we think of American history, we think of the Atlantic coast and the western movement that eventually led to the plains and finally to the Pacific. But, the gulf was one of the most powerful influences on the development of America. The gulf is the 10th largest body of water in the world and for the most part is relatively shallow compared to the Caribbean or any of the oceans. It is fed by one of the world’s mightiest rivers bringing nutrients down from most of the continent along with a multitude of other rivers feeding it making it one of the most fertile and productive salt water regions in the world. It is the source of the great Gulf Stream which wanders down around the tip of Florida and up the Atlantic coast bringing warm water and warmer weather to the northeast and even over to England and provided a push for the heavily laden Spanish galleons laden with gold. The gulf is lined with long barrier islands and many bays providing lots of protection to pirates, wildlife, and fishing fleets, while also being filled with moving sand shoals that made navigation sometimes treacherous. Most of the gulf is surrounded by the United States, leading to the book’s subtitle, “The Making of an American Sea.” 

Davis gives us a well-researched history of the Gulf from the formation of the Gulf in prehistory and explains the geography and the changes that we know about over the centuries or more including how the water has risen at different times so that much of the Mississippi valley was once under water. He talks about the advanced civilizations that once existed along the Gulf which we are still learning about, but which died out (mostly due to disease) with the arrival of Europeans from the Spanish, to the French, the English, and Americans. 

He goes on to describe significant events that affected the Gulf, or where the Gulf affected the US. Included are various environmental events. It is this section where it’s really handy to open Google Maps and view the locations that Davis is talking about. You’ll learn who Marjorie Stoneman Douglas was, long before the high school named after her became world famous. And, when you look closer at Florida from the sky, it’s easy to see the work of the developers who created canals to drain land as well as to give every home boat access. Almost a century before Disney World, Florida developers were already trying to create an artificial reality. He explains the usefulness of the great barrier islands that stretch from Florida all the way around  and into Mexico and the various other islands and shoals that are constantly moving due to regular wave action and storms. He talks about many of the environmental blunders that have reduced the marine harvest and caused the loss of a lot of shoreline, especially in Louisiana which is losing the equivalent of the state of Delaware each decade, leaving New Orleans ever more vulnerable to disastrous hurricanes, even when they aren’t major storms. And yes, he also talked about fishing. 

This is a superb book, but you have to open Google Maps and turn on the satellite view to really get the most out of it. It will slow your reading down a bit, it is certainly worth it. Davis has brought a wealth of information together and put together a history, an ecological treatise, a geography lesson, and so much more and yet made it easily readable and interesting.

4 people found this helpful

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Great history nearly ruined by horrible narration

I enjoyed this thoroughly researched history. My complaint is with the narrator. One would think he would have researched proper pronunciations, especially in what is a regional-specific history book. It is obvious he has never been to the Gulf South, much less spoken to anyone living in these communities. I almost turned this off multiple times due to the cringe-worthy mispronunciations every 5 or 10 minutes.

3 people found this helpful

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