• The Gulf

  • The Making of an American Sea
  • By: Jack E. Davis
  • Narrated by: Tom Perkins
  • Length: 20 hrs and 45 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Americas
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (304 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

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  • Overall
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    4 out of 5 stars

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

8 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.

5 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.

7 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.

2 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.

1 person found this helpful

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A fantastic history

What a great find. So much great history and information!!! We forget that something as simple as the water off the beach has such a vivid, vital history. May we care well for such a treasure.

1 person found this helpful

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Amazing

Covers tons of ground and time. I’m gonna have to give it another listen and I’m looking forward to it!

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An excellent book covering the history of The Gulf

Very good book and detailed history of the The Gulf of Mexico. I enjoyed and book immensely and highly recommend. The narrator is not as bad as other reviews have posted, but pronunciations of local names is off, to say the least, especially Biloxi.

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Doesn't Get Any Better than This

If you live on or near the Gulf of Mexico, you're going to love this book. It tells the history of the great gulf, in exquisite detail.

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Read this

Read this book if you are ecology minded Love the nature that the Gulf has Abundance And want Its preservation