Monday, November 2, 2015


Pacific by Simon Winchester
HarperCollins: 10/27/15
eBook review copy, 512 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062315410

Pacific by Simon Winchester is a very highly recommended look at ten pivotal events in history since 1950 that reflect a greater truth about the Pacific Ocean then and in the future.

The Pacific is a vast ocean. It covers sixty-four million square miles - almost one-third of the planet's surface. Forty-five percent of the planet's total surface waters are found in the Pacific Ocean. It is what is left of the once all-encompassing Panthalassic Ocean. "It is the most biologically diverse, the most seismically active; it sports the planet's greatest mountains and deepest trenches; its chemistry influences the world; and the planetary weather systems are born within its boundaries." There are so many different directions he could take and stories that could be told about the Pacific that Winchester choose to focus on ten events in chronological order which have taken place since 1950 and show trends or developments that will likely continue to evolve in the future.

Contents ( highlighted, dated event for the chapter is followed by my brief comment) include:

List of Maps and Illustrations
Authors Note on Carbon
It was agreed upon by scientists for the purpose of carbon dating that "the present" begins at the start of January 1950, which is why that date was chosen by Winchester as the date to start his look at events over the past sixty-five years in the Pacific.

Chapter 1: The Great Thermonuclear Sea - January 19, 1950: Truman backs Making the Hydrogen Bomb.
The Pacific is an atomic ocean. More dangerous than that, it is the ocean where most of the world's thermonuclear weapons have been tested.

Chapter 2: Mr. Ibuka's Radio Revolution - August 7, 1955: First Japanese Transistor Radio is Made
The invention of the transistor radio and the beginning of the Sony Corporation.

Chapter 3: The Ecstasies of Wave Riding - August 21, 1959: Hawaii becomes the fiftieth U.S. state
The movie Gidget, was released on April 10th, 1959 and surfing, which started in the Polynesian Pacific, became a cultural phenomenon.

Chapter 4: A Dire and Dangerous Irritation - January 23, 1968: the USS Pueblo is captured by North Korea
The split of Korea at the 38th parallel and the creation of North Korea has had far reaching consequences that are still evident today.

Chapter 5: Farewell, All my Friends and Foes - January 10. 1972: the RMS Queen Elizabeth sinks at Hong Kong.
Recent years have marked the withdrawal of colonial control of the Pacific.

Chapter 6: Echoes of Distant Thunder - December 25, 1974: Australian Supercyclone Tracy touches down
This devastating storm brought attention to the fact that the Pacific Ocean is the generator of much of the world's weather. Ultra-low-pressure storms occur five times more often in the Pacific.The Pacific is where the El Nino and La Nina events start.

Chapter 7: How Goes the Lucky Country? - November 11, 1975: Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam is dismissed
A serving Australian prime minister was suddenly dismissed by a representative of the British queen and marked a turning point for Australia.

Chapter 8: The Fires in the Deep - February 17, 1977: the submersible Alvin spots an abyssal heat source
The Pacific is a seismically active region. The discovery of the first smokers, deep-ocean hydrothermal vents, and the curious life forms around them was a startling revelation. This is the ocean with The Ring of Fire, where plate tectonics results in over four hundred volcanoes and the majority of the earth's earthquakes.

Chapter 9: A Fragile and Uncertain Sea - December 12, 1981: Coral bleaching is seen on Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is a natural wonder of earth and home to such diverse marine life that the bleaching of coral indicates a problem of far reaching significance that is the planet's problem, not just Australia's problem.

Chapter 10: Of Masters and Commanders - June 15, 1991: Mount Pinatubo erupts, Philippines
The eruption of Mount Pinatubo smothered two U.S. bases nearby, one of them a navy headquarters, and resulted in their abandonment. The Chinese navy, always a presence in the area, moved in and is now aggressively trying to expand their control of the Pacific.

Epilogue: The Call of the Running Tide - June 2, 1976: the Hawaiian canoe Hokule'a complete her maiden voyage
May 17, 2014: the the Hawaiian canoe Hokule'a starts her global circumnavigation
"She and her crew of thirty were sailing for forty-seven thousand miles across all the world's oceans without the use of any navigational instruments whatsoever. They were taking no compass. No sextant. No radar. No radio. And certainly no GPS. They would sail alone, unaided, as their predecessors sailed across this very ocean, many centuries before." They are still on this voyage.

Acknowledgments; Note on Sources; Bibliography; Index

Winchester is one of my favorite authors. He is a great researcher and writer whose nonfiction reads like a fictional thriller, keeping your attention glued to the pages. Even if you know the history and what is going to happen or remember many of the events, he makes it infinitely entertaining. Occasionally, his point of view may annoy some readers, especially in his sweeping "the American's..." comments which might be better taken if he were more specific in pointing blame and if this same point of view was universally applied to the British, the Chinese, the Japanese, and The North Koreans. There are enough skirmishes and blame to be passed around regarding colonialism and current power struggles over the Pacific. It is not all Western civilization exploiting or infiltrating Eastern civilization. That ship is sailing both/all directions.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of HarperCollins for review purposes.

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