x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Fathoming the deep: the story of the Atlantic

How to tackle a subject as huge and fluid as the Atlantic Ocean? Simon Winchester chooses as his narrative scaffold the speech in As You Like It on the seven ages of man.

Atlantic: A Vast Ocean of a Million Stories
Simon Winchester
Harper Press
Dh130

How to tackle a subject as huge and fluid as the Atlantic Ocean? Simon Winchester chooses as his narrative scaffold the speech in Shakespeare's As You Like It on the seven ages of man: infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, merchant, old age and second childhood.

Thus he begins with the birth of the Atlantic 170 million years ago, as the single giant continent of Pangaea broke up into the Americas, Europe and Africa. He moves naturally into the earliest ocean explorations, to the Atlantic in literature and art, to epic sea battles, the boom in transatlantic commerce, the overfishing and pollution of its decline and finally to its death, 250 million years from now, when the continents will fuse again into another Pangaea.

Along the way are fascinating nuggets of information. It was only in 1986, for example, that a young marine biologist discovered in the Sargasso Sea a tiny blue-green algae, measuring one 200th of the width of a human hair. It lies at the absolute bottom of the food chain and is the most abundant species on earth, supplying one fifth of the world's atmospheric oxygen.