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The Reef: A Passionate History: The Great Barrier Reef from Captain Cook to Climate Change

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Iain McCalman's brilliant history of the Great Barrier Reef, told in twelve extraordinary tales, charts its shifting status from labyrinth of terror to global treasure. Equal parts gifted storyteller and acclaimed historian, McCalman brings to life the people who've shaped our knowledge and perception of this World Heritage-listed site. Arguing that the Barrier Reef is a pr Iain McCalman's brilliant history of the Great Barrier Reef, told in twelve extraordinary tales, charts its shifting status from labyrinth of terror to global treasure. Equal parts gifted storyteller and acclaimed historian, McCalman brings to life the people who've shaped our knowledge and perception of this World Heritage-listed site. Arguing that the Barrier Reef is a product of human as much as natural history, created by minds as well as corals, McCalman describes encounters between peoples and places, ideas and environments, over the past two centuries and more. Where today the Reef is known for its astonishing underwater beauty and diversity, once it was notorious for the shipwrecks in its treacherous waters. Navigators struggled to chart a safe passage through, and scientists later theorised about the creation of this massive structure - the largest marine environment on the planet. Quixotic individuals spent years sailing the globe for an answer, and the fiery debate between Darwinists and creationists caught the world's attention. Then came successive waves of resource hunters and exploiters, followed by beachcombers and artists who fought to stop them, and the marine specialists who first became aware of the threats to the Reef's survival. In between, the Indigenous peoples of the Reef gave succour to castaways like Eliza Fraser, and were then vilified for it. Other survivors of shipwrecks lived for years with the clans of the region, were adopted by them and taught their traditional ways of life. The first social, cultural and environmental history to be written of the Great Barrier Reef, The Reef is an effortlessly readable and often moving story of one of the seven natural wonders of the world.


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Iain McCalman's brilliant history of the Great Barrier Reef, told in twelve extraordinary tales, charts its shifting status from labyrinth of terror to global treasure. Equal parts gifted storyteller and acclaimed historian, McCalman brings to life the people who've shaped our knowledge and perception of this World Heritage-listed site. Arguing that the Barrier Reef is a pr Iain McCalman's brilliant history of the Great Barrier Reef, told in twelve extraordinary tales, charts its shifting status from labyrinth of terror to global treasure. Equal parts gifted storyteller and acclaimed historian, McCalman brings to life the people who've shaped our knowledge and perception of this World Heritage-listed site. Arguing that the Barrier Reef is a product of human as much as natural history, created by minds as well as corals, McCalman describes encounters between peoples and places, ideas and environments, over the past two centuries and more. Where today the Reef is known for its astonishing underwater beauty and diversity, once it was notorious for the shipwrecks in its treacherous waters. Navigators struggled to chart a safe passage through, and scientists later theorised about the creation of this massive structure - the largest marine environment on the planet. Quixotic individuals spent years sailing the globe for an answer, and the fiery debate between Darwinists and creationists caught the world's attention. Then came successive waves of resource hunters and exploiters, followed by beachcombers and artists who fought to stop them, and the marine specialists who first became aware of the threats to the Reef's survival. In between, the Indigenous peoples of the Reef gave succour to castaways like Eliza Fraser, and were then vilified for it. Other survivors of shipwrecks lived for years with the clans of the region, were adopted by them and taught their traditional ways of life. The first social, cultural and environmental history to be written of the Great Barrier Reef, The Reef is an effortlessly readable and often moving story of one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

30 review for The Reef: A Passionate History: The Great Barrier Reef from Captain Cook to Climate Change

  1. 4 out of 5

    Terri

    One of the most beautiful wonders on earth and the coral reefs and fish were amazing! Unfortunately, due to climate change, the warmer sea waters are bleaching and killing the coral. I wish I had read this book before I went to Australia because it is a fascinating history of the reef. I just wish more people could see it before it will be gone forever.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Emma Monfries

    This is not my usual genre and I am not very scientific, but I loved reading this book. The author has written twelve chapters, each of which deal with a different human encounter with the Great Barrier Reef, beginning with Captain Cook. The brutality of the early stories especially intermingle the human voracity for cruelty and greed with the beautiful and treacherous reef - both have violent consequences for people. Stories of strandings, shipwrecks and survivals stranger than fiction amazed m This is not my usual genre and I am not very scientific, but I loved reading this book. The author has written twelve chapters, each of which deal with a different human encounter with the Great Barrier Reef, beginning with Captain Cook. The brutality of the early stories especially intermingle the human voracity for cruelty and greed with the beautiful and treacherous reef - both have violent consequences for people. Stories of strandings, shipwrecks and survivals stranger than fiction amazed me, and they were written in an unembellished, campfire sort of tone - I could have just kept on reading. Despite the fascinating stories, the unembellished truths about what happened to the indigenous peoples, and their ways of life, was profoundly heartbreaking. I knew what had happened of course, but these accounts felt deeply personal, and the sense of injustice and loss was palpable. The author's descriptions of the symbiosis between the people, creatures, and place was the most vivid I have read in any other fiction or nonfiction. There is a real pride and respect in the book for the original inhabitants of the reef country, and a genuine sadness he didn't get to learn from them. The absolute otherworldly beauty of the reef, the savagery of human contact, the sheer, bloody-minded ambition that drove exploration, and the desperate need to protect this incredible place is a lot to get into twelve chapters, but this book will take you on a rollicking, great, terrible, wonderful adventure through all of it. Highly recommended, even if the genre's not normally your thing.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dave DeWitt

    I have a passion for natural history, so this fine book by Iain McCalman really appealed to me. It’s very interdisciplinary, so it’s not just a book about the largest reef system in the world–Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. McCalman also delves into zoology, botany, geology, meteorology, besides human history, biography, and economics. Generally, he covers the history of the discovery of the reef system and the theories about it chronologically, from Captain Cook getting stuck in the middle of i I have a passion for natural history, so this fine book by Iain McCalman really appealed to me. It’s very interdisciplinary, so it’s not just a book about the largest reef system in the world–Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. McCalman also delves into zoology, botany, geology, meteorology, besides human history, biography, and economics. Generally, he covers the history of the discovery of the reef system and the theories about it chronologically, from Captain Cook getting stuck in the middle of it for weeks to the days of settlement, and finally speculation on the very possible extinction of the reef. Besides Captain Cook, there are also other luminaries of science who make an appearance in The Reef: the great botanist Joseph Banks, Charles Darwin and his subsidence theory of reef development, and Charlie Veron, perhaps the great reef scientist ever. But the best stories are those about the formerly unknown reef lovers like the back-to-nature couple Ted and Bertha Banfield, who lived in a shack along the reef for six years and later became famous for writing a bestselling book, The Confessions of a Beachcomber, in 1907. McCalman,a historian and explorers, weaves the science and the people together seamlessly into a fascinating book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Martina Prazeres

    Amazing book - a must read for those who love and treasure the Great Barrier Reef! Easy to read, full of interesting characters, history and science.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ellie

    Full of the passion so few people have for history as rich as the Great Barrier Reefs.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Ideiosepius

    In 2001 the author, a historian, got the enviable chance to act as crew on a ship as part of a re-enactment of The Endeavor's historical journey through the northern great barrier reef, up to Cooktown (as it is today) where captain Cook stopped for repairs. While the BBC show sounds uninspiring, it did trigger in McCalman an awe and deep fascination in the GBR that led to him writing this book. The Reef; a passionate history, reads ultimately as a tribute to the GBR by someone who fell under its In 2001 the author, a historian, got the enviable chance to act as crew on a ship as part of a re-enactment of The Endeavor's historical journey through the northern great barrier reef, up to Cooktown (as it is today) where captain Cook stopped for repairs. While the BBC show sounds uninspiring, it did trigger in McCalman an awe and deep fascination in the GBR that led to him writing this book. The Reef; a passionate history, reads ultimately as a tribute to the GBR by someone who fell under its spell in a most unique way. Resulting in a unique book as the author made a conscious decision to write this passionate history using his own knowledge and skill set rather than trying to follow the more common roads of photography or interviewing expert biologists. Thus we have a book about the reef that deals with it's colonial history, the stories of the individuals involved in bringing the reef to the wider world and to a certain extent, stories of the original tribes who lived along it. Initially, I found this tactic disconcerting, as I was expecting a book that was more about the actual biology of the reef and it took me a while to get into it and a long time to read it; I won't lie, for a large portion I was rating it three stars in my head, then it crept up to four and by the end I was enjoying it so much that I wanted to turn around and start over when I got to the end. The book is separated into three sections, and they are on a time line, at least roughly. In the first section we follow Cook as he tried to navigate the reef and escape being fatally wrecked upon it. We then meet Flinders, who mapped it again. Both are stories I have read before, but because this was focusing on the GBR, it was already my favorite bit and it was presented in a different way to anything I had read before. We then progress to other individual stories; Dunk Island, Eliza and her unlikely stories of cannibals, shipwrecked Europeans who came to live with Aboriginal and Torre Strait island tribes and much much more. The story of the early explorations of the reef were riveting, as were the descriptions of the tribes that lived around what is now Townsville. I adored the final chapter about Veron, (The god of corals for us undergraduates), and the mention of my old lecturer Terry Hughes who was approaching coral god-hood himself. A word about the style of writing; I found it clear and richly informative. It is such a relief to find a book that has a wide vocabulary, has been well written, well edited and reads with the polish of someone who makes their livelihood from using the English language as it ought to be used. I found the descriptive powers formidable, though often slightly detached and that detachment brought into sharp clarity the moments where the author feels strongly about his subject matter. Because the book essentially consists of twelve different stories each with a different subject matter, the narrative did not start tying together for me until the final section. However tie together it does and so efficiently that I was left with a new sense of wonder and glory in the reef. Despite having dived it, studied it, read about it, been breathless from it's beauty and miserably wet and cold on it over the years, despite the fact that it has been my unrequited passion for so long and despite not liking this book all that much to begin with..... At the end I found myself completely won over by this new way of experiencing it, through individuals that have helped make the reef what it is for us today. I feel as though a whole new dimension of the Great Barrier Reef has opened up for me through this book, which I will thoroughly recommend to anyone who loves the GBR, colonial history, wants to know more about North Queensland or just appreciates a very well written historical story.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    McCalman is a superlative storyteller (Darwin's Armada may be the perfect science history), and the reef is one of my Alltime Favourite Things Ever, so this was a hotly anticipated read. As expected, it is readable and gorgeous, full of larger than life characters, and the simple take-your-breath away beauty, depth, diversity and wonder of the GBR saturates the volume. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the book. But. Ah, the but. The format of short stories doesn't show off McCalman at his best. F McCalman is a superlative storyteller (Darwin's Armada may be the perfect science history), and the reef is one of my Alltime Favourite Things Ever, so this was a hotly anticipated read. As expected, it is readable and gorgeous, full of larger than life characters, and the simple take-your-breath away beauty, depth, diversity and wonder of the GBR saturates the volume. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the book. But. Ah, the but. The format of short stories doesn't show off McCalman at his best. Firstly, his method for structuring the stories becomes noticeable reading several in a row, and being able to glance the scaffolding cuts into the pleasure of the experience a little. It's easy to start to feel a little manipulated after a while. Secondly, the format doesn't allow a lot of space to explain some of the science. McCalman is determined to tell stories that capture not only the science, but the emotional invoked by the reef, and hence resists organising chapters around concepts - like the debates about geology, or the slow realisation of the symbiotic relationships of coral polyps and algea, and it's significance. This can make the science confusing. The chapter dealing with competing explanations for the formation of reef geologies was frankly a mess, skipping so much detail (the differences between atoll reefs and the GBR for starters) that it was nonsensical without more background. The inter-familial and community tensions that dominate the narrative are fascinating, but the whole thing feels like it needs three times the space to really hang together. I understood what McCalman is trying to capture. I'll never forget my first encounter with the reef, and I have no words better than those of others quoted in the book, particularly Judith Wright's "I fell in love." The writing at times fulfills it's holistic mission beautifully, capturing the passion that is evoked by the reef. McCalman's writing about Wright is evocative and beautiful, his description of William Kent's love affair with the GBR captures a sense of time and space, and McCalman's unpicking of the legends of coral island castaways - and especially what it told of relationships between indigenous groups and encroaching white settlers - is totally compelling. The final chapters, which detail the ridiculous number of human-generated things about to destroy the reef as we know it, are suitably distressing. But McCalman also manages to capture the reef's history of beating the odds, and a strange sense that if there ever was a candidate for miracles, this may be it. It left me feeling better than when I started, and that is saying something.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ray

    Tackling the history of the Great Barrier Reef is obviously an enormous task, but I've read some similarly ambitious books recently that were very well done. Simon Winchester's books on the Atlantic and Pacific are the gold standard, and Jack Davis' history of the Gulf of Mexico was also fantastic. The Reef is merely very good, and I really liked parts of it. It's a bit anecdotal on the beginnings of European exploration by Cook and Flinders and uses those first navigators, along with the occasio Tackling the history of the Great Barrier Reef is obviously an enormous task, but I've read some similarly ambitious books recently that were very well done. Simon Winchester's books on the Atlantic and Pacific are the gold standard, and Jack Davis' history of the Gulf of Mexico was also fantastic. The Reef is merely very good, and I really liked parts of it. It's a bit anecdotal on the beginnings of European exploration by Cook and Flinders and uses those first navigators, along with the occasional castaway, to also poke around the aboriginal history of Eastern Australia. As usual, the Aboriginals find themselves marginalized by wild tales of cannibalism and violence as an excuse for Europeans to push them aside in the name of progress. It was interesting to see how true biological research has only been truly ongoing for about 100 years, and it seems things didn't get serious until the 60's and 70's. The Reef barely avoided total exploitation by oil companies in the late 60's, in fact, when an ugly spill in Santa Barbara finally made Australians realize they were about the sell their greatest natural feature for certain ruin. The best chapter by far was the final one about the godfather of the Reef, Charlie Veron. His story, briefly presented, was so powerful that I immediately added his books for a follow up list. Good overall intro to the some of the human history of the Reef, although depressing that future generations may not get to enjoy much of what we've perhaps permanently screwed up due to rising ocean temps and acidity levels.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jenny Kirkby

    I’m not much of a scientist, artist or historian, I just live in North Queensland with this magnificent reef on my doorstep.....I loved this book!! It wasn’t just history and science - it was adventure, bravery, conviction and understanding of real people surrounding the reef, the land and giving a better insight into the traditional ways of Australia’s first people. I’d recommend this book to anyone with even only a remote interest in its subject.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    McCalman's history of the reef is bound up in a dozen stories told by explorers, castaways and scientists. He starts with James Cook's voyage in 1770, an adventure that almost ended in disaster on the then-largely unknown (to the white man) reef. He ends his compilation with a story about Australian scientist Charlie Veron, a premier specialist in coral reefs and predictor of doom if earthlings don't change its ways. In discovery and extinction he writes about the reef through the eyes of the ex McCalman's history of the reef is bound up in a dozen stories told by explorers, castaways and scientists. He starts with James Cook's voyage in 1770, an adventure that almost ended in disaster on the then-largely unknown (to the white man) reef. He ends his compilation with a story about Australian scientist Charlie Veron, a premier specialist in coral reefs and predictor of doom if earthlings don't change its ways. In discovery and extinction he writes about the reef through the eyes of the experiences of Europeans and their descendants. We learn about charting the waters, the aboriginals, whose kindness was overtaken by outright lies of barbarous behavior, explorers who stood out for their efforts to understand the tribes and their ways, and ignorant bureaucrats who were determined to favour all kinds of commerce over preservation (sound familiar) and were fought by those who saw the reef different. McCalman's research for this tome was prodigious. The bibliography stretches over 8 pages in small type. I've made a note of several books to read next.

  11. 4 out of 5

    James Whitmore

    It feels quite poignant that I finished this the evening our government gave the go ahead for port development on the Great Barrier Reef. If the forecast of reef scientist Charlie Veron in grim final chapter of Iain McCalman's history of the Reef is correct, then this dredging and the subsequent coal exports from Queensland might not be a blow to the Reef, but a death knell. That being said this is a quietly brilliant history of the Great Barrier Reef. McCalman builds his case slowly, lingering o It feels quite poignant that I finished this the evening our government gave the go ahead for port development on the Great Barrier Reef. If the forecast of reef scientist Charlie Veron in grim final chapter of Iain McCalman's history of the Reef is correct, then this dredging and the subsequent coal exports from Queensland might not be a blow to the Reef, but a death knell. That being said this is a quietly brilliant history of the Great Barrier Reef. McCalman builds his case slowly, lingering over biographical detail. Set around twelve characters, each impressively interlinked with previous and following, the book charts the history of the Reef from James Cook's first encounters to 20th Century environmental battles and scientific understanding. Indigenous Australians are given equal treatment, neither exoticised nor ignored. While never attempting to be a 'complete' history, this work rings emotionally complete.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    I was thinking, for whatever reason, that this book would be a natural history of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, but until the last few chapters, it's more about the human history of the region, more about sailors and settlers than about scientists. The stories are interesting, and provided a good understanding of the history of the area around the reef and the culture clashes between European transplants and native Aborigines. I did want to learn more about the reef itself and its ecology, so I I was thinking, for whatever reason, that this book would be a natural history of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, but until the last few chapters, it's more about the human history of the region, more about sailors and settlers than about scientists. The stories are interesting, and provided a good understanding of the history of the area around the reef and the culture clashes between European transplants and native Aborigines. I did want to learn more about the reef itself and its ecology, so I've added A Reef in Time: The Great Barrier Reef from Beginning to End by J.E.N. Veron to the list of Australia books that I plan to read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Genevieve

    I read this while in Australia and traveling to the Reef, and it was the perfect reading-in-place experience. McCalman traces the history of changing scientific understanding of, and attitudes surrounding, the Great Barrier Reef from Captain Cook to the present. Each chapter focuses on an individual whose life intersected with, and helped shape perceptions of, the reef and region. Most of this was new to me, and fascinating. I was a bit disappointed that the histories of Aboriginal peoples and t I read this while in Australia and traveling to the Reef, and it was the perfect reading-in-place experience. McCalman traces the history of changing scientific understanding of, and attitudes surrounding, the Great Barrier Reef from Captain Cook to the present. Each chapter focuses on an individual whose life intersected with, and helped shape perceptions of, the reef and region. Most of this was new to me, and fascinating. I was a bit disappointed that the histories of Aboriginal peoples and their longstanding relationships with the reef are only seen peripherally, always through white eyes, and not given their own space. Though I realize McCalman would be writing as an outsider to this history and might not feel it is his to tell, the effect is to position the Anglo-Australian view as the one that matters. Still, it's a good introduction to the history of a fascinating place.

  14. 5 out of 5

    David

    On a research trip about a dozen years ago, McCalman falls in love with Australia's Great Barrier Reef. In the ensuing years he puts together a comprehensive picture of the Reef - history, natives, artists, threats - and presents this book. The book is well researched and well written but one must really want to know about the Reef to get the full value of the writing. For me it was a bit much. Best parts were the historical writing, especially about Cook's exploration and Darwin's theory of the On a research trip about a dozen years ago, McCalman falls in love with Australia's Great Barrier Reef. In the ensuing years he puts together a comprehensive picture of the Reef - history, natives, artists, threats - and presents this book. The book is well researched and well written but one must really want to know about the Reef to get the full value of the writing. For me it was a bit much. Best parts were the historical writing, especially about Cook's exploration and Darwin's theory of the Reef's evolution. The book ends on a tragic note: global climate change and pollution are killing the Reef - we may see the Reef die in our lifetimes. Reversing or at least stabilizing climate change may enable the Reef to adapt. Hopeful but probably unlikely.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Dolly

    I won a copy of this on GoodReads. “The Reef” was definitely a labor of love for Iain McCalman. It is in-depth stories from the European discovers and researchers of the Great Barrier Reef. This is a through work cataloging the main players in the history of the reef. It covers their relationship to the reef and their love/hate of it. It impressed me that from an early time (the mid-1800’s) it was realized how delicate the ecosystem of the reef is. Great read for anyone interested in this area. I I won a copy of this on GoodReads. “The Reef” was definitely a labor of love for Iain McCalman. It is in-depth stories from the European discovers and researchers of the Great Barrier Reef. This is a through work cataloging the main players in the history of the reef. It covers their relationship to the reef and their love/hate of it. It impressed me that from an early time (the mid-1800’s) it was realized how delicate the ecosystem of the reef is. Great read for anyone interested in this area. I thought this would be more about the reef and less about the life stories of (European) people associated with it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Karen Szklany

    This book weaves together natural history, anthropology, marine biology, and rich biographies into a masterpiece that flows wondrously from cover to cover. I do not get as much time these days to read literature this rich, so immersing myself into the world of the Great Barrier Reef was exquisitely satisfying. I hope that the book leads many readers to care about the Reefs enough to work toward saving them from extinction, as we are saving ourselves from disaster. Ian McCalman is a master storyt This book weaves together natural history, anthropology, marine biology, and rich biographies into a masterpiece that flows wondrously from cover to cover. I do not get as much time these days to read literature this rich, so immersing myself into the world of the Great Barrier Reef was exquisitely satisfying. I hope that the book leads many readers to care about the Reefs enough to work toward saving them from extinction, as we are saving ourselves from disaster. Ian McCalman is a master storyteller whose subjects spring to life from the pages, turned in very quick succession.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    In twelve different stories, organised into chapters titled 'Terror', 'Nurture' and 'Wonder', Ian McCalman examines the history of the Great Barrier Reef since its discovery by Captain James Cook when his ship, the 'Endeavour' foundered on its shoals in 1770. Since then, people have charted its waters; have been shipwrecked and taken in by the indigenous people; have wondered at its biodiversity and its creation; and are now trying to predict its future in the face of climate change and ever-inc In twelve different stories, organised into chapters titled 'Terror', 'Nurture' and 'Wonder', Ian McCalman examines the history of the Great Barrier Reef since its discovery by Captain James Cook when his ship, the 'Endeavour' foundered on its shoals in 1770. Since then, people have charted its waters; have been shipwrecked and taken in by the indigenous people; have wondered at its biodiversity and its creation; and are now trying to predict its future in the face of climate change and ever-increasing pressures of development. A fascinating book about one of the wonders of the world.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Shannon Mayes

    Jain McCalman did an amazing job researching the material for this book and it is very well written. This book combines a history of the Great Barrier Reef along with a science lesson into the unique ecology and biodiversity found only on the Great Barrier Reef. Most importantly, this book is a wake-up call about climate change. However, at times, this book reads like a textbook and can be a bit challenging for someone who isn't really interested in learning about the history of the Great Barrie Jain McCalman did an amazing job researching the material for this book and it is very well written. This book combines a history of the Great Barrier Reef along with a science lesson into the unique ecology and biodiversity found only on the Great Barrier Reef. Most importantly, this book is a wake-up call about climate change. However, at times, this book reads like a textbook and can be a bit challenging for someone who isn't really interested in learning about the history of the Great Barrier Reef.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Vicki Gibson

    This book is a story of encounters between Reef peoples and places, ideas, and environments, over more than two centuries, beginning with James Cook’s bewildered voyage through a coral maze and ending with the searing mission of reef scientist John “Charlie” Veron to goad us to act over the impending death of the Reef. I enjoyed the thoughtful inclusion of women and indigenous people. In the end, it's a sobering tale that drives home the point that "coral reefs are the canaries of climate change. This book is a story of encounters between Reef peoples and places, ideas, and environments, over more than two centuries, beginning with James Cook’s bewildered voyage through a coral maze and ending with the searing mission of reef scientist John “Charlie” Veron to goad us to act over the impending death of the Reef. I enjoyed the thoughtful inclusion of women and indigenous people. In the end, it's a sobering tale that drives home the point that "coral reefs are the canaries of climate change." If you're interested in the Great Barrier Reef I would recommend this book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

    Non-fiction is not really my bag but I did find a lot of interest in this book about Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The writer structures his material well, dealing with the history, the science and the people who have loved, lived in and sought to understand this natural wonder. He ends, not unexpectedly, with a warning that the dangers to the future of the Reef reflect dangers to the survival of the human race itself. But polemic does not dominate this work of research, respect and wonder. Non-fiction is not really my bag but I did find a lot of interest in this book about Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The writer structures his material well, dealing with the history, the science and the people who have loved, lived in and sought to understand this natural wonder. He ends, not unexpectedly, with a warning that the dangers to the future of the Reef reflect dangers to the survival of the human race itself. But polemic does not dominate this work of research, respect and wonder.

  21. 5 out of 5

    TomFairman

    Fantastic book. In telling the story of the Reef, Iain McCalman ends up telling a lot more about Australian history. Not restricted to post-European colonisation either, but covers indigenous history too, which is the real plus for me. I think every person should visit the reef - before it's too late - and every person who does should read this book. It's a perfect companion - telling incredible stories of an incredible place. Fantastic book. In telling the story of the Reef, Iain McCalman ends up telling a lot more about Australian history. Not restricted to post-European colonisation either, but covers indigenous history too, which is the real plus for me. I think every person should visit the reef - before it's too late - and every person who does should read this book. It's a perfect companion - telling incredible stories of an incredible place.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kirsten

    An interesting history, although it felt a bit patchy at times. I liked the idea of telling individual stories to make up the whole, but it made it feel like there were gaps. Also, it skimped on the Aboriginal history of the Reef. They were almost more like "supporting characters." While much of their story takes place before Cook arrived, it would have been nice to more focus on their perspectives, rather than simply how they interacted with Westerners. An interesting history, although it felt a bit patchy at times. I liked the idea of telling individual stories to make up the whole, but it made it feel like there were gaps. Also, it skimped on the Aboriginal history of the Reef. They were almost more like "supporting characters." While much of their story takes place before Cook arrived, it would have been nice to more focus on their perspectives, rather than simply how they interacted with Westerners.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nina

    While this book was an interesting combination of the scientific and colonial history of The Great Barrier Reefs (told through the stories/experiences of sailors, artists, scientists, and more), the writing style was a bit dull. It’s not written with a mainstream audience in mind, but interesting nonetheless and would, from what I can gather, be very useful to scholars of the field.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Cosmic Jae

    Very informative read. The chapters are based on accounts taken from different perspectives - from James Cook’s expedition to today’s scientists and the research being done. The most profound part is learning that “coral reefs are the canaries of climate change.”

  25. 4 out of 5

    Christine D

    I couldn't get into the writing style. I scanned through most of it. I couldn't get into the writing style. I scanned through most of it.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mallory

    McCalman presents twelve stories to tell the history of the Great Barrier Reef. Some were more interesting than others, and in the end the book felt more like a detailed introduction to the Reef than a full history (which isn't a knock to it; it's a 280 page paperback, not a textbook). Knowing next to nothing about the Great Barrier Reef, I learned a lot reading this, and discovered some people and events which I would like to do more research on. McCalman presents twelve stories to tell the history of the Great Barrier Reef. Some were more interesting than others, and in the end the book felt more like a detailed introduction to the Reef than a full history (which isn't a knock to it; it's a 280 page paperback, not a textbook). Knowing next to nothing about the Great Barrier Reef, I learned a lot reading this, and discovered some people and events which I would like to do more research on.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Some of these stories didn't really have much of the reef involved. They were still interesting, I would have just liked more stories about the actual reef and not so many about ship wreck survivors and beachcombers. Some of these stories didn't really have much of the reef involved. They were still interesting, I would have just liked more stories about the actual reef and not so many about ship wreck survivors and beachcombers.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Loved the first chapter and the second half of the book. Hope to visit one day.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Maya

    Very insightful look into humanity's interaction with the Reef, told through a series of well-crafted anecdotes Very insightful look into humanity's interaction with the Reef, told through a series of well-crafted anecdotes

  30. 5 out of 5

    Micha

    I have a fairly balanced amount of non-fiction in my reading diet, making up a consistent 25% or so of what I read. But it tends most often to be philosophy/theory or some kind of personal history/memoir, and not as much of the pure history or science. This book combines the two, really, providing an account of historical interactions with and scientific explorations of the Great Barrier Reef. It's very well-written and with the deeply personal narrative drive of the book it's easy to become inv I have a fairly balanced amount of non-fiction in my reading diet, making up a consistent 25% or so of what I read. But it tends most often to be philosophy/theory or some kind of personal history/memoir, and not as much of the pure history or science. This book combines the two, really, providing an account of historical interactions with and scientific explorations of the Great Barrier Reef. It's very well-written and with the deeply personal narrative drive of the book it's easy to become invested in. Each chapter introduces us to a new figure, detailed in around 20 pages, while we linger in or return to our familiar (though vast and changeable) setting. I'd been a little misled by the introduction and thought that the second part of the book would feature more accounts of indigenous people interacting with the Reef, and I was quite excited to hear some of these stories. However, the second part was more about the white travellers interacting with or reacting to indigenous groups. I understand, because there is far more written material for McCalman to work with, and he does give due mention of the unintended misunderstandings between the players, as well as the intentional misinterpretation recorded by whites with political or economic agendas. Still, I feel a bit bereft with having this history of interactions with an amazing geological feature, one which must have been significant in the lives of the people on Australia's north-east shore, that never fully explores how indigenous peoples understood it. McCalman makes a vague mention of a different geo-spatial understanding of the Reef, of ocean and land, and how our understanding of what the Reef is is still only a construct, a view through a frame we take for granted, but he never follows that thread.

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