The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson

Non-fiction book review written May 14, 2011

To me the writing seemed similar to John Muir’s writing.  The preface said that the author took the back seat, letting the subject take the center of attention.  That may be so, but the author’s enthusiasm shows.  I think she viewed the mysterious as an opportunity, rather than as a limitation.

The topic is literally large, so the book may as well be about the history of the universe.  It does touch on geology and the formation of our planet and solar system.  Early in the book, she wrote that the earth was formed out of solar material, and it has barely cooled since then.  I remember the idea that the crust is a thin skin floating on a molten interior, but I did not think that molten interior was anywhere near star temperature.  It gives me new respect for the concept of geothermal energy.  We still believe that the core of the earth has a temperature similar to the surface of the sun.

One of my high school English teachers mentioned many phenomena that are described in this book, and coincidentally gave us a reading list that includes this book.  I can remember my teacher describing the Bay of Fundy and the forces that shape its tides.  Reading the example again, I wondered whether the name had to do with waveform fundamentals and harmonics, but the name seems to be a coincidence.

The research is impressive.  There were too many details to retain. The most interesting detail to me is the history of our learning. This book was written before geologists had consensus about plate tectonics.  I also thought it was neat that someone wrote about “climate change” as far back as 1912.

“From this germ of an idea, Pettersson’s fertile mind evolved a theory of climatic variation, which he set forth in 1912 in an extraordinarily interesting document called “Climatic Variations in Historic and Prehistoric Time.” (Svenska Hydrog.==Biol. Komm. Skrifter, No. 5, 1912.)  “Marshalling scientific, historic, and literary evidence, he showed that there are alternating periods of mild and severe climates which correspond to the long-period cycles of the oceanic tides.”

The afterword mentions Milankovitch, who also broke ground on this subject.


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