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The Gulf: The Making of An American Sea (Paperback)
Winner • Pulitzer Prize for History
Winner • Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction
Finalist • National Book Critics Circle Award (Nonfiction)
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Named one of the Best Books of the Year by the Washington Post, NPR, Library Journal, and gCaptain
Booklist Editors’ Choice (History)
Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence
In this “cri de coeur about the Gulf’s environmental ruin” (New York Times), “Davis has written a beautiful homage to a neglected sea” (front page, New York Times Book Review).
Hailed as a “nonfiction epic . . . in the tradition of Jared Diamond’s best-seller Collapse, and Simon Winchester’s Atlantic” (Dallas Morning News), Jack E. Davis’s The Gulf is “by turns informative, lyrical, inspiring and chilling for anyone who cares about the future of ‘America’s Sea’ ” (Wall Street Journal). Illuminating America’s political and economic relationship with the environment from the age of the conquistadors to the present, Davis demonstrates how the Gulf’s fruitful ecosystems and exceptional beauty empowered a growing nation. Filled with vivid, untold stories from the sportfish that launched Gulfside vacationing to Hollywood’s role in the country’s first offshore oil wells, this “vast and welltold story shows how we made the Gulf . . . [into] a ‘national sacrifice zone’ ” (Bill McKibben). The first and only study of its kind, The Gulf offers “a unique and illuminating history of the American Southern coast and sea as it should be written” (Edward O. Wilson).
About the Author
Jack E. Davis is the author of the award-winning An Everglades Providence: Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the American Environmental Century. A professor of environmental history at the University of Florida, he grew up on the Gulf coast, and now lives in Florida and New Hampshire.
A sensitive and sturdy work of environmental history. . . . [Davis] has a well-stocked mind, and frequently views the history of the Gulf through the prism of artists and writers including Winslow Homer, Wallace Stevens, Ernest Hemingway and John D. MacDonald. His prose is supple and clear. . . . A cri de coeur about the Gulf’s environmental ruin.
— Dwight Garner - New York Times
A wide-ranging, well-told story, by turns informative, lyrical, inspiring and chilling for anyone who cares about the future of ‘America’s Sea.’
— Gerard Helferich - Wall Street Journal
In the tradition of Jared Diamond's best-seller Collapse and Simon Winchester's Atlantic comes Jack E. Davis' nonfiction epic, The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea, which strives both to celebrate and defend its subject—the Gulf of Mexico. . . . Detailed and exhaustive, written in lucid, impeccable prose, The Gulf is a fine work of information and insight, destined to be admired and cited.
— William J. Cobb - Dallas Morning News
Splendid . . . . Davis is a historian, and this book is packed with research, but The Gulf does not read like a textbook. He is a graceful, clear, often lyrical writer who makes sometimes surprising, always illuminating connections—it's not a stretch to compare him to John McPhee. And he is telling an important story, especially for those of us who live around what he calls the American Sea. What happens to it happens to us, and the more we know, the better equipped we'll be to deal with a future on its shores.
— Colette Bancroft - Tampa Bay Times
An incisive, comprehensive and entertaining portrait of the world’s most diverse and productive marine ecosystems—from its lusty birth in the chaos of shifting continental plates to its slow and agonizing death of a million cuts inflicted by oil and gas extractors, dredge-and-fill operators, ‘condo-canyon’ developers, industrial-scale fishers, fertilizer-dependent farmers, chemical plant entrepreneurs, love-it-to-death snow birds and so many more. . . . Amid all of the pollution and exploitation, this could easily have been a grim history of ‘Paradise Lost.’ But in Davis’ skilled hands it as much love story as tragedy.
— Ron Cunningham - Gainesville Sun
Jack Davis has delivered a unique and illuminating history of the American Southern coast and sea as it should be written: how humanity and the environment evolved over ten millennia as a single system.
— Edward O. Wilson, author of The Social Conquest of Earth
This vast and well-told story shows how we made the Gulf of Mexico, in particular, into what local activists have begun to call a 'national sacrifice zone,' at enormous cost to its residents of all species. It’s a sobering tale, and one hopes that reading it will help us hit bottom and acknowledge the need to change.
— Bill McKibben, author Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
A tremendous book. Davis is not only one of our preeminent environmental historians, but also a first-rate storyteller and prose stylist. Lay readers and scholars alike will be delighted by The Gulf, a lovely evocation of the natural world and the problematic ways our nation has profited from it.
— Blake Bailey, author of Cheever
The Gulf takes on troubling environmental issues with a lyrical voice and a steady appreciation of history.
— Mark Kurlansky, author of Paper: Paging Through History
Like its subject, The Gulf is big, beautiful, and beguiling. Meticulously researched and sparklingly written, it is also a cautionary tale about a paradise ill-served by humankind.
— William Souder, author of On a Farther Shore
An astonishing work of environmental history, sweeping in its narrative scope while also being wonderfully intimate in its richness of detail. The march of history and the vibrancy of place live on its every page, and the environmental story it tells could not make for more urgent reading in these perilous times.
— Darcy Frey, Harvard University
Steering seamlessly between nature writing and historical narrative, Davis offers an elegant epic of how America’s relationship with the Gulf of Mexico defines our character and our future.
— Cynthia Barnett, author of Rain: A Natural and Cultural History
With the narrative force of the Gulf Stream, Jack E. Davis takes readers to an unforgettable geography of wonders, oddities, and characters famous and unknown. Davis’s writing shimmers with salt haze, delights like a flock of pelicans, and threatens like oil on a white sand beach. If you thought you knew the Gulf, guess again. If this is your introduction to it, lucky you.
— Jordan Fisher Smith, author of Engineering Eden and Nature Noir
The Gulf starts with the geology of plate tectonics, proceeds through Indian settlements before the arrivals of Europeans, advances to hurricanes, the Dead Zone, and oil pollution, then analyzes the future. And it does all this very, very well. Books which attempt such comprehensive treatments of a subject are too often, as the saying goes, a mile wide and an inch deep. This book is 1,000 miles wide and 10,000 feet deep. It's an extraordinary achievement.
— John M Barry, author of Rising Tide and The Great Influenza
[A] magnificent chronicle of the Gulf of Mexico. . . . A work of astonishing breadth: richly peopled, finely structured, beautifully written. It should appeal equally to Gulf coast residents and snowbirds, students of environmental history, and general readers.
— Robert Eagan - Library Journal (starred review)
Vivid. . . . As Davis demonstrates in this absorbing narrative, the history of the Gulf teaches us that nature is most generous whenever we respect its sovereignty.
— Henry L. Carrigan - Bookpage
A perceptive historical survey of America’s Gulf Coast, this fascinating work accents the region’s nexus between nature and civilization. . . . Marked by thorough knowledge and fluid writing, this work will enhance any collection of American and environmental history.
— Gilbert Taylor - Booklist, Starred review
Comprehensive and thoroughly researched. . . . Davis makes the convincing argument that wiser, far-sighted practices—including those aimed at combating climate change—could help the Gulf region to remain a bastion of resources for the foreseeable future.
— Publishers Weekly, starred review