'Savage Seas'

[JAN. 31, 2001]   Savage Seas." Rosemary Kingsland, TV Books, 1999, 216 pages.

Rosemary Kingsland’s book "Savage Seas" is the companion volume to the PBS television series of the same name. Part of a documentary trilogy by Granada Television, the "Savage Seas" series and its sister series, "Savage Skies" and "Savage Earth," "have explored the relationship between mankind and the immense natural forces which shape our life and our planet."

According to the author, the impact of this relationship cannot be overstated; in the introduction she writes, "If the sea holds a compelling fascination for us, it is because we are part of it. The first glimmerings of life were born in the sea some 3,000 million years ago…the salts that surged through the waters of the deep oceans from pre-history to today still surge through our blood." Our origins in water, she continues, are evidenced by the human body’s composition of sodium, potassium and calcium in the same proportions as found in seawater. Even our discharge of water in the form of sweat and tears is comparable to the salt found in the earth’s seas.


The book is divided into six sections. Each section contains smaller chapters that explain the relationship of the seas to the earth and its cycles.

"The Water Planet" describes the effects of the motions, twists and pulls of the oceans’ currents, tides and waves. These powerful forces have shaped the planet’s weather, geography and human history. Trade, exploration and settlement have all been affected by these natural phenomena. Mighty ships designed to sail the roughest waters can disappear in a matter of minutes (such as the 1909 Dutch ship SS Waratah).

"The Weather Machine" explores what is arguably the most important and powerful effect that the oceans have on the planet. So powerful is this weather machine that it can give birth to hurricanes off the coast of Africa that wreak havoc in North America; create killer monsoon-driven waves in the Indian Ocean; and create typhoons and cyclones that contain raging winds, driving rains and excessive amounts of snow.

"The Big Chill" discusses the presence of cold in the oceans, contributed in part by the immense amounts of floating ice. Kingsland writes, "Our world begins and ends in ice…in the north it is a cap up to fifty meters thick in winter, in the south it covers a continent the size of Europe." Sea ice has plagued sailors and explorers since humans first began ocean travel. Kingsland examines the sinking of the Titanic in terms of the role that ice played in the disaster. She analyzes the cold-water shock associated with this shipwreck as well as the 1994 Baltic Sea sinking of the ferry Estonia (with 852 victims).


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"Under Pressure" looks at deep-sea diving and underwater exploration. As air-breathers, humans have long been fascinated with the world beneath the waves. Many different methods of underwater exploration have been tested over the centuries. The author cites two interesting examples from the annals of history: Alexander the Great’s Aegean Sea diving barrel and Edmund Halley’s diving bell in 1690.


Perhaps the most entertaining reading in the book is found in "Monsters of the Deep." Here we discover the fabled man-eating monsters that have plagued ships and boats. Sharks, crocodiles and sea serpents (real and imagined) are some of the inhabitants of the deep that strike terror in sea goers. One sobering chapter in this section chronicles the sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the subsequent shark attacks that the crew endured before their rescue. Told through the firsthand accounts of crewmen Robert McGuiggan, Guy Kay and Michael Kuryla, the story of the Indianapolis and the tragic events that followed are testament to the awesome power of the ocean and the dangerous creatures that it harbors.

A brief concluding section, "Surviving the Savage Seas," instructs on how to prepare for the worst at sea and what to do when calamity strikes (again told through firsthand accounts).

"Savage Seas" is a wonderful introduction to the different seas and oceans on our planet. The firsthand accounts of seagoing experiences combine with the stunning photography to demonstrate the sea’s majestic power, beauty and danger. Further reading on this subject can be found in the bibliography. The book’s many illustrations are conveniently included in the subject index. The writing is lively and captures the reader’s attention from beginning to end. "Savage Seas" is recommended to all readers young and old who are interested in the planet’s greatest and most dangerous natural force.

For more information, visit the library at 725 Pekin St. or call (217) 732-8878.

[Richard Sumrall, Lincoln Public Library District]


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