Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers

Written by Simon Winchester
Review by Helene Williams

Winchester’s latest fascinating exploration is his largest subject ever: the Pacific Ocean. At 64 million square miles, it is home to nearly half of the earth’s surface water, yet all entrances to it are constricted by (comparatively) narrow passageways. To bring readers close to the topic, Winchester bases his chapters on critical moments in the ocean’s history, from January 1, 1950 forward; that date is pivotal to carbon dating processes, and signals the beginning of, as Winchester says, “The great thermonuclear sea.”  Chapters cover the era of nuclear bomb testing, the incorporation of surfing into professional sports and popular culture, the introduction of the transistor radio, as well as events created by nature, not mankind, including super-cyclone Tracy and tectonic architecture. There’s a lot of science, politics, and bad behavior (from empires and individuals alike), but not one dull moment here. Subsidiary discussions – such as of the international dateline, the bird catchers of Hawaii, the demarcation of North from South Korea – are all riveting. Maps, photographs, source notes and a bibliography round out the volume. It’s difficult to see how any reader could disagree with Winchester’s assertion that the Pacific is the future, in all its glory and its challenges.