Summary and book reviews of The Wave by Susan Casey

The Wave

In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean

By Susan Casey

The Wave
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2010,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: May 2011,
    432 pages.

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Book Summary

For centuries, mariners have spun tales of gargantuan waves, 100-feet high or taller. Until recently scientists dis­missed these stories—waves that high would seem to violate the laws of physics. But in the past few decades, as a startling number of ships vanished and new evidence has emerged, oceanographers realized something scary was brewing in the planet’s waters. They found their proof in February 2000, when a British research vessel was trapped in a vortex of impossibly mammoth waves in the North Sea—including several that approached 100 feet.

As scientists scramble to understand this phenomenon, others view the giant waves as the ultimate challenge. These are extreme surfers who fly around the world trying to ride the ocean’s most destructive monsters. The pioneer of extreme surfing is the legendary Laird Hamilton, who, with a group of friends in Hawaii, figured out how to board suicidally large waves of 70 and 80 feet. Casey follows this unique tribe of peo­ple as they seek to conquer the holy grail of their sport, a 100­-foot wave.

In this mesmerizing account, the exploits of Hamilton and his fellow surfers are juxtaposed against scientists’ urgent efforts to understand the destructive powers of waves—from the tsunami that wiped out 250,000 people in the Pacific in 2004 to the 1,740-foot-wave that recently leveled part of the Alaskan coast.

Like Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, The Wave brilliantly portrays human beings confronting nature at its most ferocious.

57.5° N, 12.7° W
175 MILES OFF THE COAST OF SCOTLAND
FEBRUARY 8, 2000

The clock read midnight when the hundred-foot wave hit the ship, rising from the North Atlantic out of the darkness. Among the ocean’s terrors a wave this size was the most feared and the least understood, more myth than reality—or so people had thought. This giant was certainly real. As the RRS Discovery plunged down into the wave’s deep trough, it heeled twenty- eight degrees to port, rolled thirty degrees back to starboard, then recovered to face the incoming seas. What chance did they have, the forty-seven scientists and crew aboard this research cruise gone horribly wrong? A series of storms had trapped them in the black void east of Rockall, a volcanic island nicknamed Waveland for the nastiness of its surrounding waters. More than a thousand wrecked ships lay on the seafloor below.

Captain Keith Avery steered his vessel directly into the onslaught, just as he’d been...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Guide
From Susan Casey, the bestselling author of The Devil’s Teeth, an astonishing book about colossal, ship-swallowing waves, and the surfers and scientists who seek them out. The following questions are intended to enhance your reading experience and to generate lively discussion among the members of your book group.

Reader's Guide

  1. Why do you think there isn’t more news coverage on sunken freighters, tankers, and bulk carriers? Do tragedies at sea strike a different chord in the popular imagination than say, a plane crash?
  2. What’s the difference between surfing a wave and surviving it? What drives people to extreme situations and how does one draw the line ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

15 out of 17 BookBrowse readers rated The Wave 4 or more stars. Here's what they had to say:

Susan Casey has created the perfect nonfiction book, filled with details of the myths of rogue waves, the recent scientific proof of their measurement, Billabong's crazed reward of $500,000 to the first surfer who can prove by videotape that he or she has ridden a wave bigger than 100 feet and the intimate portrayal of the people who have attempted to win the prize (Karen M)... Casey travels with a select group of extreme surfers as they track down the seven most formidable waves... Interspersed between the wave chases are fascinating profiles of the scientists seeking to understand what causes the ocean's unpredictable behavior (Vicky O).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review Members Only (1162 words).

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

This book will fascinate anyone who has even the slightest interest in the oceans that surround us.

The New York Times - Holly Morris

Casey makes a convincing, entertaining case (nifty cliffhangers and all) that there is a heretofore little-known monster in our midst…Casey is fluent in "gnarly" and proficient in "wonk," and she writes lucidly so the rest of us can come along for the ride…[a] wonderfully vivid, kinetic narrative…

People

You think Jaws made you fear the ocean? In this adrenaline rush of a book, Casey....describes 'nature's biggest tantrum'....Her eerie, majestic descriptions...make THE WAVE an unsettling thrill ride that's as terrifying as it is awe inspiring.

Los Angeles Times

Compelling and wonderfully detailed...engrossing...Casey adroitly moves beyond what we think we know about big-wave surf culture and churns out a series of action chapters that are not for the faint of heart.

New York Times Book Review

Her wonderfully vivid, kinetic narrative....offers a prescient vision of watery perils--and sometimes, bittersweet triumphs....Amid the images of demolition, Casey hangs on to the magic and beauty of waves.

Wall Street Journal

Casey does an exceptional job of explaining the natural forces (winds, currents, ocean-bottom shape) that create these daunting, at times fatal, surfing spots....Casey's account of the impromptu adventure is terrific

Reader Reviews
Pete Mc

The Wave - Suusan Casey
As a surfer of 40 years, I found this an authentic read with lots of new angles and adrenaline packed chapters.

Melissa (Books R Us)

A Great Book
I enjoyed the book and I was fascinated with the science behind the big waves. I have never surfed but my parents have friends who love the sport. In reading the book, I felt that I was right there with the surfers and I understand now why they are ...   Read More

Karen M. (Great Falls, VA)

Mythology, Fact, and Great Storytelling
This is one of the best books I read this summer. (And I read dozens of books). Susan Casey has created the perfect non-fiction book. Filled with details of the myths of rogue waves, the recent scientific proof of their measurement, Billabong's ...   Read More

Christine P. (Pleasanton, CA)

The Wave by Susan Casey
The ocean has always been a mystery to me. It’s something that you show respect to and never turn your back on. Susan Casey has written a book about the people who race to ride the big waves, who study the science of the waves, the ships that ...   Read More

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Giant Waves

Giant waves were once the stuff of nautical tall tales, filed alongside stories of mermaids and giant squid, but today we know better.

The force of waves is hard to comprehend. According to The Wave, an 18 inch wave can topple a wall built to withstand 125-mph winds; a breaking 100-foot wave packs 100 tons of force per square meter. In short, those who encounter giant waves rarely live to tell the tale! According to the 1995 MaxWave Project, 200 super carriers have been lost in the last 20 years, many believed to be due to rogue waves.

The first measurable recordings of giant waves came from oil rigs, such as the Ocean Ranger, a 337 foot high oil rig located off Newfoundland which was struck by a wave in 1982 and ...

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