The Gulf: Book summary and reviews of The Gulf by Jack E. Davis

The Gulf

The Making of An American Sea

by Jack E. Davis

The Gulf by Jack E. Davis X
The Gulf by Jack E. Davis

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Book Summary

The tragic collision between civilization and nature in the Gulf of Mexico becomes a uniquely American story in this environmental epic.

When painter Winslow Homer first sailed into the Gulf of Mexico, he was struck by its "special kind of providence." Indeed, the Gulf presented itself as America's sea - bound by geography, culture, and tradition to the national experience - and yet, there has never been a comprehensive history of the Gulf until now. And so, in this rich and original work that explores the Gulf through our human connection with the sea, environmental historian Jack E. Davis finally places this exceptional region into the American mythos in a sweeping history that extends from the Pleistocene age to the twenty-first century.

Significant beyond tragic oil spills and hurricanes, the Gulf has historically been one of the world's most bounteous marine environments, supporting human life for millennia. Davis starts from the premise that nature lies at the center of human existence, and takes readers on a compelling and, at times, wrenching journey from the Florida Keys to the Texas Rio Grande, along marshy shorelines and majestic estuarine bays, profoundly beautiful and life-giving, though fated to exploitation by esurient oil men and real-estate developers.

Rich in vivid, previously untold stories, The Gulf tells the larger narrative of the American Sea - from the sportfish that brought the earliest tourists to Gulf shores to Hollywood's engagement with the first offshore oil wells - as it inspired and empowered, sometimes to its own detriment, the ethnically diverse groups of a growing nation. Davis' pageant of historical characters is vast, including: the presidents who directed western expansion toward its shores, the New England fishers who introduced their own distinct skills to the region, and the industries and big agriculture that sent their contamination downstream into the estuarine wonderland. Nor does Davis neglect the colorfully idiosyncratic individuals: the Tabasco king who devoted his life to wildlife conservation, the Texas shrimper who gave hers to clean water and public health, as well as the New York architect who hooked the "big one" that set the sportfishing world on fire.

Ultimately, Davis reminds us that amidst the ruin, beauty awaits its return, as the Gulf is, and has always been, an ongoing story. Sensitive to the imminent effects of climate change, and to the difficult task of rectifying grievous assaults of recent centuries, The Gulf suggests how a penetrating examination of a single region's history can inform the country's path ahead.

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Book Awards

  • award image Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama and Music, 2018

Reviews

Media Reviews

"The subtitle, The Making of an American Sea, suggests there might be plenty of material to meander along here and that's certainly the case. From the Louisiana Purchase to the growth of the shrimping and the oil industry in the Pelican state to the history and geography of the sprawling Gulf of Mexico, this book covers it all—and then some. We visit Texas and Florida and slowly crawl our way through the players and tidal forces of change that have shaped the Gulf over centuries. While this is a vital and important book, the author can't seem to resist cramming each and every bit of research into the volume. The reader is not to blame if he or she occasionally gets mired in its pages, which are sometimes as tangled with facts as a Florida mangrove."—BookBrowse.com

"Starred Review. Comprehensive and thoroughly researched ... The density of the fact-packed chapters calls for a deliberate reading pace so as not to overlook any of Davis's thought-provoking commentary and keen descriptions." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. This is a work of astonishing breadth: richly peopled, finely structured, beautifully written. It should appeal equally well to Gulf coast residents and snowbirds, students of environmental history, and general readers." - Library Journal

"Starred Review. An elegant narrative braced by a fierce, sobering environmental conviction." - Kirkus

"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." - Darcy Frey, Harvard University

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Author Information

Jack E. Davis

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.

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