BookBrowse Reviews Pacific by Simon Winchester

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio


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

by Simon Winchester

Pacific by Simon Winchester X
Pacific by Simon Winchester
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2015, 512 pages

    Oct 2016, 512 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
Buy This Book

About this Book



The story of the ocean is captured through ten pivotal moments in world history.

Pacific is a sweeping overview of the ocean's recent history and the people who inhabit its lands and impact its future. The format Simon Winchester uses to capture this massive subject was inspired by Austrian author Stefan Zweig's 1927 volume, Shooting Stars. This collection of ten essays is crafted around what Zweig considered to be the "seminal moments in the tide of human experience." Winchester likewise chooses ten events to illustrate the various forces at work on and around the Pacific Ocean since 1950. (Interestingly, Winchester chose this date to start his history because scientists refer to it as "year zero," the year at which carbon dating becomes an unreliable measure. Human experiments with atomic weapons make the technique increasingly inaccurate.)

The selected incidents constitute a rather eclectic collection, and include such diverse topics as the creation of the first Japanese transistor radio, the eruption of the Philippine volcano Mt. Pinatubo, and the introduction of the surfboard to popular culture. Each chapter is fascinating, and although one can wonder why the author picked the subjects he did, no one can argue with the result: a kaleidoscopic, whirlwind tour of the ocean he believes will shape the future of not only the countries it borders but that of the entire planet.

Each chapter begins with a specific date and event, and expands out from that central focus. For example, one chapter highlights the 1972 sinking of RMS Queen Elizabeth off Hong Kong but then branches out to a discussion on colonialism in the Pacific. In another, a 1950 speech by American President Harry Truman about nuclear enegery is the basis for a review of the devastation to the Pacific Islands and their native populations that resulted from nuclear testing conducted by the United States for decades after Truman's decision. The result is not so much a coherent, start-to-finish history of the region as it is a series of fascinating snapshots that when put together forms a broad picture of it. It's not complete by any means, but it does move the reader toward a deeper understanding of the important part the Pacific has played in humanity's recent past and the role it's destined to play.

Winchester's prose is entertaining and keeps the book moving along at a fine clip – something rather remarkable given the book's complexity and vast scope; I was engrossed throughout most of it, in spite of the incredible amount of detail he incorporates. His encyclopedic knowledge and extensive travels are impressive, and he certainly comes across as authoritative.

Nevertheless Pacific seems overly biased at times. Much of the author's introduction covers the sorry state of affairs in Micronesia due to the influence of the American government, a subject he revisits in a preface entitled "On Carbon" and yet again in the first chapter. Winchester's rage at what the United States has done to the area is palpable and justified, but I felt he could have spread the blame around more. Indeed, with the exception of the Australians, against whom he also seems to have some bias, much of the work is quite critical of the role America has played in all that has gone wrong — radiation, pollution, poverty, exploitation, etc. — in the Pacific. The last chapter claims that the U.S. presence in Asian waters is in fact a destabilizing force, and that allowing China to unify the area would actually be better. I'm not sure whether the author is correct or not, but I came away from the book feeling it was somewhat one-sided (and not feeling terribly great about being an American and thereby "guilty by association").

Pacific is sure to be another hit for Winchester, particularly for Baby Boomers like myself who have a passing familiarity with the events he highlights (I found myself constantly wondering where I was when each of episodes the author mentions occurred). Anyone interested in world history will also be sure to find it both absorbing and compelling. And while I might feel a tad offended around the edges by the author's seeming biases, I nonetheless learned a great deal from the book and it was well worth my time.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in November 2015, and has been updated for the November 2016 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The Hokule'a


Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Pacific, try these:

  • Move Like Water jacket

    Move Like Water

    by Hannah Stowe

    Published 2023

    About this book

    A book to sweep you away from the shore, into a wild world of water, whale, storm, and starlight— to experience what it's like to sail for weeks at a time with life set to a new rhythm.

  • The Vortex jacket

    The Vortex

    by Scott Carney , Jason Miklian

    Published 2023

    About this book

    The deadliest storm in modern history ripped Pakistan in two and led the world to the brink of nuclear war when American and Soviet forces converged in the Bay of Bengal.

We have 12 read-alikes for Pacific, but non-members are limited to two results. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
More books by Simon Winchester
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes

Join BookBrowse

For a year of great reading
about exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Land of Milk and Honey
    Land of Milk and Honey
    by C Pam Zhang
    In Land of Milk and Honey, C Pam Zhang's second novel, Earth is covered by a vast gray smog. Many of...
  • Book Jacket: The Golden Gate
    The Golden Gate
    by Amy Chua
    The Golden Gate is a highly entertaining page-turner that falls neatly into, but in some ways ...
  • Book Jacket: The Mysterious Case of Rudolf Diesel
    The Mysterious Case of Rudolf Diesel
    by Douglas Brunt
    Rudolf Diesel ought to be a household name. Like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Nikola Tesla, Diesel ...
  • Book Jacket: Move Like Water
    Move Like Water
    by Hannah Stowe
    As a child growing up on the Pembrokeshire Coast in Wales, Hannah Stowe always loved the sea, ...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
Mercury Pictures Presents
by Anthony Marra
A timeless story of love, deceit, and sacrifice set in Mussolini's Italy and 1940s Los Angeles.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Alfie and Me
    by Carl Safina

    A moving account of raising, then freeing, an orphaned screech owl. Three starred reviews!

  • Book Jacket

    The Wren, the Wren
    by Anne Enright

    An incandescent novel about the inheritance of trauma, wonder, and love across three generations of women.

  • Book Jacket

    The Roaring Days of Zora Lily
    by Noelle Salazar

    A glittering novel of family, love, ambition, and self discovery by the bestselling author of The Flight Girls.

Who Said...

When all think alike, no one thinks very much

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!


Solve this clue:

G O T P, B The P, F T P

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.