Reviews of Life Between the Tides by Adam Nicolson

Life Between the Tides

by Adam Nicolson

Life Between the Tides by Adam Nicolson X
Life Between the Tides by Adam Nicolson
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  • Published:
    Feb 2022, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer Hon Khalaf
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About this Book

Book Summary

Adam Nicolson explores the marine life inhabiting seashore rockpools with a scientist's curiosity and a poet's wonder in this beautifully illustrated book.

The sea is not made of water. Creatures are its genes. Look down as you crouch over the shallows of a rockpool and you will find a periwinkle or a prawn, a claw-displaying crab or a cluster of anemones ready to meet you. Go to the rocks and the living will say hello.

Inside each rockpool, tucked into one of the infinite crevices of the tidal coastline, lies a rippling, silent, unknowable universe. Below the stillness of the surface course different currents of endless motion―the ebb and flow of the tide, the steady forward propulsion of the passage of time, and the tiny lifetimes of its creatures, all of which coalesce into the grand narrative of evolution.

In Life Between the Tides, Adam Nicolson investigates one of the most revelatory habitats on earth. Under his microscope, we see a prawn's head become a medieval helmet and a group of "winkles" transform a Dickensian social scene, with mollusks munching on Stilton and glancing at their pocket watches. Or, rather, is a winkle more like Achilles, an ancient hero, throwing himself toward death for the sake of glory? For Nicolson, who writes "with scientific rigor and a poet's sense of wonder" (The American Scholar), the world of the rockpools is infinite and as intricate as our own.

As Nicolson journeys between the tides, both in the pools he builds along the coast of Scotland and through the timeline of scientific discovery, he is accompanied by great thinkers―no one can escape the pull of the sea. We meet Virginia Woolf and her Waves; a young T. S. Eliot peering into his own rockpool in Massachusetts; even Nicolson's father-in-law, a classical scholar who would hunt for amethysts along the shoreline, his mind on Heraclitus and the Hellenists. And, of course, scientists populate the pages; not only their discoveries, but also their doubts and errors, their moments of quiet observation and their thrilling realizations.

It is all within the rockpools, where you can look beyond your own reflection and find the miraculous an inch beneath your nose. "The soul wants to be wet," Heraclitus said in Ephesus twenty-five hundred years ago. This marvelous book demonstrates why it is so.

Includes color and black-and-white photographs.

INTRODUCTION
The marvellous

The sea is not made of water. Creatures are its genes. Look down as you crouch over the shallows and you will find a periwinkle or a prawn, a claw-displaying crab or a cluster of anemones ready to meet you. No need for binoculars or special stalking skills: go to the rocks and the living will say hello.

In the 1850s, when Victorian Britain fell in love with the seaside, the rock pool became the heart of a kind of natureworship which saw in its riches and calm a reassuring vision of creation. Life in what Philip Henry Gosse, the great apostle of the pools, called 'these unruffled wells' was a gathering of goodness and even happiness. It was as if the pools came from a time before the Fall, when life was innocent and unthreatened. Gosse, surely half-remembering the children's rhyme, imagined 'Adam and Eve, stepping lightly down to bathe in the rainbow-coloured spray.' At just the moment Darwin was challenging the God-ordained vision of nature, and setting the ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Life Between the Tides is one of those rare books that is truly interdisciplinary, transcending genres to effortlessly reveal the wondrous underlying nature of the mundane and overlooked. In doing so, Adam Nicolson unlocks and shares profound truths about the meaning of life. He sets out the true philosophical underpinning as to why it is important to preserve the world around us and all life that inhabits it. It is not for utilitarian purposes, but because the care and preservation of the balance and flux of the world is indivisible from our own existence...continued

Full Review Members Only (644 words).

(Reviewed by Jennifer Hon Khalaf).

Media Reviews

New York Times
[I]lluminating...The notion of dredging big truths from small pools isn't novel...But few writers have done it with Nicolson's discursive erudition.

The Guardian (UK)
The thread that links Nicolson's books is precisely this – a philosopher's wish to provide a way of comprehending the place of the individual in a vast and shifting world, the quest for a good life, the search for new answers to old questions...Spending time in Nicolson's rock pool will change your life and the way you view the lives of others.

Booklist (starred review)
[Nicolson] succeeds gloriously in conveying the marvels of a stretch of Scottish tidal coast, mixing history, science, and precise descriptions bright with inventive metaphors and profound revelations.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Memoirist, historian, and nature writer Nicolson brings capacious erudition and acute sensitivity to his intimate investigation of the ebb, the flow, and the teeming variety of life in tidal pools...Illustrated with photographs and delicate drawings, this book is a marvel.

Library Journal (starred review)
Nicolson's lyrical history and description of one ecosystem is active, thoughtful, and inviting and will appeal to both the scientific and literary minded.

Publishers Weekly
[E]vocative...The author's wonder is infectious...As poetic as it is enlightening, this is tough to put down.

Author Blurb Nathaniel Rich, author of Second Nature
From the inner lives of prawns to the evil fairies of Morvern, Life Between the Tides is a thrillingly unclassifiable work of obsession and tenderness, introspection and deep observation. In rock pools dug with pickaxes and hammers, Adam Nicolson finds the entire universe reflected.

Author Blurb Philip Hoare, author of Albert & the Whale
The rock pools, strands and beaches between us and the sea are vibrant interzones, endlessly renewed, full of life. They are fertile, fluid places, where humans, crustaceans, seabirds, cultures and dreams exist, constantly evolving before our eyes, changing sex and shape and meaning. In his miraculous new book, Adam Nicolson brings them all together, under his expert, writerly purview. Effortlessly, in deft, sure and delightful prose, he segues through species, science and art to present tidal nature as a microcosm. The result is an utterly fascinating glimpse of a watery world we only thought we knew.

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Beyond the Book

Tidal Pools

Human-made rectangular tidal pool in Pittenweem, Fife, ScotlandTidal pools are pockets of saltwater that exist in the intertidal zone — the area in which the ocean meets the land. They are formed due to the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun, as well as the centrifugal pull of the Earth as it turns, which draws the water in gentle waves around the globe. Tides vary around the world based on the contours of the land and are categorized into three different types determined by the shape of the coastline and location: (1) diurnal, where there is just one high and one low tide daily; (2) semi-diurnal, where there are two matching high and two matching low daily tides; and (3) mixed semi-diurnal, where the two high and two low daily tides are of varying heights. Tides are also categorized in ...

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