** The Reef by Iain McCalman


From the cover illustration, I thought that The Reef: A Passionate History: The Great Barrier Reef from Captain Cook to Climate Change would offer beautiful iconography of corals and tropical fish — but I should have heeded the subtitle: the book is focused on the history of the reef, and especially the likelihood that it may disappear entirely, corals dying in too-warm waters. If you are a history buff you will probably like the book more than I did!

The book is organized in a series of chapters that tell of various explorers and scientists, going back all the way to Captain Cook’s perilous exploration of shallow waters, deadly for wooden boats, and his crew’s skirmishes with the locals as it captures turtles and generally behaves out of sync with the local customs.  Both navigation and couture-clash issues will persist for centuries. My favorite parts of the books were the stories of the scientists who studied and classified corals. I did not realize until I read the book that corals take multiple forms, so much so that it’s very easy to think that an unusual form is a new, separate species. I would have loved to see more of the gorgeous illustrations that appear sparingly and, alas, in back and white only in the book.

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