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The Gulf
Cover of The Gulf
The Gulf
The Making of An American Sea

In this "cri de coeur about the Gulf's environmental ruin" (New York Times), "Davis has written a beautiful homage to a neglected sea" (front page, New York Times Book Review).

Hailed as a "nonfiction epic . . . in the tradition of Jared Diamond's best-seller Collapse, and Simon Winchester's Atlantic" (Dallas Morning News), Jack E. Davis's The Gulf is "by turns informative, lyrical, inspiring and chilling for anyone who cares about the future of 'America's Sea' " (Wall Street Journal). Illuminating America's political and economic relationship with the environment from the age of the conquistadors to the present, Davis demonstrates how the Gulf's fruitful ecosystems and exceptional beauty empowered a growing nation. Filled with vivid, untold stories from the sportfish that launched Gulfside vacationing to Hollywood's role in the country's first offshore oil wells, this "vast and welltold story shows how we made the Gulf . . . [into] a 'national sacrifice zone' " (Bill McKibben). The first and only study of its kind, The Gulf offers "a unique and illuminating history of the American Southern coast and sea as it should be written" (Edward O. Wilson).

In this "cri de coeur about the Gulf's environmental ruin" (New York Times), "Davis has written a beautiful homage to a neglected sea" (front page, New York Times Book Review).

Hailed as a "nonfiction epic . . . in the tradition of Jared Diamond's best-seller Collapse, and Simon Winchester's Atlantic" (Dallas Morning News), Jack E. Davis's The Gulf is "by turns informative, lyrical, inspiring and chilling for anyone who cares about the future of 'America's Sea' " (Wall Street Journal). Illuminating America's political and economic relationship with the environment from the age of the conquistadors to the present, Davis demonstrates how the Gulf's fruitful ecosystems and exceptional beauty empowered a growing nation. Filled with vivid, untold stories from the sportfish that launched Gulfside vacationing to Hollywood's role in the country's first offshore oil wells, this "vast and welltold story shows how we made the Gulf . . . [into] a 'national sacrifice zone' " (Bill McKibben). The first and only study of its kind, The Gulf offers "a unique and illuminating history of the American Southern coast and sea as it should be written" (Edward O. Wilson).
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Awards-
About the Author-
  • 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.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from January 23, 2017
    In this comprehensive and thoroughly researched narrative, Davis, professor of history and sustainability at the University of Florida, positions the Gulf of Mexico as an integral part of American ecology, culture, and—with future good stewardship—economic success. He sprinkles geological and marine history throughout the chronicle of the coast’s demographic changes from indigenous inhabitants to European colonizers, Louisiana Cajuns, Texas roughnecks, and Florida’s tourists. Davis unflinchingly addresses the decades of oil spills, overfishing, and poor environmental practices that reduced resources. He also describes the decline of coastal marshes, which protect against hurricanes, and the erosion stemming from ill-conceived Army Corps of Engineer projects. Hurricanes Camille and Katrina and the catastrophic BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill poignantly receive their due. Davis also discusses inspired conservation efforts to combat the fashion industry’s feather fascination and subsequent decimation of snowy egrets. 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. Rather than advocate an impractical hands-off approach to dealing with the Gulf’s myriad issues, Davis makes the convincing argument that wiser, far-sighted practices—including those aimed at combating climate change—could help the Gulf region to remain a bastion of resources for the foreseeable future.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from February 1, 2017
    A sweeping environmental history of the Gulf of Mexico that duly considers the ravages of nature and man.In light of the 2010 devastation of the BP oil spill, environmental historian Davis (History and Sustainability Studies/Univ. of Florida; An Everglades Providence: Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the American Environmental Century, 2009, etc.) presents an engaging, truly relevant new study of the Gulf as a powerful agent in the American story, one that has become "lost in the pages of American history." Once the habitat of the highly developed, self-sustaining Calusa indigenous people, the rich estuary of the Gulf is the 10th largest body of water in the world, and it forms the sheltered basin that creates the warm, powerful Gulf Stream, which allowed the first explorers, such as Ponce de Leon, to make their ways back to the Old World. Davis meanders through the early history of this fascinating sea, which became a kind of graveyard to many early marooned explorers due to shipwrecks and run-ins with natives. Yet the conquistadors took little note of the abundant marine life inhabiting the waters and, unaccountably, starved. A more familiar economy was established at the delta of the muddy, sediment-rich Mississippi River, discovered by the French. The author focuses on the 19th century as the era when the Gulf finally asserted its place in the great move toward Manifest Destiny; it would "significantly enlarge the water communication of national commerce and shift the boundary of the country from vulnerable land to protective sea." The Gulf states would also become a mecca of tourism and fishing and, with the discovery of oil, enter a dire period of the "commercialization of national endowments." The story of this magnificent body of water and its wildlife grows tragic at this point--e.g., the "killing juggernaut" of Gulf wading birds to obtain fashionable feathers. Still, it remains an improbable, valiant survival tale in the face of the BP oil spill and ongoing climate change. An elegant narrative braced by a fierce, sobering environmental conviction.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from January 1, 2017

    "If Jefferson's West was the land of the nation's manifest destiny, the Gulf was its sea." So argues Davis (history, Univ. of Florida; An Everglades Providence) in this magnificent chronicle of the Gulf of Mexico. Spanning a period from the gulf's geological formation to the present, this book is organized around the "natural characteristics of the Gulf" (i.e., its fauna, flora, weather, and landscape). The stories of the Europeans--the Spanish, who found the gulf; the French, who discovered its connection to the Mississippi; and the British, who began to map it--will be familiar to many readers, but Davis's retelling still sticks. The core of the title, though, concerns "America's Gulf" in the 19th century onward: when the Coastal Survey finished charting the coast; when the area's first real industry, commercial fishing, flourished; when sport fishing and beach tourism became popular; and when the petroleum industry took off. Environmental perturbations followed. And lost, like artifacts in the Florida aboriginal Calusa's shell mounds, was the lesson of holding a "prudent relationship with nature." VERDICT 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.--Robert Eagan, Windsor P.L., Ont.

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Gerard Helferich;Wall Street Journal A wide-ranging, well-told story, by turns informative, lyrical, inspiring and chilling for anyone who cares about the future of 'America's Sea.'
  • Dwight Garner;New York Times A sensitive and sturdy work of environmental history. . . . [Davis] has a well-stocked mind, and frequently views the history of the Gulf through the prism of artists and writers including Winslow Homer, Wallace Stevens, Ernest Hemingway and John D. MacDonald. His prose is supple and clear. . . . A cri de coeur about the Gulf's environmental ruin.
  • Darcy Frey, Harvard University An astonishing work of environmental history, sweeping in its narrative scope while also being wonderfully intimate in its richness of detail. The march of history and the vibrancy of place live on its every page, and the environmental story it tells could not make for more urgent reading in these perilous times.
  • Blake Bailey, author of Cheever 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.
  • William J. Cobb;Dallas Morning News In the tradition of Jared Diamond's best-seller Collapse and Simon Winchester's Atlantic comes Jack E. Davis' nonfiction epic, The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea, which strives both to celebrate and defend its subject—the Gulf of Mexico. . . . Detailed and exhaustive, written in lucid, impeccable prose, The Gulf is a fine work of information and insight, destined to be admired and cited.
  • Edward O. Wilson, author of The Social Conquest of Earth 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.
  • John M Barry, author of Rising Tide and The Great Influenza The Gulf starts with the geology of plate tectonics, proceeds through Indian settlements before the arrivals of Europeans, advances to hurricanes, the Dead Zone, and oil pollution, then analyzes the future. And it does all this very, very well. Books which attempt such comprehensive treatments of a subject are too often, as the saying goes, a mile wide and an inch deep. This book is 1,000 miles wide and 10,000 feet deep. It's an extraordinary achievement.
  • Robert Eagan;Library Journal (starred review) [A] magnificent chronicle of the Gulf of Mexico. . . . A work of astonishing breadth: richly peopled, finely structured, beautifully written. It should appeal equally to Gulf coast residents and snowbirds, students of environmental history, and general readers.
  • Jordan Fisher Smith, author of Engineering Eden and Nature Noir With the narrative force of the Gulf Stream, Jack E. Davis takes readers to an unforgettable geography of wonders, oddities, and characters famous and unknown. Davis's writing shimmers with salt haze, delights like a flock of pelicans, and threatens like oil on a white sand beach. If you thought you knew the Gulf, guess again. If this is your introduction to it, lucky you.
  • Bill McKibben, author Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet 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.
  • Cynthia Barnett, author of Rain: A Natural and Cultural History Steering seamlessly between nature writing and historical narrative, Davis offers an elegant epic of how America's relationship with the Gulf of Mexico defines our character and our future.
  • Henry L. Carrigan;Bookpage Vivid. . . . As Davis demonstrates in this absorbing narrative, the history of the Gulf teaches us that nature is most generous whenever we respect its sovereignty.
  • Gilbert Taylor;Booklist, Starred review A perceptive historical survey of America's Gulf Coast, this fascinating work accents the region's nexus between nature and civilization. . . . Marked by thorough knowledge and fluid writing, this work will enhance any collection of American and environmental history.
  • Publishers Weekly, starred review Comprehensive and thoroughly researched. . . . Davis makes the convincing argument that wiser, far-sighted practices—including those aimed at combating climate change—could...
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