The Gulf : The Making of an American Sea
by Jack E. Davis

Overview -

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.  Read more...

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More About The Gulf by Jack E. Davis

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.

  • ISBN-13: 9780871408662
  • ISBN-10: 087140866X
  • Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
  • Publish Date: March 2017
  • Page Count: 608
  • Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.15 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Nature > Ecosystems & Habitats - Coastal Regions & Shorelines
Books > History > United States - State & Local - South
Books > History > World - General

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2017-01-23
  • Reviewer: Staff

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, andwith future good stewardshipeconomic success. He sprinkles geological and marine history throughout the chronicle of the coasts demographic changes from indigenous inhabitants to European colonizers, Louisiana Cajuns, Texas roughnecks, and Floridas 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 industrys 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 Daviss thought-provoking commentary and keen descriptions. Rather than advocate an impractical hands-off approach to dealing with the Gulfs myriad issues, Davis makes the convincing argument that wiser, far-sighted practicesincluding those aimed at combating climate changecould help the Gulf region to remain a bastion of resources for the foreseeable future. (Mar.)

BookPage Reviews

Troubled waters

The vastness and untamed energy of oceans, seas and lakes both fascinate and frighten us. Two new books explore our complex relationships with iconic American bodies of water.

In his vivid The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea, University of Florida historian Jack E. Davis narrates the history of the Gulf of Mexico from its origins in the Pleistocene epoch and its flourishing aboriginal cultures—still evident in burial and ceremonial mounds. Davis traces various eras of exploration and conquest by Spanish, British and French explorers, the development of towns on the Gulf as tourist destinations in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and oil booms and ecological catastrophes of the late 20th century. Along the way, we meet figures who shaped the history of the Gulf: ethnologist Frank Hamilton Cushing, who explored the ancient mounds; 16th-century Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca; and Randy Wayne White, the fishing guide (and bestselling author) whose promotion of the tarpon lured hundreds of anglers to the Gulf Coast.

Though Gulf waters once teemed with “crabs, shrimp, and curious jumping fish called the mullet,” by the mid-20th century, the thirst for development had disastrous consequences. In the 1960s, many scientists recommended eradicating mangroves, which prevent erosion, in order to build condominiums closer to the water. When beaches began to erode, communities built seawalls, which actually worsened the problem. As Davis demonstrates in this absorbing narrative, the history of the Gulf teaches us that nature is most generous whenever we respect its sovereignty.

The Great Lakes span 94,000 square miles and provide 20 percent of the world’s supply of fresh water. Yet, as award-winning journalist Dan Egan points out in The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, these inland seas face challenges unimaginable when explorer Jean Nicolet first paddled across Lake Huron in the 17th century. At that time, the Great Lakes were isolated from the Atlantic, unreachable by boat not only because of their unnavigable shorelines but also because of the challenges of crossing waterfalls. With the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, begun in 1955, ships gained what Egan calls a “front door” to the lakes, turning cities like Chicago into inland ports.

By the mid-20th century, industrial and municipal pollution created dead zones in the lakes. While the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972 prompted some recovery, the law didn’t prevent ships from dumping contaminated ballast. Egan chronicles the ways that such pollution has decimated native fish populations, created toxic algae outbreaks and introduced the DNA of non-native species into the lakes. In this compelling account, Egan issues a clarion call for re-imagining the future of the Great Lakes.


This article was originally published in the March 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

BAM Customer Reviews