Years ago my local newspaper featured a glowing review of a book whose author up to then had been a complete stranger to me. Judging from that review, Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary sounded like a heck of a book. Not long after it was released in paperback (and hearing some great word of mouth) I purchased a copy at Powell’s. From start to finish, Winchester’s 1998 book never ceased to entertain me. Who would have thought a book about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary would make such wonderful reading?
Sadly, as much as I loved The Professor and the Madman I’ve read only one other Simon Winchester book. Back in 2011 I read his The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom and while I might not have enjoyed it as much as I did The Professor and the Madman nevertheless I found it an enjoyable read. Recently, I decided to give one of Winchester’s books a shot. Bestowed with the brief title and lengthy subtitle of Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers, sounded like a book I could sink my teeth into. And believe me, I did.
Pacific is a kind of hybrid travelogue combining history, geography, geology, climatology and international relations. In his book Winchester show readers the diversity, greatness and rising geopolitical importance of the region encompassing the world’s largest ocean. Much like science historian, broadcaster and fellow Brit James Burke, for each chapter Winchester focuses on two seemingly unrelated historical events. But in the end, after showing both their connectedness and vital significance he ties the loose ends together thus creating an informative and entertaining book.
However, I’m concerned Winchester’s book might possess a few factual errors. Early on he calls the island Guam a republic, which according to Wikipedia is “unincorporated and organized territory of the United States in Micronesia.” Later in the book, when describing the 1975 Fall of South Vietnam he describes Saigon being surrounded by Viet Cong army units as opposed to North Vietnamese troops. Lastly, he includes Germany as one of the European nations possessing colonies in South East Asia. With the exception of a few South Pacific islands and the settlement in Shandong, China Germany had no territories even close to South East Asia. (Unless of course you want to count German New Guinea.)
Lapses in fact-checking or not, Pacific is a pretty good book. It also makes a worthy companion read to Robert Kaplan’s 2010 book Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power. With Pacific under my belt, I think I’ll finally tackle Winchester’s 2010 offering Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms,and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories. If that’s the case, get ready to see yet another Simon Winchester book featured on my blog.
7 thoughts on “About Time I Read It: Pacific by Simon Winchester”
Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 by Simon Winchester was published in 2003. When Facebook had a meme going around that asked folks to “name 15 books that will always stick with you,” I put it on my list. Here’s what I wrote about it on my blog, if you are interested:
I bought Simon Winchester’s Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories (2010) for my Kindle, simply because he wrote it. Atlantic includes an excerpt from Pacific; it looks like it’s the whole Prologue. I haven’t read this book yet, but I may have to read it soon, now that you’ve reminded me I have it.
After reading Pacific I for sure now want to read Atlantic and Krakatoa. Another one I’ve been wanting to read but forgot to mention in my post is his earlier book Outposts.
Thanks for the link! Thanks also for dropping by and commenting! It’s nice to hear from you once more!!
Pacific should be required reading for every one! Stunning in scope, yet completely embraceable!
Why not? As this region continue to rise in geopolitical importance such a book becomes essential reading.
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I, too, loved The Professor and the Madman, but hadn’t thought to see if Winchester had written any other books. In part, you can blame the fact that my job requires intensely analytical reading of nonfiction, so that for pleasure I usually turn to fiction. But that isn’t always the case, and this sounds fascinating. Thanks for putting it on my radar!
Excellent! Glad I could introduce you to some of Winchester’s books other books.
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Thanks also for hosting the Backlist Reading Challenge!!
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