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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What I'm Reading: The Wave

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the OceanRecently, I finished listening to The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey.  This is a general interest nonfiction book which looks at the history, science, and sport of the largest waves.

Appeal:  I want to talk about this book only in terms of its appeal because really, the plot (summarized above in one sentence) is not why you would or would not read The Wave.

First, the book begins, ends, and spends much time in the middle, recounting the big name, big wave spots around the world for tow surfing and the reigning king of the sport Laird Hamilton.  Surfing is the book's frame.  Casey spends a lot of time outlining the details of the sport, introduces the reader to its most interesting characters, and describes the vistas, fury, and chaos at the big surfing spots.  If you are not interested in surfing, you may still enjoy this book, but the surfing detail could overwhelm you.

The rest of the book revolves around rogue waves and the havoc they unleash on the shipping and oil drilling industries.  Casey goes to conferences where scientists share the newest data and research in waves.  Her non-scientific background (she is a journalist and magazine editor) means that the reader can understand what is going on.  She also puts a spotlight on wave forecasting, which is woefully inadequate.

But where Casey shines is in her telling of instances where rogue waves probably caused ship wrecks and near wrecks. Casey refuses to believe the prevailing notions that 100 foot waves can never happen.  She uses her research to prove she is right.  This has huge implications on the entire world, as boats and oil drilling platforms are not made to sustain 100 foot waves, yet, as Casey saw, they happen more often than we thought.  Her recreations of these events were stunning.

Which leads me to another appeal of The Wave, Casey herself.  Her writing is very engaging.  This is nonfiction with a focus on the storytelling.  But it goes beyond this.  Casey inserts herself into the story where possible.  We experience a rogue wave with her; she shares her personal feelings, the awe, the fear, the rush.  She is in danger, she is on the ocean, she is on a ship in the middle of an angry ocean, and she brings the reader with her.  She is able to seamlessly move between these intimate moments and her scientific and historical narrative with ease.

Above all else, though, The Wave is a book about nature's overwhelming power.  This is a story of how humans cannot control nature, no matter how much science we learn.  It is a book both about the people who respect that notion and those who do not.  It is a story of huge victories and great defeats.  No matter onto which side you fall, the reader cannot escape the power of the ocean when reading this book.

Finally, a note about the narrator.  She is excellent; both serious and personal when it is called for.  However, since I was listening, I could not "skim" the parts that were less interesting to me (in my case the information and details about surfing) and I felt that the book dragged in spots.  I do not think I would have felt this way at all if I was reading the book in print, as I could have easily moved past the parts I did not find compelling and then pick back up when my interest piqued.  So, my advice is that unless you think you will be drawn to the history, science, AND surfing, read this book, do not listen.

Overall, I am very glad I read this book.  I learned quite a bit about the ocean. I have always been drawn to the ocean, am intrigued by it, and generally visit 2 different oceans a year. Also, my thrid grader is currently obsessed with tsunamis, so I was already primed for a book about giant waves.  Ironically, the book is less about events like tsunamis and more about the occurrence of the surprise giant wave.  If you have any interest in the ocean, waves, or ship wrecks, you will find something to enjoy in Casey's book.

Three Words That Describe This Book: power of nature, history, surfing

Readalikes: The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger is referred to in The Wave.  It is a great choice.  Clive Cussler is also mentioned here and any of his Dirk Pitt adventure novels which almost always revolve around a ship wreck are a great choice for fans of the ocean appeal of this book.

Further books which are good for those who like the ocean/sea vessel appeal of this story are Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander Series, Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz, and In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick.  It is important to note that these three suggestions also share a strong storytelling aspect with The Wave.

I also think you cannot underestimate how many people will enjoy this book's underlying theme of the overwhelming power of nature.  Other books that share this appeal but do not necessarily feature the ocean are The Big Burn by Timothy Egan, Into Thin Air by John Krakauer, and Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing.

1 comment:

Becker said...

I also listened to this one,and really enjoyed it, but found myself tracking down a copy of the book so that I could check out the pictures, which also added to the experience of the book for me.