The Reef: A Passionate History

Author(s): Iain McCalman


The Great Barrier Reef, argues Iain McCalman, has been created by human minds as well as coral polyps, by imaginations as well as natural processes.  In this landmark book he charts our shifting perceptions of it, from the terrifying labyrinth that almost sunk Cook's Endeavour to a fragile global treasure.The Reef describes twelve key encounters between people, places, ideas and biosystems.  In the nineteenth century the region was infamous for shipwrecks, and when Indigenous clans rescued survivors like Eliza Fraser, their actions were misrepresented in the popular press.  Later, the whole world caught the fiery debate between Darwinists and creationists over the origins of this colossal structure.  Artists and visionaries celebrated its beauty and fought its exploitation; marine scientists catalogued the threats to its existence.The first social, cultural and environmental history of this World Heritage-listed site, The Reef is an effortlessly readable work by a born storyteller. 'An important and most timely book - a sparkling synthesis of science, history and politics.' Henry Reynolds'Iain McCalman blends art and science brilliantly to show how coral lives and dies, and how over two centuries people perceived the most colourful thing on earth, the Great Barrier Reef, until coral health is now the very barometer of our future.' Bill Gammage'Brilliant, beautiful, a hymn to the past, present and increasingly uncertain future of one of the world's greatest treasures. The Reef is necessary reading for anyone who cares about the future of the ocean.' James Bradley'History doesn't get any more lively than this. A stylish, racing read, The Reef surprises with every turn of the page, investing one of the world's greatest natural structures with human drama. In almost cinematic episodes that veer from scientific epiphany to physical brutality, from the eighteenth century to our own conflicted age, McCalman introduces an amazing cast of characters. In the process - and it's a very entertaining one - he creates an entirely new account of a natural marvel, couched in gripping historical narrative, both witty and rigorously scholarly, sweepingly grand and vividly detailed.' Philip Hoare, author of Leviathan, winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize'McCalman's book reminds us that the Great Barrier Reef, a treasure that covers 348,000 square kilometres and includes about 1000 islands and cays and 3500 individual stretches of reef, is in our care, and that we might not be doing a very good job.' Saturday Age'McCalman's tone shifts from the boy's own adventure, scientific excitement and scamming of early encounters, to dizzying disaster-epic suspense. But never for a moment does his literary skill falter. His detailed explanation of marine science is a model of translation for the layman. And his respect for Indigenous people is a model of intercultural translation . . . He describes the Indigenous view of events without exoticising the individuals he talks to. Nostalgia permeates the book, for ancestral lands lost and for what we all might be losing now.' The Guardian


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Iain McCalman was born in Nyasaland, Africa in 1947 and now lives in Sydney, where he is research professor at the University of Sydney. He has held numerous visiting research fellowships in Britain and the United States, including at All Souls, Oxford, and most recently at the Californian University of Technology, Pasadena. In 1994 he was awarded the inaugural Vice-Chancellor's Award for Teaching Excellence at the Australian National University, and in 2007 he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for services to history and the humanities. His previous books include The Seven Ordeals of Count Cagliostro, which has been translated into twelve languages, and he has been a historical consultant and narrator for a number of documentaries and films.

General Fields

  • : 9780143572053
  • : Penguin Books Australia
  • : Penguin Books Australia
  • : 0.417
  • : May 2014
  • : June 2014
  • : February 2019
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Iain McCalman
  • : Paperback
  • : 1
  • : en
  • : 416