This lively, detailed, and unabashedly Eurocentric history of the interaction between navigators, castaways, scientists, and the Great Barrier Reef tells a story of place through the biographies and first-person accounts of the notable individuals who have encountered the Reef. McCalman (Darwin’s Armada) delivers the facts with a deft blend of Robinson Crusoe–like adventure tale, hearty sea shanty, and society gossip rag. The dozen stories start with James Cook’s 1770 “discovery” of the massive coral structures around New Holland, move through William Kent’s 1880s research projects as the first “scientist-photographer” (which gave the Western world an understanding of the Reef’s beauty), and reach the present day as coral expert Charlie Veron tells the Royal Society that greenhouse gases are killing the reefs—“the canaries of climate change”—and acidifying of the oceans. While McCalman briefly acknowledges Aboriginal Australians—as travel companions on a BBC-funded recreation of Cook’s voyage—the indigenous point of view is notably missing, with the native people of Australia only described through outsider reports as noble savages or fearsome cannibals. Though McCalman successfully brings his exploring protagonists from the historical record into life, the choices of stories this piece tells lean unnecessarily toward colonialist exoticism. B&w illus. (June)
Reviewed on: 03/31/2014 Release date: 05/20/2014 Genre: Nonfiction
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