The Gulf: The Making of An American Sea

by Jack E. Davis

Hardcover, 2017





Liveright, (2017).


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. Based on the premise that nature lies at the center of human existence, Davis 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, both beautiful and life-giving, though fated to exploitation by esurient oil men and real-estate developers. Davis shares previously untold stories, parading a vast array of historical characters past our view: sports-fishermen, presidents, Hollywood executives, New England fishers, the Tabasco king, a Texas shrimper, and a New York architect who caught the "big one". Sensitive to the imminent effects of climate change, and to the difficult task of rectifying the assaults of recent centuries, this book suggests how a penetrating examination of a single region's history can inform the country's path ahead. --… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Stbalbach
The Gulf is that awkward kind of history, about a large body of water that in the worse form can amount to a collection of trivia and an authors travelogue. But Jack E. Davis (professor of History, U of FL) takes the task seriously and provides something more substantial and unforgettable. There are micro-histories about individual towns and islands, environmental histories of mango forests and fisheries, and biographies of artists and explorers. The Gulf itself is the main character stretching from South Texas to Key West it emerges in distinct form in beautiful prose. The story moves chronologically through time describing the abundance followed by the fall post World War II and the ongoing environmental calamity brought on by unimpeded growth. One only has to view Google Maps in places like Coral Gables to see what hath been wrought, once a lush mango forest teeming with life and now veneered with concrete, chemicals and canals. With that said, this is being called an "environmental book" but that is hard to avoid when writing about a geographic place, the environment is central to any place. It is more than an "environmental book", though that aspect does leave an impression this is a complete and whole work about the Gulf that anyone who has been there will be glad to have read to gain a better understanding of this amazing place.… (more)
LibraryThing member muddyboy
A magnificent study on the history and abuse of the Gulf of Mexico. A tremendous amount of research went into this (both primary and secondary sources). We start with the Spanish conquistadors right down to the present time. There is over fishing, over hunting (birds mostly), massive pollution and many other issues. Though he is not specifically trying to make this point this is a powerful testimony to the damage mankind does to nature and if left alone these problems seem to correct themselves if people are not involved. It is all about human greed. A great book.… (more)
LibraryThing member zmagic69
This was a fascinating account of the Gulf of Mexico. It blended early history of how it was formed, how it affected, Spanish, British, and French explorers, how so much of the coast came under United States control, and why this so important to America’s economic future.
It of course also covers everything man has done to destroy it.
The oil spills
Chemical spills
Massive amounts of chemicals, fertilizers, and other industrial waste that is routinely dumped- either directly in it, or by rivers flowing into it.
The author isn’t to preachy about how evil humans are and how it would great if we all went back to living the way we did 400 years ago, although he would probably advocate for it.
The problem with environmentalists and other nature alarmists is that to get their point across, or get heard they tend to blow up or exaggerate or always go with the worst possible scenario of what will happen, or what has happened.
This strategy is fine if what you are predicting is going to take place a hundred years or more from now, if the claim is in 5 years this is what will happen, but if the evidence doesn’t support what is said people don’t take the environmentalists seriously.
After the Deepwater Horizon explosion every science expert in the world painted an apocalyptic future of the Gulf and then turned out to be somewhat, mostly or completely wrong, or had wildly overblown the outcome. Again this is why there is so much doubt when hearing from “the experts” about the environment, climate change, the oceans health etc.
This is also not a Democrat or Republican is issue, and to make it such doesn’t help the situation. The Deepwater Horizon explosion took place when Obama was president and had filled the EPA with liberal doomsday sayers, and yet, the EPA was nearly as complicit in the disaster and the aftermath as BP.
Back to the book, the author does an great job showing the oftentimes gradual destroying of the coast in every state on the Gulf, and explaining what and why it is important to the future and health of the Gulf.
I highly recommend this book.
… (more)
LibraryThing member bogopea
Fascinating. Eye opening. Frightening. Heartbreaking. Haunting.
LibraryThing member ibkennedy
Interesting start but becoming tedious
LibraryThing member ebethe
A good read throughout, an excellent read sometimes. Good history and stories.
LibraryThing member Schmerguls
5724. The Gulf The Making of an American Sea, by Jack E. Davis (read 12 Dec 2020) (Pulitzer History prize for 2018) This is the 57th winner of the Pulitzer History prize which I have read. Which seems lot quite a few, but 93 books have won that prize, so I will not get all of them read. This one I did not find unfailingly interesting, For one thing, it jumped around a lot and I prefer my history to begin at the beginning and go to the end. This book did begin at the beginning but wandered around, back and forth. It spent lots of pages showing the mistakes made with the environment, up to the present. Since the 2011 explosion was a major event I thought it would be given a full account, but it was not really set out as to what happened though it was glancingly referred to. Some of the history related was of interest but I often read not very interesting stuff not very pertinent, I thought, to the history of the Gulf of Mexico. It does seem clear that money or profit was often allowed to be more significant than the effect on the environment.… (more)


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Local notes

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Non-circulating
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