The World’s Oceans: Geography, History, and Environment. Edited by Rainer F. Buschmann and Lance Nolde. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2018. 434 p. Acid-free $94 (ISBN 978-1-4408-4351-8). E-book Available (978-1-4408-4352-5), call for pricing.

“Moving the world’s oceans to a central role, from the role of empty space between the continents” (p. ix-x) and a goal of “uniting research in natural and social sciences with the humanities under an overarching theme of history” (p. X), as described in the introduction, are perhaps not what one might anticipate from the title, in which history is sandwiched between more science-based topics. Still, this work may serve to broaden the perspective students who are predominantly engaged by either the humanities or by the sciences.

The first section of the book is a set of thematic essays starting with the oceans in alphabetical order followed by a selection of issues shared by all of those regions in no discernable order. This feels more valuable as a collection of essays than as a reference work. The second section of the book comprises alphabetical topical entries. These are generally well written, interesting, and enhanced by cross-references. The authors acknowledge the constraints placed on the range of topics by the one-volume format. This is a constraint for potential purchasers to keep in mind as well since it limits breadth and depth.

The two references in the essay “Music and Seafarers” (p. 310–13) to specific versions of songs, as if the reader could see them, are a bit concerning: “In the following version…,” for example, does not appear to be followed by any version of any song. This is a minor flaw as it does not reflect a lack of editorial attention overall. The indexing is fair, but the first section especially would benefit from greater thoroughness and detail. There is no distinction in the indexing between minor and major references, nor for the presence of images. Figures and images are sparse, and all are black and white. Lists of further reading throughout support its value as a reference work, though the sources listed are of somewhat uneven quality.

Comparable works largely are of more limited scope, geographically or topically, are not focused on history, or are not reference works. The Encyclopedia of Ocean Sciences, 3rd edition, edited by Cochran, Bokuniewicz, and Yaeger (Academic Press, 2019) retains its place as one of the preeminent reference works on oceans, but at $3,750, it is a much larger investment. It emphasizes sciences, as the name suggests, with history and other subjects in a supporting role. Current historical works about oceans are not scarce, but most or all are not reference works and place substantially less emphasis on natural and social sciences. Cunliffe’s On the Ocean: the Mediterranean and the Atlantic (Oxford, 2017) is limited in scope geographically and incorporates natural sciences only as needed. The images are colorful, generous, and engaging, and the glossary and index are strong, but the further reading is stashed away in the back where readers must actively seek it out. Paine’s The Sea and Civilization (Vintage, 2013) is global in scope, is well indexed, and has substantial references but is not science oriented nor arranged or intended as a reference work.

While occupying an unusual intellectual space, two concerns about The World’s Oceans are the brevity and the arrangement. While the single volume format reduces costs and the need for shelf space, it also limits depth and completeness. Where the prioritization of history informed by the natural and social sciences would be a valuable approach, The World’s Oceans is worthy of consideration for lower-level undergraduates or advanced high school students.—Lisa Euster, Librarian, Washington State Department of Ecology, Lacey, Washington


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