December 26, 2017 by readingoutside
Pacific was both an interesting and frustrating book for me. In terms of oceans, I’m an Atlantic girl all the way, but I love history and travel and Simon Winchester’s books have plenty of both. (Fair warning: I’ve read most of his books and have met the author, so I am very familiar with his writing style and his personal adventures.)
I started reading Pacific when I was on a cruise along the California coast last spring. I got only partway through, and then kept picking it up and putting it down over several months until I finally told myself enough was enough, and finished the darn thing in a one-day reading blitz. Here’s the good thing about the book: it’s a big-picture history. Awesome, I get to learn about all kinds of interesting new things. Here’s the bad thing about the book: it’s a big-picture history, so any time it touches on something interesting, it immediately goes on to something else. (Although admittedly, some of funniest, most interesting nuggets are in Winchester’s famously diversionary footnotes.)
The book is structured around major events that have happened in the Pacific since the 1950s, starting with the founding of the Sony Corporation and going all the way to the more recent history of China’s naval expansion. Unfortunately, a lot of the book was about things that, while important to the history of the Pacific, aren’t really all that interesting to me. I did like learning about the origins of the North/South Korean divide, and a really juicy story involving recent Australian politics, and a Japanese academic’s attempt to save a rare albatross. The rest just felt kind of…meh. But I can see a lot of people enjoying this book, namely:
2) Dudes who love analyzing the causes of conflict.
3) Dudes who love reading about every last detail involving submarine skirmishes, atomic bomb testing, the early history of radios, and the effects of imperialism on colonial governments.
4) Dudes who want to talk endlessly about the future of Chinese involvement in the Pacific and would love to have all the info on how and why it is happening.
5) Dudes, or anyone really, who aren’t looking for emotional, character-driven stories.
That’s just about it in a nutshell. I just keep on reading Winchester’s books, because I like adventure and learning new things, even when they’re uneven in quality. It’s kind of like comfort food.