The best books on human's relationships with the underwater world

Helen M. Rozwadowski Author Of Vast Expanses: A History of the Oceans
By Helen M. Rozwadowski

The Books I Picked & Why

The Deep Range

By Arthur C. Clarke

The Deep Range

Why this book?

This sci-fi romp by an author more famous for space fiction takes an unusual dive into the ocean’s depths, where pole-to-pole zones of plankton cultivation and whale ranching provide food to feed the earth’s enlarged population. Using a typical trope of maritime fiction, Arthur C. Clarke introduces readers to this future world through a neophyte whale warden whose past as a spaceman colors his experiences and perceptions of his new ocean surroundings. Compared with outer space, Clarke’s ocean is fuller of resources, and also more mysterious, but emerges as a place that promises to foster peace and understanding.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Neptune's Laboratory: Fantasy, Fear, and Science at Sea

By Antony Adler

Neptune's Laboratory: Fantasy, Fear, and Science at Sea

Why this book?

The title Neptune’s Laboratory invokes knowledge of the oceans through science alongside the equally central role imagination has played in the human relationship with the sea. Antony Adler astutely observes how its mirror-like qualities encouraged scientists, politicians, and the public since the early 19th century to use the ocean to spin utopian fantasies and explore dystopian fears. Most importantly, he reminds readers that our propensity to fathom oceans to project the fate of the human species and our planet offers an important key: imagination could chart a course toward a better future.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Undercurrents of Power: Aquatic Culture in the African Diaspora

By Kevin Dawson

Undercurrents of Power: Aquatic Culture in the African Diaspora

Why this book?

This important and revealing book conveys the untold history of West Africans and their relationship with the ocean, including the underwater realm, from before New World slavery and extending around the Atlantic as enslaved African swimmers and divers carried their skills and the culture associated with them in the African diaspora. Kevin Dawson’s story is not only fascinating but also firmly discredits the false and insidious belief that Blacks are naturally poor swimmers and demonstrates instead the long and proud traditions of West African knowledge and use of the undersea.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Mr. Limpet

By Theodore Pratt

Mr. Limpet

Why this book?

This fantasy by the prolific and well-known American novelist Theodore Pratt follows the adventures of a bespectacled bookkeeper who becomes a fish, serves the American navy during the Second World War, and swims off to evolve a better species of humanity, free of those qualities that provoked global conflict. Reflecting scientific and popular embrace of the idea that life, including the human species, evolved from the sea, Mr. Limpet combines pointed commentary and humor with the growing cultural fascination of the undersea prompted by submarine warfare. Rare today because of its publication shortly after American entry into the war, the novel inspired the more well-known 1963 film The Incredible Mr. Limpet.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Coral Empire: Underwater Oceans, Colonial Tropics, Visual Modernity

By Ann Elias

Coral Empire: Underwater Oceans, Colonial Tropics, Visual Modernity

Why this book?

Ann Elias demonstrates how visual media – photography, film, art, and museum displays – re-cast coral reefs in the early 20th century from dangers to navigation into fantastical but familiar and inviting spectacles. Coral Empire reveals photographers, artists, and scientific explorers as they rendered the undersea modern yet colonial. Using technology, indigenous knowledge, and their own visions, they presented the oceans as wild, untouched spaces full of resources that invited exploitation, conquest, and tourism. Desire-fueled uses of the undersea obscured the destructive nature of human activities on coral reefs, now abundantly apparent, while the power of the visual for imagining and knowing the undersea remains.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Random Book Lists