The best books on the power of the ocean

Who am I?

I romantically believe that the sea runs in my blood. On the Norwegian side of my family, my grandfather was a boat builder, and my uncle a whaler. I’m a surfer, and I’ve worked in whale and dolphins conservation for many years. So I’m drawn to the ocean and – as work and family duties keep me inland more than I’d like – when unable to get in or on the water, I get my fix with salty tales; some of which I read and some of which I write. The books on this list are all classics, in my view; they all speak to the enigma of the ocean; an ever-changing scape, full of alien life. I hope you enjoy them, and also Girl. Boy. Sea.

I wrote...

Girl. Boy. Sea.

By Chris Vick,

Book cover of Girl. Boy. Sea.

What is my book about?

A British boy narrowly survives the sinking of his yacht in a huge storm off the coast of Morocco. After days alone at sea in a tiny rowing boat Bill rescues a girl clinging for her life to a barrel. Aya, from the nomadic Berber tribe, was escaping to Europe when her migrant ship was destroyed in the same storm. Aya tells Bill about The Arabian Nights, and Shahrazad, who told 1001 stories to save her life. As hope of rescue begins to fade, they find strength in these tales of magic, brave heroes, and courageous girls.

When they land on a desert island, they're surprised to be confronted by a stranger who is not what he seems... and back out on the waves once more in the dark deep, a shadow follows...

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The books I picked & why

Life of Pi

By Yann Martel,

Book cover of Life of Pi

Why did I love this book?

The terror and beauty of the ocean, and survival theme, made Life of Pi a huge influence, when I wrote my book.

It really focuses the question of who you really are and what you might do to survive – when you are alone, lost, and totally unsure of your future. The difference is that in my book, there are two human characters rather than one. As with Life of Pi, animals – and our relationship to them – feature heavily too.

Life of Pi is a wonderful, surreal, and unsetting book. It is in a grand tradition of oceanic survival tales and is one of the best.

By Yann Martel,

Why should I read it?

19 authors picked Life of Pi as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After the sinking of a cargo ship, a solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen-year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan—and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger.

Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi Patel, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with the tiger, Richard Parker, for 227 days while lost at sea. When they finally reach the coast of Mexico, Richard Parker flees to the jungle, never to be seen again. The Japanese authorities who interrogate Pi refuse to believe his…

Lord of the Flies

By William Golding,

Book cover of Lord of the Flies

Why did I love this book?

Another big influence, but not the sea this time. Instead, we get survival and essential character questions in an island setting.

I love how this book uses the island, and the society the lost boys create, both as a microcosm of civilised society, and – paradoxically – as a study of what can happen when the order, rules that govern and protect basic human decency are removed. 

I like that LOTF does not tell us what to think. It does open up a lot of soul-searching questions.

By William Golding,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Lord of the Flies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A plane crashes on a desert island and the only survivors, a group of schoolboys, assemble on the beach and wait to be rescued. By day they inhabit a land of bright fantastic birds and dark blue seas, but at night their dreams are haunted by the image of a terrifying beast. As the boys' delicate sense of order fades, so their childish dreams are transformed into something more primitive, and their behaviour starts to take on a murderous, savage significance.

First published in 1954, Lord of the Flies is one of the most celebrated and widely read of modern…

Book cover of The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean

Why did I love this book?

A non-fiction deep dive into the power of the ocean and those obsessed with riding the largest waves.

This is a wide-ranging book; exploring a history of wave destruction, some detail on the science of waves; in particular why it is so difficult to predict when freak waves will occur, before giving us a more human story of the big wave riders who constantly push the boundaries of what we think a surfer can do.

By Susan Casey,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Wave as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The have long been mariners' tales of 100-foot rogue waves - gargantuan monsters that sink super-tankers in the blink of an eye.

But waves that high violate the laws of physics, so science has dismissed them as myth. Until now.

In February 2000 the research ship, RRS Discovery, was trapped by a vortex of mammoth waves in the North Atlantic. Amazingly the ship survived and its state-of-the-art equipment registered waves nearing 100-feet. Something scary is brewing in the planet's waters. And with 72% of earth covered by sea, this is serious business.

Cut to Maui, Hawaii, a surf mecca where…

Book cover of To The Edge Of The World

Why did I love this book?

This is a beautiful story, simple yet profound. It’s about young, innocent, and a wee bit naïve Jamie, led to adventure by troubled but brave Mara.

The adventure takes us to St. Kilda’s, the remotest inhabited Scottish island. The island, the sea, and the quest to explore are used as metaphors for mystery and the pull of the unknown.

By Julia Green,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked To The Edge Of The World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A beautifully written tale of courage, friendship, and survival.
Imagine a tiny island far out in the Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Scotland. On some days, you can hardly see where the sea ends and the land begins, everything merged in a blue-grey mist of sea spray and wind-blown sand. There is nothing between here and America. I say nothing, but what I mean, of course, is nothing but ocean. And about sixty-five kilometres out to sea, one last remote outcrop of islands and sea stacks, with the highest sea cliffs anywhere in the UK-St Kilda. Distant,

Why the Whales Came

By Michael Morpurgo,

Book cover of Why the Whales Came

Why did I love this book?

There are only a few characters, and a very distinct, small setting (the Scilly Isles), but as always Morpurgo packs a great deal in.

 Family relations, small-minded community prejudice, the effect and impact of war, myth, the power of land and seascape, the meaning of nationhood, all wonderfully threaded into a simple tale that builds and builds to a perfect ending.

 And of course, being a Morpurgo tale, it is beautifully written.

By Michael Morpurgo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Why the Whales Came as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An exciting historical adventure from War Horse author and former Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo.

Gracie and her friend Daniel have always been warned to stay away from the Birdman and his side of the island. But then they find a message in the sand and discover the Birdman is not who they thought. They build up a lovely friendship with him, but when the children get stranded on Samson Island they don't know whether to believe the birdman's story that the island is cursed.

Set against the backdrop of the First World War, in the tradition of Friend or Foe…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in survival, utopian, and surfing?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about survival, utopian, and surfing.

Survival Explore 161 books about survival
Utopian Explore 58 books about utopian
Surfing Explore 20 books about surfing

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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