The best sea books

11 authors have picked their favorite books about seas and why they recommend each book.

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Middle Passage

By Charles Johnson,

Book cover of Middle Passage

The question of how to portray a historical atrocity like slavery in a work of fiction is obviously monumental. Toni Morrison, Gayl Jones, Colson Whitehead, and John Keene have approached this with consummate brilliance by writing the experience and subjectivity of enslaved and formerly-enslaved people. Johnson, however, focuses on the perpetrators: the men who engage in and profit from the capture and trafficking of other human beings. As in Mantel’s novel, the choice of the protagonist is key. Rutherford Calhoun is a ne’er-do-well free Black man from New Orleans who runs away on a ship to escape debts and engagement to a woman whose love he hasn’t done much to deserve. It turns out this ship is bound for Africa to collect a cargo of people, members of the Allmuseri tribe, an ethnicity Johnson invented for his fiction. But along with the people, they are also collecting something much more…

Middle Passage

By Charles Johnson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Middle Passage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Celebrating Fifty Years of Picador Books

Winner of the National Book Award 1990

The Apocalypse would definitely put a crimp in my career plans.

Rutherford Calhoun, a puckish rogue and newly freed slave, spends his days loitering around the docks of New Orleans, dodging debt collectors, gangsters, and Isadora Bailey, a prim and frugal woman who seeks to marry him and curb his mischievous instincts. When the heat from these respective pursuers becomes too much to bear, he cons his way on to the next ship leaving the dock: the Republic. Upon boarding, to his horror he discovers that he…


Who am I?

I’ve always been interested in history. I grew up in London, where there's a lot of it. But what made me want to write fiction about the past was experiences of imaginative affinity for certain other times and places. My first book is set during World War One. I've always felt connected to the change in sensibility that many people went through then, from an optimistic, moralistic, Victorian outlook, in which, to quote Paul Fussell from The Great War and Modern Memory, people “believed in Progress and Art and in no way doubted the benignity even of technology” to an understanding that human beings and our societies contained deeper, more persistent shadows. 


I wrote...

The Last Summer of the World

By Emily Mitchell,

Book cover of The Last Summer of the World

What is my book about?

In the summer of 1918, with the Germans threatening Paris, Edward Steichen arrives in France to photograph the war for the American army. There, he finds a country filled with poignant memories for him: early artistic success, marriage, the birth of two daughters, and a love affair that divided his family. Told with elegance and transporting historical sensitivity, Emily Mitchell’s first novel captures the life of a great American artist caught in the reckoning of a painful past in a world beset by war.

A Finalist for the New York Public Library's Young Lion's Fiction Award and named a Best Book of the Year by the Providence Journal, the Austin-American-Stateman, and the Madison Capital Times.

Neptune's Laboratory

By Antony Adler,

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

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.

Neptune's Laboratory

By Antony Adler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Neptune's Laboratory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An eyewitness to profound change affecting marine environments on the Newfoundland coast, Antony Adler argues that the history of our relationship with the ocean lies as much in what we imagine as in what we discover.

We have long been fascinated with the oceans, seeking "to pierce the profundity" of their depths. In studying the history of marine science, we also learn about ourselves. Neptune's Laboratory explores the ways in which scientists, politicians, and the public have invoked ocean environments in imagining the fate of humanity and of the planet-conjuring ideal-world fantasies alongside fears of our species' weakness and ultimate…


Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated with the ocean starting when I was a kid growing up on the Great Lakes. While I sailed and swam in Lake Erie’s freshwater, I dreamed of and read about oceans. My career as a historian and writer has been dedicated to exploring the human relationship with the ocean, especially the underwater realm so often left out of maritime history and literature. My greatest joy is that other historians have joined my quest. The books I’ve selected include some I used as sources in writing ocean history and others by historians who are themselves plumbing the ocean’s depths. 


I wrote...

Vast Expanses: A History of the Oceans

By Helen M. Rozwadowski,

Book cover of Vast Expanses: A History of the Oceans

What is my book about?

Much of human experience can be distilled to saltwater: tears, sweat, and an enduring connection to the sea. Vast Expanses weaves a cultural, environmental, and geopolitical history of that relationship, a journey of tides and titanic forces reaching around the globe and across geological and evolutionary time.

Our deepening knowledge of the ocean has animated and strengthened connections between people and the world’s seas. To understand this history we must address questions of how, by whom, and why knowledge of the ocean was created and used—and how we create and use this knowledge today. Only then can we can forge a healthier relationship with our future sea.

Planet Ocean

By Patricia Newman, Annie Crawley (photographer),

Book cover of Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean

I love this book as a supplement for the classroom or household library. It is filled with lovely photographs and depicts what is happening to our oceans. There is a nice ratio of text to pictures so as not to be overwhelming. It includes maps, vocabulary words, and a glossary to bring in the educational component without feeling like a textbook. 

Planet Ocean

By Patricia Newman, Annie Crawley (photographer),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Planet Ocean as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Books like this one help lead the way to a better climate future for all inhabitants of Mother Earth. We are all in this together!" ― Jeff Bridges, Academy Award winner and environmentalist

A little more than 70 percent of Planet Earth is ocean. So wouldn’t a better name for our global home be Planet Ocean?

You may be surprised at just how closely YOU are connected to the ocean. Regardless of where you live, every breath you take and every drop of water you drink links you to the ocean. And because of this connection, the ocean’s health affects…


Who am I?

I have been an educator for over 20 years teaching elementary-aged children. The environment is a passion of mine. After reading the book Plastic Ocean and meeting the author Charles Moore, I realized that the issues facing our environment are going to be best solved by the upcoming generation of children. They understand how important it is to preserve our planet. Combining my love of writing with my education background, I started writing books to teach children about the environment and inspire them to make lasting changes. I love recommending books that have the same mission. Small actions equal great changes! 


I wrote...

Midnight Mission: An Eco Avengers Series

By Dawn Wynne,

Book cover of Midnight Mission: An Eco Avengers Series

What is my book about?

When Mindy, Frankie, and Jagger discover a baby sea turtle far from the ocean they rush against time to return it back to sea. However, when they arrive at the beach, they stumble upon a startling discovery that may hinder the turtle's survival. Will the turtle be stranded on land forever? And what does the future hold for the rest of the sea turtles?

A fun, engaging book that will entertain children while also educating them about endangered sea turtles. 

Wave

By Suzy Lee,

Book cover of Wave

A gorgeous picture book that captures the joys and excitement of being a child at the sea, playing chicken with the incoming waves. The little girl and a gaggle of gulls get braver and braver, until… SPLASH!

Suzy Lee’s lines are so fluid and expressive, her use of a limited palette works brilliantly, and there’s a clever use of the gutter (middle of the book) to build tension. Dare you not to smile and feel joy.

Wave

By Suzy Lee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wave as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this evocative wordless book, internationally acclaimed artist Suzy Lee tells the story of a little girl's day at the beach. Stunning in their simplicity, Lee's illustrations, in just two shades of watercolour, create a vibrant story full of joy and laughter.New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book 2008

Who am I?

As a picture book creator, I am always seeking to use as few words as possible – for me, the best picture books are those where the images do most of the storytelling. Wordless books take things a step further and totally engage the child in interpreting the story - the child becomes the story's voice. Wordless books have a special place in my heart and I’m always on the lookout for new silent treasures as they emerge into the wonderful world of picture books. I want everyone to experience the special magic of ‘reading’ wordless books. 


I wrote...

Owl Bat Bat Owl

By Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick,

Book cover of Owl Bat Bat Owl

What is my book about?

A mother owl and her three little owlets live happily on their branch. That is, until the bat family moves in. The newfound neighbors (owls up top, bats hanging below) can’t help but feel a little wary of one another. But babies are curious little creatures, and that curiosity, along with a wild, stormy night, might just bring these two families together.

With subtly and hilariously shifting facial expressions and gestures, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick brings her accessible graphic style to a warm and ingenious wordless tale that is sure to bring smiles to readers of all ages.

The Caine Mutiny

By Herman Wouk,

Book cover of The Caine Mutiny: A Novel of World War II

It’s hard to believe that this realistic portrayal of life in the U.S. Navy during World War II was written by the same author who wrote the vainglorious Winds of War! Still, I have to include The Caine Mutiny on this list because it realistically depicts the everyday tedium endured by crews aboard fourth-class navy ships during the long, drawn-out Pacific war. Wouk served on such a ship, and that inspired this story about mediocrity, cowardice, and mendacity. Like the other books on this list, The Caine Mutiny is ultimately a character study. It focuses on the officers of an obsolete mine-sweeper, plying the backwaters of the war under the directions of an incompetent captain.

A series of incidents puts severe pressure on the ship’s crew and their response creates a dramatic but believable climax to the story. This novel has stuck with me because I served in the…

The Caine Mutiny

By Herman Wouk,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Caine Mutiny as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a perennial favorite of readers young and old, Herman Wouk's masterful World War II drama set aboard a U.S. Navy warship in the Pacific is "a novel of brilliant virtuosity" (Times Literary Supplement).

Herman Wouk's boldly dramatic, brilliantly entertaining novel of life--and mutiny--on a Navy warship in the Pacific theater was immediately embraced, upon its original publication in 1951, as one of the first serious works of American fiction to grapple with the moral complexities and the human consequences of World War II.

In the intervening half century, The Caine Mutiny has sold millions…

Who am I?

An unusual thing about me when it comes to historical fiction is that I write it but rarely read it. So, why should anyone care about my recommendations for historical fiction books? Perhaps because of what I do read, which is mainly non-fiction. On my bedside table right now, insistently beckoning me away from my laptop, is With The Old Breed, a harrowing memoir about the veteran Marines the author, E.B. Sledge, got to know while fighting the battles of Peleliu and Okinawa during World War II. My bookcase is filled with histories, memoirs, war diaries, and biographies. Only a few novels are present, and what sets them apart is their historical accuracy and realism. 


I wrote...

As Good As Can Be

By William A. Glass,

Book cover of As Good As Can Be

What is my book about?

As Good As Can Be is a sprawling family saga that plays out during the 1950s and 60s. The story centers on Dave Knight, the rebellious son of Colonel Knight, an alcoholic army officer. As Knight's career progresses, he drags his wife and five children from one army base to another. He has no use for his oldest son, Dave, who is thought to be retarded. As a child, Dave is bullied by his siblings and classmates. He learns to read at an early age and escapes into a world of books. In high school, he becomes the class clown and finds acceptance from other delinquents. Their reckless behavior provides much of the comic relief in the story.

Later, Dave is drafted into the army and gets into more trouble. Now it's touch and go if he will receive a dishonorable discharge.

Book cover of Seven Tears Into the Sea

A beautiful tale of first love, summer by the sea, and sexy supernatural boyfriends, Seven Tears Into the Sea is one of my favorite books of all time. Like Gwen, I’ve always felt called to the sea, though sadly, I’ve never been rescued by a beautiful selkie boy. Nor has one ever beckoned for me to return to him. But thanks to Seven Tears Into the Sea, I at least know what it would be like if one ever did. 

Seven Tears Into the Sea

By Terri Farley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Seven Tears Into the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beckon the sea,
I'll come to thee....
Shed seven tears,
perchance seven years....
At the age of ten, Gwen Cooke had a strange encounter with a boy with dark, slightly tilted eyes. He came to her on the beach, whispered strange words in her ear, and then disappeared. Shortly thereafter, her family moved away from their seaside home and Gwen never saw the boy again.
Now seventeen, Gwen is returning to her childhood home. Her nana asked her to come. But Gwen knows it's time to go back for another reason: She yearns for the sea. Perhaps the sea itself…

Who am I?

I am an independent author, photographer, wildlife advocate, paranormal enthusiast, and cat mom living in Dallas, Texas. In 2012, I earned my Master's Degree in Art and Performance from the University of Texas at Dallas and have been pursuing my writing career ever since. I published my first book, Cemetery Tours, in 2013 and it will forever be the book that changed my life.


I wrote...

Cemetery Tours

By Jacqueline E. Smith,

Book cover of Cemetery Tours

What is my book about?

Do You Believe in Ghosts? Michael Sinclair does. At twenty-seven, he has spent his entire life pretending that the ghosts he encounters on a daily basis do not exist. Now, if only the dead would let him rest in peace.

Unfortunately, that doesn't seem likely, especially after Kate Avery and her ailing brother, Gavin, move in next door. Kate and Gavin are haunted, and not by a dearly departed loved one. This spirit is aggressive, menacing, and harboring a dark resentment toward Gavin. In spite of every instinct advising him to walk away, Michael finds himself seeking to uncover the mysteries of Gavin's past… and falling for the bright and lovely Kate.

Namesake

By Adrienne Young,

Book cover of Namesake

I’m a sucker for teen romance, but, I don’t like it when that’s all the story is about. Fable and Namesake had that awesome teen love but it was perfectly intertwined into the larger plot of the story. On that note, the plot was great! It was rich and extensive, not just a cover for the romance. Additionally, the book delved into parent-teen relationships on a realistic and detailed level, which I find to be a rarity in YA fantasy novels.

Namesake

By Adrienne Young,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Namesake as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Trader. Fighter. Survivor.

With the Marigold ship free of her father, Fable and its crew were set to start over. That freedom is short-lived when she becomes a pawn in a notorious thug's scheme. In order to get to her intended destination she must help him to secure a partnership with Holland, a powerful gem trader who is more than she seems.

As Fable descends deeper into a world of betrayal and deception, she learns that the secrets her mother took to her grave are now putting the people Fable cares about in danger. If Fable is going to save…

Who am I?

As a child of immigrants I lived in three countries and went to five schools by grade eight, and I loved it! It started a passion in me for people and cultures. I’ve now lived in six countries, I speak five languages and visited countless places as a tourist. Learning about people and cultures is in my blood. Seeing the world, expanded my imagination and love for fantastical worlds. But, because I’ve met with many cultures and individuals, reading books with shallow characters and badly developed cultures is painful for me. I can tell when an author truly understands their characters and the worlds they create and I value that.


I wrote...

Terra Nova: Book 1

By MTG,

Book cover of Terra Nova: Book 1

What is my book about?

Evangeline is living a normal, teen life until mysterious, severe symptoms begin appearing. After passing out in the middle of a party, she is diagnosed with a rare, genetic blood disorder. In the delirium of her deteriorating health, a door to a parallel world opens before her; however, once she steps through it, she is unable to return to earth.

The place Evangeline now finds herself in is called Terra Nova, a world wherein vampires rule supreme, with no traces of humanity left. In order to survive, she must keep her mind open and accept the changes her body is undergoing. Soon those who she thought were murderers become her trainers, whose help she must enlist if she hopes to return home.

The King's Coat

By Dewey Lambdin,

Book cover of The King's Coat

This is a novel of historical fiction set in the time of the French revolution. The series is named after the main character, Alan Lewrie. This novel introduces you to this rapscallion of a character, someone who is a spoiled, and indolent 16-year-old young man. Against his will he will find his place in the world and it will be in the very last place he would have imagined, commanding a ship of the Royal Navy. The novels follow his travels and adventures as he rises through the ranks, and it was incredibly fun to watch the young man evolve and grow into the man he becomes.

The King's Coat

By Dewey Lambdin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The King's Coat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

His exploits echo with the bustle of crowded ports and the crash of naval warfare...

It is 1780 and seventeen-year-old Alan Lewrie is a brash young libertine with a head full of dreams. When he is found in bed with the wrong woman, he is forced to leave his profligacy behind for a new life at sea.

Though sickness and hard labour await him aboard the tall-masted Ariadne, Lewrie finds himself gradually adapting to the world of a midshipman.

But as he heads for the war-torn Americas into a hail of cannonballs, will he ever catch wind of the plot…


Who am I?

I first found fantasy literature about the same time as I got into tabletop gaming, for me this was AD&D. Edgar Rice Burroughs, J.R.R. Tolkien, Arthur C. Clarke, Fritz Lieber, and Roger Zelazny were just a few of the authors that showed me what was possible. Writing my first novel cemented my understanding that I wanted to create the kinds of worlds that readers would want to experience. The kinds of worlds that would let them get away from their lives, if only for a few hours, where they could live a life of adventure and discovery. Just like the novels I recommended here did for me. 


I wrote...

The 7th Pre-Light

By Brett Mumford,

Book cover of The 7th Pre-Light

What is my book about?

My novel is a contemporary science fiction that revolves around a murder mystery and first contact. The story all takes place in an alien culture, and the main characters are a security technician tasked with finding the murderer and a researcher with the responsibility of analyzing the newest discovered race, humanity.

Moonlight and the Pearler's Daughter

By Lizzie Pook,

Book cover of Moonlight and the Pearler's Daughter

This historical mystery slash adventure novel is set in 1886 in Australia and follows the plucky, headstrong Eliza Brightwell as she attempts to unravel the mystery behind the disappearance of her beloved father—a renowned pearler. I was so riveted by this heart-wrenching, atmospheric story and its unique setting. A great one for those who’d like to try something different in the historical mystery space.

Moonlight and the Pearler's Daughter

By Lizzie Pook,


Who am I?

Books have always been an escape for me, historical mysteries in particular. Getting lost in another world, another time and someone else’s life is like therapy for me and something I will never tire of. Which is perhaps why I went on to write my own historical mystery trilogy. The Marion Lane series consists of The Midnight Murder, The Deadly Rose, and The Raven’s Revenge—all set in 1950’s London, in a mystical private detective agency concealed beneath the city streets. 


I wrote...

Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose

By T.A. Willberg,

Book cover of Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose

What is my book about?

It’s 1959 and a new killer haunts the streets of London, having baffled Scotland Yard. The newspapers call him The Florist because of the rose he brands on his victims. The police have turned yet again to the Inquirers at Miss Brickett’s for assistance, and second-year Marion Lane is assigned the case.

But she’s already dealing with a mystery of her own, having received an unsigned letter warning her that one of the three new recruits shouldn't be trusted. She dismisses the letter at first but her informer seems to be one step ahead, predicting what will happen before it does. But when a fellow second-year Inquirer is murdered, Marion takes matters into her own hands and must come face-to-face with her informer—who predicted the murder—to find out everything they know. 

The Outlaw Ocean

By Ian Urbina,

Book cover of The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier

Urbina gives a shocking and vital account of the human and environmental troubles that are taking place across the ocean, out of sight beyond the horizon. From cases of modern-day slavery and murder aboard fishing vessels to the tricks played by whaling ships and cruise ships to avoid detection of their environmental crimes.

The Outlaw Ocean

By Ian Urbina,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Outlaw Ocean as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Just incredible' NAOMI KLEIN

**New York Times bestseller**

The Outlaw Ocean is a riveting, adrenalin-fuelled tour of a vast, lawless and rampantly criminal world that few have ever seen: the high seas.

There are few remaining frontiers on our planet. But perhaps the wildest, and least understood, are the world's oceans: too big to police, and under no clear international authority, these immense regions of treacherous water play host to the unbridled extremes of human behaviour and activity.

Traffickers and smugglers, pirates and mercenaries, wreck thieves and repo men, vigilante conservationists and elusive poachers, seabound abortion-providers, clandestine oil-dumpers, shackled slaves…


Who am I?

Dr. Helen Scales a marine biologist, broadcaster and bestselling writer whose books include Spirals in Time and Eye of the Shoal. Her stories about the ocean appear in National Geographic Magazine, The Guardian, New Scientist, and others. Helen co-hosts the Catch Our Drift podcast, teaches at Cambridge University and is a scientific advisor to the marine conservation charity Sea Changers. She divides her time between Cambridge, England, and the wild French coast of Finistère.


I wrote...

The Brilliant Abyss: True Tales of Exploring the Deep Sea, Discovering Hidden Life and Selling the Seabed

By Helen Scales,

Book cover of The Brilliant Abyss: True Tales of Exploring the Deep Sea, Discovering Hidden Life and Selling the Seabed

What is my book about?

The oceans have always shaped human lives, but the surface and the very edges have so far mattered the most. However, one way or another, the future ocean is the deep ocean.

A golden era of deep-sea discovery is underway. Revolutionary studies in the deep are rewriting the very notion of life on Earth and the rules of what is possible. In the process, the abyss is being revealed as perhaps the most amazing part of our planet, with a topography even more varied and extreme than its Earthbound counterpart. Teeming with unsuspected life, an extraordinary interconnected ecosystem deep below the waves has a huge effect on our daily lives, influencing climate and weather systems, with the potential for much more--good or bad depending on how it is exploited. Currently, the fantastic creatures that live in the deep--many of them incandescent in a world without light--and its formations capture and trap vast quantities of carbon that would otherwise poison our atmosphere; and novel bacteria as yet undiscovered hold the promise of potent new medicines. Yet the deep also holds huge mineral riches lusted after by many nations and corporations; mining them could ultimately devastate the planet, compounded by the deepening impacts of ubiquitous pollutants and rampant overfishing.

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