The Ocean of Life

The Ocean of Life

The Fate of Man and the Sea

Additional Formats
  • Ebook
  • ISBN 9781101583562
  • 432 Pages
  • Penguin Books
  • Adult


A Silent Spring for oceans, written by "the Rachel Carson of the fish world" (The New York Times)

Who can forget the sense of wonder with which they discovered the creatures of the deep? In this vibrant hymn to the sea, Callum Roberts—one of the world’s foremost conservation biologists—leads readers on a fascinating tour of mankind’s relationship to the sea, from the earliest traces of water on earth to the oceans as we know them today. In the process, Roberts looks at how the taming of the oceans has shaped human civilization and affected marine life.

We have always been fish eaters, from the dawn of civilization, but in the last twenty years we have transformed the oceans beyond recognition. Putting our exploitation of the seas into historical context, Roberts offers a devastating account of the impact of modern fishing techniques, pollution, and climate change, and reveals what it would take to steer the right course while there is still time. Like Four Fish and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, The Ocean of Life takes a long view to tell a story in which each one of us has a role to play.


“I need to now jump up and down myself to say that Ocean of Life is an excellent and engrossing work. Mr. Roberts has corralled an astonishing collection of scientific discovery. . . . He didn’t set out just to explain what is going on in the oceans. His even more important goal is to consider what the decline in marine life tells us about the future of humankind. . . . I hope a great many people read this book. There can, after all, be no hope of change without an enhanced appreciation for the potential consequences of our impact on the natural world.”—G. Bruce Knecht, Wall Street Journal

“Callum Roberts catalogs the extent of the oceans’ crisis. No account of the cataclysm is more engaging than Roberts’s The Ocean of Life. . . . The book is powerful in its completeness. . . . The rare treasure is the scientist who can bring clarity and wit to the debates. Roberts is such a scientist, and The Ocean of Life is immensely entertaining, although it chronicles a tragedy.”—Mark Kurlansky, The Washington Post

“A story told with both scientific accuracy and narrative skill. . . . I know of no other volume that treats such divergent ocean issues as overfishing, decreasing pH, plastic pollution and biogeographic shifts with this much accuracy and acumen. As a balance to the bad news, each chapter is edged with fascinating details about the life of the sea. . . . Ocean of Life, in detailing sobering facts about the ills that afflict the largest biosphere on earth, is a call to action. At the heart of this book is a deep love of the ocean and a profound concern for its viability as a resource for us all.”Stephen Palumbi, Nature

“The enormity of the sea’s troubles, and their implications for mankind, are mind-boggling. Yet it is equally remarkable how little this is recognised by policymakers—let alone the general public. . . . There is also a dearth of good and comprehensive books on a subject that can seem too complicated and depressing for any single tome. Callum Roberts, a conservation biologist, has now provided one.”

The Economist

“One of the world’s most prominent and articulate marine scientists, Callum Roberts gives us an updated, comprehensive, and engaging account of the ongoing crisis beneath the waves, and how we humans can turn the situation around. Despite the frightening litany of problems facing the seas, Roberts is optimistic that we can and will mend our ways so that marine resources will be there to help support planet Earth.”—Christian Science Monitor

“It’s probably a bit too soon to start talking about candidates for books of the year. But, within the environmental field, Callum Roberts’ latest offering should already be considered a strong contender. . . . Roberts is that precious pearl: a practising scientist who not only knows his field inside out, but also understands how to write compelling, persuasive non-fiction. . . . To use the vernacular of his book, he has trawled and plundered these experiences to craft the nearest thing we are ever likely to get to an all-encompassing manifesto for sustainable marine management.”—The Guardian

“Callum Roberts has done it again. From showing us the past with the wisdom of a Dickens character in his earlier book, he now leads us toward the future in The Ocean of Life. It’s a book so fine, I wish I’d written it!”
Carl Safina, author of Song for the Blue Ocean and The View From Lazy Point

“Roberts imparts his vast knowledge with a consummate talent for colorful narrative and devastating facts. His book will be required reading for anyone who cares about the oceans—not least because, as well as underlining the scale of the problems, he offers us the hope of real solutions.”—Philip Hoare, The Telegraph

“An engrossing survey of the relationship between man and the sea for readers living through the greatest environmental changes in 65 million years. . . . Roberts’s meditation will have readers gasping aloud with wonder, even as the sobering truth of humans’ profound interdependence with the sea provokes concern.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
PRH Book Clubs Survey