In the author's view the primacy of the Atlantic is a thing of the past. Los Angeles is about to replace New York as the world's busiest port. The yenwill, in all probability, be the global currency of tomorrow. (Winchester tellingly compares America's credit-card economy with the cash-and-savings ethic of the Japanese.) A correspondent for the London Sunday Times , Winchester takes a searching look at the complicated mosaic of peoples, religions, philosophies and histories of some of the countries in and around the world's largest ocean, and at the ocean itself. In a sprightly style he describes its geology and weather, the laying of the first transpacific cable, the pioneering of air routes, the dispersion of the Chinese and their worldwide influence, and many other subjects of general interest. There is also discussion of whether countries with Confucian-Buddhist roots are more effective in coping with industrial/technological challenges than are countries with Christian-Hebraic roots. The book includes friendly observations about people and places as far-flung as the Aleutians and Queensland. Delightful and informative. First serial to the Atlantic and Smithsonian. (Apr.)
Winchester, author of Korea ( LJ 4/1/88) and The Sun Never Sets ( LJ 5/1/86), combines the best of travel writing, human-interest journalism, and history to produce a compelling account of the nations bordering the Pacific. His thesis, that these disparate peoples somehow constitute a distinct analytical subject, is hard to accept: Seattle, Sakhalin, Santiago, and Singapore truly do not have much in common. But that matters little. This is a collection of brilliant mini-essays on a score of topics: the geology of the Pacific, its early explorers, Chinese emigrants in North and South America, the Peruvian coolie trade, and the Tokyo yuppie lifestyle. Although the book may not hang together as well as Winchester would like, it is enriched by his keen eye for fascinating anecdotes and details. Highly recommended for general readers and undergraduates.-- John H. Boyle, California State Univ., Chico
Journalist Simon Winchester had already published a list of travel and historical titles before a footnote in a book about dictionary-making led him to his tale of a prolific contributor to the gargantuan Oxford English Dictionary. That book, The Professor and the Madman, became a surprise hit -- and made Winchester a leading practitioner of what The New York Times calls “cocktail-party science.”
One of the leading practitioners of the offbeat, narrative nonfiction genre The New York Times affectionately calls "cocktail-party science," Simon Winchester studied geology at Oxford, worked on offshore oil rigs, and traveled extensively before settling into a writing career. For twenty years, he worked as a foreign correspondent for the Guardian, augmenting his income by writing articles and well-written but little-read travel books. Then, an obscure footnote in a book he was reading for sheer recreation sparked the idea of a lifetime.
The book in question was Jonathon Green's Chasing the Sun: Dictionary Makers and the Dictionaries They Made, and the footnote read, "Readers will of course be familiar with the story of W.C. Minor, the convicted, deranged, American lunatic murderer, contributor to the OED." Immediately, Winchester knew he had stumbled on a real story, one filled with drama, intrigue, and human interest. Published in 1998, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Oxford English Dictionary was an overnight success, garnering rave reviews on both sides of the pond, and remained on The New York Times hardcover bestseller list for more than a year.
Fueled by curiosity, passion, and a journalist's instinct for what makes "good copy," Winchester has gone on to explore the obscure, arcane, and idiosyncratic in blockbusters like The Map that Changed the World, Krakatoa, and The Man Who Loved China. Coincidentally, his subjects have placed him squarely in the forefront of the new wave of nonfiction so popular at the start of the 21st century. In an interview with Atlantic Monthly, Winchester explained the phenomenon thusly: ""It shows, I think, that there is deep, deep down -- but underserved for a long time -- an eagerness for real stories, real narratives, about rich and interesting things. We -- writers, editors -- just ignored this, by passed this. Now we are tapping into it again."
Good To Know
Winchester once spent three months looking at whirlpools on assignment for Smithsonian magazine.
He once wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times to correct a factual error in an article about where the millennium would first hit land on the morning of Jan. 1, 2000. (It was the island of Tafahi, not the coral atoll Kirabati.)
He reportedly loves the words "butterfly" and "dawn."