The Reef: A Passionate History by Iain McCalman

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Viking 2013. ISBN 9780670075775.
Highly recommended for senior students and staff. This book is divided into 12 main chapters, each describing key individuals, either Western explorers, scientists, Indigenous peoples and castaways, or romantic beachcombers, artists and divers, who have played a part in revealing the true nature of the Great Barrier Reef. Beginning with the exciting tale of Captain Cook and the stressful navigation of a pathway through razor ledges of coral, and ending with the amazing work of the contemporary scientist, Charlie Vernon, McCalman gives deep insights into the minds and imaginations of his participants as well as the context in which they lived their lives.
I really liked the way the author delved into the motivations of his subjects such as Willam Kent the 19th century scientist whose studies of the reef were the result of his attempts to escape from his past. Also, the story of Charlie Vernon's life would be an inspiration for any young science student. More importantly, McCalman has written lucidly and enthusiastically, about the scientific theory behind coral reef evolution and marine science, the spirtual importance of the reef, the history of the Queensland conservation movement and the causes of coral mass extinction.
A key reason for the author's passion and conviction in writing the Great Barrier Reef's history is that it is like the 'canary in the coal mine', warning us of the need to be its protectors in the face of future catastrophe from climate change.
The book includes, a map, photographs, notes, bibliography and an index. Hardback copy 398 pages. Information is available at the author's site.
Paul Pledger