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Sacred Sea: A Journey to Lake Baikal Hardcover – August 29, 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First edition (August 29, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195170512
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195170511
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,969,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Environmental journalist Thomson, founding producer and senior editor of National Public Radio's Living on Earth, combines introspection with objective reporting in this engaging account of his six-month pilgrimage to Siberia's Lake Baikal, the deepest, oldest and supposedly purest body of fresh water on earth. Thomson includes everything from thoughts about his failed marriage and his relationship with his brother and fellow traveler James to colorful impressions of the people he meets as he documents his quest, shattering the myth of the lake's reputed capacity to cleanse itself. Researchers tell him that the air and water are full of thousands of tons of pollutants and contaminants from Baikal's paper mill and nearby farms, industry and power plants. Tiny filter-feeding shrimp do cleanse the water, but in the process they move the contaminants into the food chain and concentrate them, so the fish eaten by the people living around Lake Baikal now pose a serious health threat. Nevertheless, many Russians continue to believe that the waters of the Sacred Sea are pristine. Thomson's book is a lucid and sobering reminder of the destructive effects human activity has on the planet. Photos not seen by PW. (Sept.)
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Review

"Recently divorced and living out of boxes in his father's house in Boston...he quit his job as an environmental news producer for NPR and talked his younger half-brother into joining him on a round-the-world trip to a place where neither of them understood the language of the culture. The result is this superb paean to a unique and bizarre ecosystem." --New York Times
"His account of the journey is a hybrid of environmental reporting and personal travelogue....Readers will enjoy his accounts of meandering across the Pacific on a container ship with his younger brother, camping among Siberian aspens and feasting on reindeer meat under the northern lights."--Natural History
"Exhaustively researched and lyrically written- a welcome addition to any library."-- Kirkus Review
"Thomson's book is a lucid and sobering reminder of the destructive effects human activity has on the planet."-- Publishers Weekly
"Recommended for public libraries and undergraduate institutions with environmental history disciplines."--Library Journal
"Traveling through woods, streams, hills, mountains, and pristine lakes, they had quite a voyage, and this in-depth recapitulation is absorbing in its detail."--Booklist
"It's a portrait of a place, its people, and its problems. It's also an honest look at how far we have to go to get home again."--The Phoenix
"The book is beautifully written and his descriptions make the landscape come alive: I couldn't help shivering when he jumps into the lake. As you travel with him you'll be transported far, far away - the perfect antidote to a dull day at the office."-- BBC Focus Magazine
"Sacred Sea tells the story of an unforgettable journey to an extraordinary place. More then a travelogue, the book is a meditation on faith and home and purity in a world marked by contamination and impermanence. For anyone who has ever though of ditching it all and heading for the middle of nowhere, Peter Thomson offers a lesson both unsettling and surprisingly hopeful:there is no escape from humanity."-- David Baron, Public Radio's The World

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Maureen E. Rogers on December 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Sacred Sea: A Journey to Lake Baikal is at once a deeply engaging memoir, highly entertaining travel book (and boys' adventure), and a remarkably acute (and non-polemic) cautionary tale about the environment.

A few years back, Peter Thomson, then editor and producer of NPR's environmental news program Living on Earth, found himself at the loose ends. Thomson's way of tying up the loose ends was to embark on an around the world boat and train (no planes!) journey with his younger brother, a journey that would center on Siberia's Lake Baikal,the world's largest body of fresh water and home to a unique ecosystem.(With a heavily-polluting paper mill on its shores, Lake Baikal is in some danger.)

Thomson managed to talk to a number of people on all sides of the Baikal issue - scientists, business people, environmentalists, politicos - and these conversations make for compelling reading.

So do all the sections on getting from Point A to Point B,legs of the journey largely made on cargo ships and not particularly comfortable trains. For the most part, Thomson went native in his travels, and thus left himself open to the types of encounters you won't have if you're riding the clean toilet tourist bus with the Kiwanis Club.

This book is highly recommended - and would make an excelent book club choice. Plenty to discuss here!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Robert McClure on January 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I make my living as a writer, so it is with some trepidation that I declare any book beautifully written. But in this case I have to, because it is.

"Sacred Sea" is a must-read, the tale of a journalist and his half-brother who decide to voyage to the world's oldest, deepest and biggest lake - without boarding an airplane to get there. When they arrive, they are told of the lake's magical power to restore itself in the face of increasing pollution. They become environmental detectives, using the tools of journalism.

It's at once travelogue, environmental investigation and a study of the Russian character, punctuated by passages in a personal emotional voyage. Thomson's renderings of characters are delightful: the long-suffering scientist, the boastful - and yet ultimately conflicted - political appointee, the earnest environmentalist-turned-tour guide, the vividly dressed "Old Believers" for whom even the Russian Orthodox Church is too modern.

My favorite chapter, and perhaps the most beautifully written, is Thomson's imaginary trip to the lake's bottom. Yes, it's imaginary - the only part of the book that is - and yet so revealing. No wonder the New York Times called the book "compelling" and a "superb paean to a unique and bizarre ecosystem."
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Robert W. Conrow on November 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Much more than a travelogue, the author does a superb job of chronicling his personal and ecological discoveries--illustrating his NPR investigative skills throughout--when he makes his way from Boston to Lake Baikal in the Siberian plateau. A very good read with good pacing, and a true eye-opener about the vulnerablity to pollution of the world's largest body of fresh water.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By nollaig on August 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For me at least, the true test of a travelogue is - would I want to spend time in the company of the author? In this case - absolutely.
Divided into four sections, Sacred Sea is as much an adventure as it is a statement.

Part 1 begins the journey. We meet the author and his brother James and learn a little of the purpose. James is a shadowy figure offering companionship to the author but little to the reader. But that's okay as the book's main character is a place - or several places to be more precise.

Part 2 introduces us to the largest body of fresh water on earth. The principal character of the book, we are introduced to the majesty of its past. I admit to knowing absolutely nothing about this magnificent wonder until I read this book and thank the author for this alone.

Part 3 is heart of the book - the good, the bad and the indifferent. While Thomson sustains his journalistic reportage throughout the book it is here that the pace of the book falters. But it is hard to fault him for this in light of the magnitude of the book's raion d'etre.

Part 4 is the journey home and reflection.

Along the way we get to know the author, meet lots of interesting folk and visit places that I know that I will never get to see. But in the end it is Baikal itself that leaves the greatest impression.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Paul E. Richardson VINE VOICE on October 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Focused on a lifelong goal to visit Lake Baikal, eco-journalist Peter Thompson uses this Siberian gem as the centerpiece of a round-the-world trip taken at a time of "personal transition." Written in an easy style that is part journalism, part kitchen table storytelling over vodka and kolbasa, Sacred Sea is a humorous explorer's tale just rich enough in back story to help the casual reader understand the forces surrounding and threatening Lake Baikal. Thompson engagingly weaves the travelogue with his personal journey (notably with the Red Sox's failures and triumphs), offering a look at modern Russia through the prism of this great lake. (Reviewed in Russian Life)
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