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Telling Our Way to the Sea: A Voyage of Discovery in the Sea of Cortez Hardcover – August 6, 2013


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Editorial Reviews

Review

Praise for Telling Our Way to the Sea

 

“Remarkable and profound . . . Hirsh's narrative of daily excursions blends seamlessly with wide-ranging and penetrating forays into biology, evolution, and the history of science . . . Hirsh writes with an illusion of effortlessness, in prose that is lyrical but never sentimental . . . Unforgettable.”—Tim Folger, OnEarth

 

“Articulate and impassioned.”—Breanna Draxler, Discover magazine

 

“Aaron Hirsh is a molecular biologist, but he is also a storyteller . . . Even in the midst of his most demanding scientific passages, he never loses sight of the story . . . The book's diverse, interwoven accounts can be seen as pedagogic tools, the classroom sleight of hand of an experienced and inspiring teacher. But Mr. Hirsh also exploits the unique ability of stories to engage our emotions, intending that we leave his book not only with a greater understanding of the science but with a more visceral appreciation of the Sea of Cortez and of nature as a whole.”—Gerard Helferich, The Wall Street Journal

 

“I can't remember the last time I read a science book with such elegant writing, and Hirsh's travelogue has easygoing philosophical weight as well.”—Chloe Schama, The Smithsonian Magazine

 

“Wondrous . . . In prose that marries lush scientific details and poetic language (complete with transfixing descriptions of sea cucumber regeneration), Hirsh delivers an important work about the power of place and the power of stories—scientific, historical, and personal—to shape our understanding of the world.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 

“Beautifully descriptive prose and accessible science combine to create a fascinating look at a seemingly abundant ecosystem . . . This work is a rich exploration of the Sea of Cortez and its surroundings for readers interested in the ecology, history, and current inhabitants of the area, as well as fans of lyrically written natural history books and/or of evolutionary biology.” —Library Journal

 

“A book as rich and intricate as the oceanic world it evokes, Telling Our Way to the Sea is hard to pigeonhole but easy to savor. Using the dramatic backdrop of the Sea of Cortez—fertile waters rimmed by brutal desert—Hirsh plumbs marine biology, evolutionary change, ecological memory, the history of science, and much more to explore the past and possible future of this fecund ecosystem. One of the most thoughtful books on nature, and our place in it, that I’ve read in years.” —Scott Weidensaul, author of Living on the Wind and The First Frontier

 

“Aaron Hirsh thinks like a scientist and writes like a poet. Telling Our Way to the Sea is a captivating, deeply illuminating exploration of the sumptuous natural world we have, and of its origins in the many worlds we’ve lost. A moving and important and utterly beguiling book.” —William Souder, author of On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson

 

“A person who is both a fine scientist and a brilliant writer is a rare phenomenon, but that describes Aaron Hirsh. In the first few pages of Telling Our Way to the Sea, you learn about the fascinating responses of Isostichopus fuscus to predators. After that, you won’t be able to put the book down. A literary triumph.” —Paul R. Erlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies, Stanford University

 

 

 

About the Author

Aaron Hirsh is chair of the Vermilion Sea Institute. He is a research associate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and his essays have appeared in literary journals, The New York Times, and The Best American Science Writing. Hirsh cofounded the biotechnology company InterCell and serves on the board of Roberts and Company Publishers. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (August 6, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374272840
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374272845
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #987,653 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Book has two tracks.
William Litherland
It is preeminently an Ecology book, written by one who loves and honors the whole of life and needs to look at it closely and to share what he sees.
John W. Hartwell
A lot of very interesting science, which I enjoyed, This is a dense book with a lot of different fields of science woven together.
Martin Cahn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By M. D. Edge on August 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This book defies standard genre classifications. Most straightforwardly, it is a somewhat fictionalized account of Hirsh's experiences co-teaching a field course in evolution and ecology at a marine station in Bahia de Los Angeles, a small village in Baja California on the shore of the Sea of Cortez. In the interest of disclosure, I ought to mention that I was fortunate enough to participate in one of Dr. Hirsh's field courses when I was an undergraduate, though not the one that is most prominently featured in the book.

At the same time as it is a story of a group of people coming to know a specific, remarkable place, the book is seriously concerned with conveying scientific, historical, and philosophical perspectives that are much more general. For example, the book contains detailed, accessible descriptions of methods for estimating population sizes based on genetic data, of the relationships between 19th-century German Idealism and modern evolutionary thinking (complete with diagrams), and of historical perspectives on the perceptions of conquistadors arriving in Baja California for the first time.

Both components---the human story and the nonfiction expositions---are excellent on their own. The nonfiction vignettes, in particular, are exemplary and completely avoid the pitfalls of much nonfiction writing: they are always interesting and clear; never redundant, patronizing, or pedantic. Nevertheless, this book is more than the sum of its parts. The scientific sections are invigorated by the literary context in which they are set, and the primarily literary parts are granted weight by the nonfiction sections.

The main thing one takes away from this book is not a well-drawn set of characters or knowledge of a lovingly-chosen set of topics.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By John W. Hartwell on September 30, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I read a lot of science books. This is one of the very best. It contains much science, including reasonably detailed descriptions of how one can cleverly use DNA samples to estimate the historic size of a breeding population, and how the chemistry of photosynthesis in night-breathing succulents differs from that in plants which are able to breathe during daylight.

But the methods and findings of science lie just next to the main point of this work. It is preeminently an Ecology book, written by one who loves and honors the whole of life and needs to look at it closely and to share what he sees. At the Vermillion Sea, Hirsh both revels in its current glory and laments the staggering losses. The declines from the earliest written accounts are nearly incalculable, and they continue, documented in detail, across the lifetimes of current observers.

As a teacher, Hirsh is marked by three attributes of essential importance. He is endlessly curious; he inquires into biology, surely, but also into history and psychology, geology and economics. He acknowledges the motivation of beauty and the emotional impact that Nature, when intimately seen, can have upon us. He relates in detail several breath-taking encounters with large animals. Finally, Hirsh respects the townspeople, his fellow workers and his students. Those who travel with him are clearly brilliant and energetic, deserving of such respect. That he treats his readers with similar regard makes the book simultaneously deep and accessible.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mike Macpherson on December 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For me, this book instantly places Aaron Hirsh in the company of our finest explainers: Gould, McPhee, Medawar -- that company. What Hirsh explains here is how to hold a conversation about our environment. The key, he says, is in the act of telling, and therefore in the act of listening.

His subject is the Sea of Cortez, aka the Gulf of California. Hirsh and his wife, both biologists, along with their science historian colleague, teach a summer college course at a marine station in Baja. The book is framed around one summer's experience.

The sea is in trouble. Even though it seems to teem with marine life, we learn that the waters are a ghost town compared to just fifty years ago. Systematic overfishing of the commercially valuable species, by both local and foreign operations, has caused populations to crash. The central question of the book is: what should we do about this?

It's a setup you're familiar with, but Hirsh approaches it in a way you haven't seen before. He gives us an interwoven collection of stories -- the experience of his students as they come to understand the life of these waters, the economic tug-of-war between the fishermen, land developers, and conservationists, and Hirsh's brilliant accounts of the human and natural history of the region.

On their own, these narrative threads are well worth reading. Hirsh's prose has a literary feel, always stately and assured, but with an astounding range that can handle technical exposition, real emotion, and even comedy without strain. A sample:

'At daybreak, fiery light pierced the folds of gray--the faded silver sky, the drifting tatters of fog, the mist rising off the bay--and struck our faces for the first time in four days. The desert steamed like a newborn landscape.
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