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The Golden Shore: California's Love Affair with the Sea Hardcover – February 19, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Environmental journalist and author Helvarg has pulled together a comprehensive history of California’s long relationship with its shoreline, covering everything from commercial shipping to surfing to fishing to the U.S. Navy. He is adept at finding individuals, both past and present, to make this survey personal, and he portrays the motley crew of scientists, explorers, captains of industry, impoverished workers, and so many more who crafted the story of the Golden State. In truth, there are a dozen different books to be found in Helvarg’s grand overview, and although the collection of people, places, and events can be dizzying, his dedication to thoroughness in his research and writing is impressive. Readers will likely not expect to see surf champion Lisa Anderson in the same book as Alfred Thayer Mahan and his treatise on sea power and a discussion of the impact of dam removal on chinook salmon runs. But Helvarg is determined to present a complete guide to a place he knows so well, and that means writing about every individual and every subject he considers part and parcel of what has entwined California and its coastline to American culture. A unique and enthralling work. --Colleen Mondor


“David Helvarg's passion for the ocean is equaled only by his elegance in writing about it. Like the ocean itself, The Golden Shore ranges from the glimmering surface to mysterious mid-waters to far deeper realms. This book will remind everyone who reads it of one fundamental fact: we live on a water planet. No author has conveyed this with more art and meaning.” ―Susan Casey, author of The Wave

The Golden Shore is a thrilling read. Join master storyteller David Helvarg on a heart-pounding journey into the tumultuous past, provocative present and promising future of California's wild blue frontier.” ―Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer in Residence

“As geography, history, and myth, the power of California as place, society, and dream is best encountered on its shoreline. In ‘Facing West From California Shores,' Walt Whitman bore witness to this drama. In the decades that followed, writers such as Mary Austin, J. Smeaton Chase, Robinson Jeffers, and John Steinbeck each encountered the California shore as fact and symbol. And now David Helvarg embarks upon an odyssey up the coast of dreams, asking the question: what is contemporary California telling itself about itself -- and what does this mean for the nation?” ―Kevin Starr, author of California: A History

“Boy, I loved this book. As a Californian who's spent much of his life talking about and fighting for more protection for our oceans I really enjoyed reading about my fellow Golden Staters' multi-faceted salt water passion. David Helvarg captures, in a really readable way: the insane, quirky and head-over-heels love we have for our seas.” ―Ted Danson

“Brilliant and engrossing … a comprehensive account of California's coastal history. With a deft journalist's touch, Helvarg weaves a tapestry of ‘the Golden State' both past and present, mixing history, biology, adventurism and activism. The tale is woven with interviews and the authors own unique personal experiences and relationships. ” ―Ralph Nader, The Huffington Post

“We've gotten used to thinking of California's jammed freeways, or its tech riches, or its Hollywood excess. But David Helvarg's splendid account reminds us that those are transitory--in the beginning and the end, the golden state is the place where North America meets the mighty Pacific, a coast of unvanquishable splendor and unforgettable history.” ―Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

The Golden Shore is about more than one man's love affair with California's iconic coast. It's the history of an environmental consciousness that has been impressed upon people around the globe. This is a vital story that will help inform future generations of how and why we work so diligently to protect and preserve California's majestic coast. I applaud David Helvarg for this great work.” ―John Laird, Chair, California Ocean Protection Council

“For all its mountains and forests, farms and deserts, California would not be California without its iconic shores. But, turns out, there's much more to it than the Beach Boys' surfin' coast. This book dives deep, literally and figuratively, from deep history to deep waters to where it's all headed. Find a comfortable chair, preferably with a view of the sea, because you've got your hands on a good read, told by one of our nation's most passionate journalists--who, thankfully, happens to be a devoted coast-lover.” ―Carl Safina, author of Song for the Blue Ocean and The View From Lazy Point; A Natural Year in an Unnatural World.

“Having lived in California for 44 years I was surprised by how much I learned from David Helvarg's book, The Golden Shore. It blew my mind. If you have the same love affair for the beautiful California coast and ocean as I do, this marvelous and compelling book is a must read.” ―Jean-Michel Cousteau, Explorer, Founder and President, Ocean Futures Society

“In this ambitious work, journalist and conservationist Helvarg successfully relates the myriad ways in which Californians engage with their beloved Pacific.” ―Publishers Weekly

“A broad, insightful exploration of the Golden State's pristine coastline and its social and ecological impact on the nation. … A lush, labor-of-love appreciation of maritime California.” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A comprehensive history of California's long relationship with its shoreline, covering everything from commercial shipping to surfing to fishing to the U.S. Navy. … A unique and enthralling work.” ―Booklist (starred review)

The Golden Shore is a history of California's relationship with the ocean, but it's much more than a straightforward history. It's also a travelogue with elements of geography, geology, sociology and ecology, brought to life through the people [Helvarg] interviews and his own observations and experiences as a bodysurfer, diver, writer and lifelong Californian (who lived 10 years in Ocean Beach). It should be required reading for anyone in California, whether native or newcomer, as an introduction (or reintroduction) to the diverse places and issues that hug our shore.” ―The San Diego Union-Tribune

“Helvarg is particularly gifted at profiling individuals who are doing their part on behalf of the environment. … Whether he's giving us the play-by-play of a local campaign to stop a casino development on long-neglected Point Molate in the San Francisco Bay or explaining how the unique bathymetry and ocean currents off our coast result in a rich marine environment that some call the ‘Serengeti of the ocean,' Helvarg just might make you feel optimistic about the future.” ―San Francisco Chronicle

“Helvarg deftly evokes that spirit of exploration that drove the earliest inhabitants to populate California. In The Golden Shore, Mr. Helvarg shows how that adventuresome spirit is the perfect fuel to propel such an illuminating book about the world around us Californians, one golden mile at a time.” ―Santa Barbara News Press

“Helvarg dives deep into history to remind us of all the forces that have shaped California's coastline and near-shore waters -- and our attitudes about them.” ―Los Angeles Times

“An informative, beautifully written trip along California's coastline from the Oregon border to Tijuana. Helvarg artfully combines history, travelogue and interviews with his experiences on the coast and in the ocean in an enthralling book.” ―The Oregonian


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; F First Edition edition (February 19, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312664966
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312664961
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #633,425 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Helvarg is President of the Blue Frontier Campaign ( and the author of six books, Blue Frontier, The War Against the Greens, 50 Ways to Save the Ocean, Rescue Warriors, Saved by the Sea and The Golden Shore. He's editor of the Ocean and Coastal Conservation Guide, organizer of 'Blue Vision' Summits for ocean activists and the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards, the world's top marine conservation prize. He's winner of Coastal Living Magazine's 2005 Leadership Award and the 2007 Herman Melville literary Award. Helvarg worked as a war correspondent in Northern Ireland and Central America, covered a range of issues from military science to the AIDS epidemic, and reported from every continent including Antarctica. An award-winning journalist, he produced more than 40 broadcast documentaries for PBS, The Discovery Channel, and others. His print work has appeared in publications including The New York Times, LA Times, Smithsonian, Popular Science, Sierra and Parade. He's done radio work for Marketplace, AP radio, and Pacifica. He's led workshops for journalists in Poland, Turkey, Tunisia, Slovakia and Washington DC. He is a licensed Private Investigator, body-surfer and scuba diver.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By JBarr5 on February 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The Golden Shore by David Helvarg
This book has so much to offer: the history of parts of the west coast, mainly CA and so many parts I was aware of and have been to and so many more I wasn't really aware existed there and the reason why they are there.
Love hearing how they rebuilt many parts from major disasters using their own resources.
To me this book is like a National Geographic encyclopedia of the area from earlier than the Ice Age and everything that shaped the coast and had any influence.
There is SO much knowledge you can gain from reading this.
Have watched and visited over the years various measures taken to bring back some fish to the area: dam near a power plant near Hurricane Ridge in the state of WA. Also very interesting to see the west coast with same issues as east coast had with fishing for whale and it's byproducts.
And most recently the overfishing til a species is just about deplete.
Love the references to John Muir and John Steinbeck, didn't know he played such a major role in things.
Chapters on the Navy and oil industry and how each of them has taken a part of the gold coast.
Parts of this are also better than a guided tour as details and names of other places to visit, where a tourist would never know about, are spoken about on the journey.
Besides the oceanographic and surfing there are throughout talks of saving the land, plastic bags and other garbage to preserve the land for the future.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John Mood on May 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
A remarkably diverse look at the nature of human interactions both good & bad, helpful & harmful, with the Pacific Ocean.
No romanticist Helvarg. He paints vivid pictures of the horrendous effects of humans on the ocean, indeed of humans (white Europeans) on other humans (AmerIndians). & how we the descendants of the white Europeans have endangered (& are continuing to do so) the ocean & its inhabitants. Good for him! Let's hope it makes a difference.
But he also describes in vivid detail all the many pleasurable dimensions of the ocean for us humans. Fishing, surfing, just walking along the coast. I (as an ex-surfer) of course loved the intro & the chapter on surfing. But anyone who has driven along Hwy 1, the Coast Highway, will equally enjoy & appreciate the 2 chapters on that experience, from Tijuana to SF, then from SF to Eureka & Oregon.
If one lives close to the Pacific coast in California & knows & loves it as do I, then this book will be a pleasure in articulating this knowledge, both bad & good. & for those who have not been bitten by that bug, most likely this will do it, given the chance. Read it!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Linda Ballou VINE VOICE on May 28, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
The Golden Shore

In anticipation of a road trip up the stunning California Coast I read The Golden Shore. What a treasure trove of information summing up the battles that have taken place over the years to protect the 1,100 miles of coast from Mexico to Oregon. Having been privileged to live in California all my adult life, I have a hazy awareness of some of the environmental wars over oil drilling off shore, restrictions placed on over fishing, the slaughter of whales and otters, but Helvig's book brings it all into focus. He paints an enlightening picture that has reignited my desire to care more about our seas and coastline. Learn about the watermen who have made a difference, leaders who have dedicated their lives to keeping our coast alive and the history of the Golden Shore that is thankfully still there for us to enjoy today.
Dedicated Beach Bum
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This book read like a surfing magazine article. It was filled with poetic descriptions of the beaches, the waves and the zen like experience of being one with ocean. It discussed the history of California and how the ocean has been a major part of the state development.

The writer focuses on how unique california ocean coastline is. But I found this a bit arrogant as the main reason it is so diverse is its length. In the US, take the east coast or the gulf coast and over a five hundred mile stretch you will find just as much diversity, fishing, oceanography, beautiful coves... although the surfing may not be as good and this length will encompass more than one state.

California had the unique luck for the coast to be settled later than other parts of the US coastline and thus much of the seashore remained undeveloped pristine as the nature movement groundswell changed our culture and view towards exploitation of natural resources. There is a balance and California moved to enhance access to their coastline for all. But the individuals, the surfers and environmentalists clearly dominate against commercial development (in politics and in this book).

California also benefited from the growth in trade with far the far east as it ports are the major gateway to US for China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan... At the same time WWII made obvious the need for a large pacific fleet which logically had to be placed in the expansive California ports.

The book read more like a travelogue than a deep insightful look at technical and historical background on our Pacific coast. But it was an easy read.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By dr dr on March 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A combination of history and adventure, science and story telling, The Golden Shore is a great one volume primer on how California's coast evolved and all that it has to offer. A must-read for residents and visitors alike.
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