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The Saltwater Wilderness [Hardcover]

Glenn Vanstrum
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 6, 2003 0195159373 978-0195159370 annotated edition
This book plunges the reader into the heart of the sea. It is an elegantly-written account of one photojournalist's experience studying marine natural history and ecology. Illustrated with classic black and white photography, and annotated with references to classic marine literature, this book takes the reader from California to New Guinea, Fiji, Palau, and Tonga, to the Caribbean, to Alaska, and back again. Along the way, a quest to shed light on marine limits, symbiosis, and biogeography ties the adventures together. It will appeal to anyone who snokels, swims, scuba dives, surfs, studies marine biology, or loves the sea.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Minnesotan Vanstrum became an ardent ocean lover when he moved to California, learned to surf, and became a doctor. Thirty years later, Vanstrum has a wealth of compelling stories to tell about his full life as a physician, underwater photographer, and passionate disciple of marine life. Vanstrum's physical daring, scientific curiosity, and refined aesthetics are all evident in his spirited prose and elegant photographs as he chronicles his remarkable adventures in the waters off Hawaii, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, various Caribbean islands, and Alaska. Combining natural history with personal anecdotes, he recounts his awe over kelp forests and coral reefs, dolphins, squid, whales, barracuda, and salmon. Marine biologists also captivate Vanstrum, and he profiles several involved in fascinating areas of research, including the rapidly advancing field of marine microbes, the source, it's now believed, of more than half of the ocean's photosynthetic energy. Whether he's riding the waves or diving below them, Vanstrum is a well-informed and engagingly informative marine explorer and advocate, anchoring his illuminating observations to thought-provoking ecological musings. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"Vanstrum's physical daring, scientific curiosity, and refined aesthetics are all evident in his spirited prose and elegant photographs as he chronicles his remarkable adventures in the waters off Hawaii, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, various Caribbean islands, and Alaska."--Booklist

"This engaging body of work is part memoir, part travelogue, and part science writing. It's the most eloquent dissertation by a surfer-turned-naturalist since Daniel Duane's Caught Inside: a Year in the Life of A California Surfer."--Terry Rodgers, The San Diego Union-Tribune

"California photographer Glenn Vanstrum has traveled the world, documenting marine life, and he tells many delightful tales about sea lions, sharks, humpback whales, and other ocean beasts getting in his face. He knows enough marine science to be enlightening, and he gets in enough trouble underwater to keep the narrative moving swiftly."--National Geographic Adventure

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; annotated edition edition (March 6, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195159373
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195159370
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,545,749 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Glenn Vanstrum's fiction has been published in LITnIMAGE, the Bellevue Literary Review, and THEMA. His book of nature writing, The Saltwater Wilderness (Oxford), won a San Diego Book Award. Essays of his have appeared in Sierra, California Wild, and the Los Angeles Times.

Vanstrum has written six novels and three story collections, all available or soon to be available as e-books. Setting plays a major role in his character-driven fiction, work that often uses nature, music, or medical themes. His novels range from drama (Let Fall Thy Blade; Certain Stars Shot Madly) to historical fiction (Yellowstone, 1876; Northern Liberties) to satire (S.I.C. Memorial). His latest work, Humboldt, a story set among the Northern California redwoods, is part roman noir, part satire, and part thriller.

A Minnesotan by birth, Vanstrum majored in music at Grinnell College in Iowa, studied writing at the University of Iowa (summer writing program), and attended U.C.S.D. medical school. He has spent most of his life in California, where he practices anesthesiology.

A professional nature photographer, he publishes images in numerous venues worldwide. Magazine credits include Audubon, Sierra, Terre Sauvage, National Geographic Traveler, National Wildlife, and Discover. The photographic stock agencies Animals Animals/Earth Scenes and Custom Medical Stock Photography represent his photographs.

Vanstrum, a pianist from age five, practices daily and performs works from the classical, romantic, and modern repertoire on a regular basis. A student of Cecil Lytle and the late Nathan Schwartz, he plays both solo and chamber pieces.

The author, a lifelong surfer, has ridden waves in Hawaii, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Bali. Still riding a shortboard, he wipes out with great regularity.

Vanstrum's book reviews and a surf blog can be found at

"Glenn Vanstrum is a force of nature. In addition to being a published author (The Saltwater Wilderness, Oxford University Press, 2003), he is a concert pianist (and regularly performs complex pieces by Beethoven and Mozart in public venues near his home in San Diego), a highly regarded medical doctor, an accomplished surfer, an underwater photographer who has worked around the world, and a dedicated husband and father. Somehow, in this incredibly busy life, he continually produces exemplary works of fiction and non-fiction.

"I've known Glenn for fifteen years. In that time, I have read every single one of his books, and they are uniformly excellent. His fiction is distinguished by fast-paced plots, fascinating characters, amazingly realistic dialogue, and passages of great strength and beauty. His innovative treatment (in Northern Liberties) of Thomas Eakins' painting 'The Gross Clinic' was absolutely brilliant, and his collection of animal stories is par excellence - certainly in the league with such notables as Roger Caras and Ernest Thompson Seton. I just finished reading Stephen King's latest novel, 11/22/63 - all 800+ pages of it - and, to be honest, Glenn Vanstrum is a better writer of imaginative prose by any objective standard. He is a powerful, disciplined master of the idiom.

"His non-fiction, best exemplified in the essays of The Saltwater Wilderness, reflects his love for the sea and dedication to the conservation of oceanic resources. In summary, any book by Glenn Vanstrum is worth reading and owning, and I enthusiastically encourage all those who value contemporary literature to explore the corpus - now available on-line in e-books - of this gifted American author. "

--John A. Murray, senior editor, The Bloomsbury Review (1987-present); founding editor, the Sierra Club American Nature Writing annual (1994-2005); former director, graduate program in professional writing, University of Alaska; author of 42 books; recipient of Southwest Book Award and Colorado Book Award.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Adventures and Serious Scholarship June 18, 2004
This is a meticulously researched book that reflects the author's deep commitment to the ocean environment. At the same time Dr. Vanstrum describes his adventures while surfing and diving all over the world. It's a fun, serious book.
Relying on interviews and communications with some of the foremost authorities on coral reefs (Dr. Richard Grigg) and ocean fisheries, Dr. Vanstrum makes a compelling case for the establishment of meaningful marine reserves in this country.
It is a shame that costs prevented the publication of Dr. Vanstrum's marvelous photographs in color. I have seen the originals in color and they are breathtaking. Even the black and whites reflect the skill and commitment of a superb photographer. For a sample of his photography in color I would recommend a visit to his Web site: [...]
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wealth of ocean information April 8, 2004
This book is really well researched and presented in a very entertaining way. The author has a vast wealth of experience and understanding about the intricate balances of the ocean. If you've ever wanted to know, "what's down there?" or "what's so great about the oceans?" this is the book for you. I've been interested in the ocean and its life, and this book satisfies my curiosity.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Substantial and delightful July 19, 2003
Vanstrum has written a book that balances scientific substance with the sheer delight of scuba diving. The 18 chapters of The Saltwater Wilderness are set mainly as trips to exotic places (like Fiji, Tonga, and Palau) and the author is masterful at conveying the human and humane character of the people and places he visits. But what makes this book different from many of its peers is that Vanstrum uses his knowledge of marine science to highlight the amazing things he sees beneath the waves in a way that makes them even more extraordinary.
For example, in chapter 8 the image of a seven foot barracuda floating over a brain coral (in Honduras) becomes a meditation on evolutionary history and in the process helps explain why THAT fish is stationed exactly over THAT coral. In one of my favorite chapters (13) I learned that for the millions of bacteria living in every liter of sea water, the ocean does not behave as a liquid, but more like viscous honey. Meaning? Where surfers see big waves crashing on underlying rocks, the microscopic bacteria riding those waves feel nothing of the kind--they live in a still place. It is this skillful contrasting of scales of both time and place that makes Vanstrum's book a very satisfying read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Saltwater Wilderness May 3, 2003
This is a personal account of youthful excitement plus much mature information. Worthy of a scholar, a scientist and a surfer-diver.
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