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Close to Shore: A True Story of Terror in An Age of Innocence Hardcover – May 8, 2001

4.0 out of 5 stars 116 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Michael Capuzzo tells the harrowing story of the real-life Jaws that helped inspire Peter Benchley's classic novel (and movie). Modern science now tells us that shark attacks are exceedingly rare and limited to just a few species. Yet they do occur, and one of the most terrifying episodes of fatal attacks occurred near the New Jersey shore in 1916, when a renegade great white shark went on a man-eating spree that left three adults and one boy dead. Capuzzo likens the shark's abnormal behavior to that of a person "who goes off the deep end and starts shooting." Whatever its motives, the shark captivated the public's imagination along the Eastern seaboard, devastated the resort economy, and even drew the attention of President Woodrow Wilson.

Close to Shore is a bit slow to get going and could have been a much shorter book. There is a fair amount of stage setting, and the first shark attack doesn't occur until about one-third of the way through the narrative. But Capuzzo does much with limited source material and includes lots of interesting asides on everything from the lore of sea monsters to the bathing-suit fashions of the day to nearly everything science knows about great whites, which, it turns out, is surprisingly little.

Alternating from the victims' perspectives to the shark's, Capuzzo's descriptions of the attacks are a blend of horrors and thrills: "Charles Bruder felt a slight vacuum tug in the motion of the sea, noted it as a passing current, the pull of a wave, the tickle of undertow. He could not have heard the faint, sucking rush of water not far beneath him. He couldn't have seen or heard what was hurtling from the murk at astonishing speed, jaws unhinging, widening, for the enormous first bite. It was the classic attack that no other creature in nature could make--a bomb from the depths." If this book were on any other subject, it would make for good beach reading. --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly

Beginning July 1, 1916, a spate of shark attacks off the Jersey shore befuddled maritime experts and terrified the public. In the first incident, an unsuspecting vacationer's thigh was bitten off; he eventually died. Over the next 12 days, three more people were killed and another seriously injured. These two books by New Jersey authors re-create differing theories as to who, and what, was responsible for the carnage, a subject that scientists still debate today. Philadelphia Inquirer journalist Capuzzo (nominated four times for a Pulitzer) unwaveringly adheres to the most popular theory (that a single, juvenile great white shark was responsible for all the carnage), but his book's strength lies in its lively reconstruction of the age and its consciousness, in which a new leisure class was emerging, with many of its members venturing into the ocean for the first time. (He also recounts the shark's movements and supposed feelings from an omniscient, third-person perspective to strained, unintentionally comical and inevitably misleading effect.) The encounters between people and sharks make for some tense and gruesome reading, and the rest of the book is equally page-turning: the zeal to find the "Jersey man-eater," the sensational "feeding frenzy" of the press and the befuddlement of a scientific community, which then devoutly believed that sharks did not bite humans. On that last front, Fernicola, a physician specializing in post-stroke and post-injury recovery, adds to his own investigation of this episode an exhaustive review of shark science today and theories of shark aggression toward humans, including possible environmental factors (heat, changes in human bathing habits, even bathing suit styles), speculations on the perpetrator's exact species, and well-reasoned arguments and conclusions. Fernicola is a recognized authority on the 1916 attacks (his work has provided the basis for Discovery Channel and History Channel documentaries on the subject), but he marshals so much data that his book fails to live up to its lurid title, giving its looming competitor the edge. (May; Capuzzo on-sale: May 8) Forecast: With bathing suit season just around the corner, these books are well timed. Fernicola's, which will be the subject of an upcoming spread in USA Today and is scheduled for coverage on Good Day New York, will provide grist to shark enthusiasts and fans of the Jaws films. Lyons Press has high hopes for its book and has committed to an unprecedented (for this house) 50,000 first printing. Capuzzo will tour six major cities on both coasts, along with stops on Cape Cod and, of course, the Jersey shore. His compulsive potboiler just may be the hot read on the beach this summer.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway; 1 edition (May 8, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767904133
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767904131
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #247,972 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. Meyer on May 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I've seen a documentary about the events surrounding the New Jersey shark attacks of 1916, and my family vacations there, but I never thought two books about these events would come out only months apart (see "Twelve Days of Terror" by Richard Fernicola). "Close to Shore," was enjoyable for it's description of the period, but was less successful in describing the sharks behavior.
Capuzzo is certainly broad in his description of the time, delving into family life, urban conditions, "modern" medicine, evolution of science and museums, culture, wealth, and many more. Overall he succeeds in contextualizing the response of vacationers, the media, and scientists to the attacks, which was much different than responses of today. The writing is a little fluffy and effusive, but never a distraction from the story.
In this type of book, Capuzzo speculates what the thoughts, motivations, and emotions were of the characters. This works fine enough for human characters, but is less flexible, and more disappointing for the sharks "character." With people he can research primary documents and even conduct interviews with family and witnesses. But for the shark as "character" there is no one to interview, and speculatiing on the shark's behavior is more difficult. Capuzzo does not fully explore the range of theories and mysteries that still surround the shark attacks of 1916.
Overall, the Jersey summer Capuzzo describes is a gripping story. From the first attack at Beach Haven, to the last in a fresh water creek miles inland at Matawan. Capuzzo describes an instinctive feeling humans still have for when they are being stalked or watched or about to become prey. A measure of Capuzzo's writing is that he tapped into that mechanism within me as he describes those long ago shark attacks.
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Format: Hardcover
I have just finished reading `Close to Shore', it took just two days to read which is an indication of how good the story is and not that it's a short book. The author, Michael Capuzzo tells the horrifying story of how a rogue shark took a number of innocent lives in the United States back in 1916. The narrative runs for 298 pages and although it may appear to start off sluggish when the book begins with the lead up to the first attack it becomes hard to put down.
Some reviews have mentioned that the author fills up the story with subsidiary information but I don't think that is the case. I believe he is trying to put a picture into the reader's mind of how people lived back in those days and why they thought and acted as they did, some what foreign to us modern people of the 21st century.
I was amazed to read how Americans never considered the Great White as a potential threat, but back then they didn't and sadly quite a few people suffered for it. The story of the shark and the attacks it made on humans along the East Coast of American is very well told and held my interest throughout. I would have to agree with a previous review that a few photographs would have been of enormous benefit to this book.
I don't know if this book is any better or not than the other book currently on the market titled `Twelve Days of Terror' by Richard Fernicola. However I can honestly say that `Close to Shore' has sparked my interest so much that I am going to buy that book as well. The story is very well told and the author has placed numerous facts about the shark in general and the Great White in particular throughout the narrative. I never got bored with the story and I found myself reading late into the next morning.
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Format: Hardcover
Close To Shore is the non-fiction story of the first recorded white shark attacks in the US. In 1916, a sole white shark terrorized the coast of New Jersy and New York as it made its way down, attacking humans as it went. The novel is very well written, although author Capuzzo gives us too much information that is irrelevant. For example, he gives us the background and history of a hotel and of people that have nothing to do with the actual events. They just serve as space fillers.
But Cappuzzo's straightforward style is impressive. He is able to create suspense by reenacting the events of that Summer. I loved the parts that are more or less from the shark's point of view. Every time the shark is close to attacking someone, the book's suspense level becomes incredible.
Overall, Close To Shore is a fun read that has a lot of pertinent information about sharks. It's unfortunate that the author felt the need to distract us with too much details or too much character background. This book could have been perfect, but it ends up simply being a fun beach book (just be careful which beach you read it on!).
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Format: Hardcover
There are currently two books out there on the 1916 Matawan Shark attacks and the bottom line is which is better.
The story is unbelievable. A great white killing 4 people along the Jersey Shore and in Matawan Creek in 1916. It is an awesome and frightening story.
Close to Shore is the more stylish of the two books, but the author clearly does not have the passion for sharks and the story that the author of 12 Days of terror has.
Do not get me wrong. This is a good book. It is a fast read and provides not just a good look at the shark attack but the culture of the Jersey shore at that time. But it is clear from reading both books that the author of closer to shore does not know sharks like the author of twelve days of terror.
I felt 12 Days of Terror told the same story, with more passion, and with a lot more primary source material, pictures, and information about sharks in general.
My advice is this: take this book out of the library but by Twelve Days of Terror.
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