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The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier Hardcover – May 24, 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this lucid cultural history of Maine, journalist Woodard tells the story of the rugged people who inhabit the state's coastal fishing communities, beginning with the Scotch-Irish, Germans and migrants from southern New England who from the early 17th to the early 19th centuries struggled to make a living in an inhospitable environment while trying to fend off Indians, religious zealots, wealthy Bostonian land grabbers and "rusticators" (vacationers who spawned unwanted development). Maine's economy prospered for a while after it seceded from Massachusetts and became a state in 1820, but between 1860 and 1900 everything collapsed except for lobstering, which the fishermen managed to protect with effective conservation practices. Lobsters became, and remain, the basis of the state's fishing industry. The author was born and raised in Maine, and well understands the pride, independence and ability to work together for the good of the community-(traditions derived from the early settlers, he says), which helped the fishermen preserve a resource that is essential to their livelihood. But, he points out, other factors are now at play, for the state is being overrun by suburbanites who don't understand or respect this tradition. Woodard tries to maintain hope that the old spirit of independence will save the state's distinctive character, but he can't help ending on a discouraging note, wondering whether Maine will soon be just one more suburb in the great East Coast megalopolis. Woodard (Ocean's End) covers a lot of ground in his informative book, and he never fails to make the story engaging. Maps not seen by PW.
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From Booklist

Woodard synthesizes the history and ponders the future of Maine, land of lobsters and L. L. Bean. His text both begins and concludes with Monhegan Island, an interesting place where one of the earliest English colonizers anchored and whose inhabitants today cater to tourists in the summer and to lobstermen in the winter. It's a microcosm of wider themes in Maine history. Woodard ably develops them, showing off the state as a climatically difficult place to prosper that consistently over its history has existed in a quasi-colonial relationship with outside economic interests. Thus, the present-day suburbanization of the coast succeeds earlier forms of influence emanating from Massachusetts, such as the land-grasping magnates of the late 1700s known as the "Great Proprietors" or the city-escaping pioneers of vacationing of the mid-1800s. The author of Ocean's End (2000), a report on environmental degradation, Woodard also delivers hands-on details about the practice and culture of lobstering, a thriving exception to the collapse of the Gulf of Maine fishery. A fond but concerned portrait of the author's native state. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; 1St Edition edition (May 24, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670033243
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670033249
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #357,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lynn Hamilton on September 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The sky is truly falling on many fish species. Nets come up empty, and fish-based economies collapse. But the Maine lobster seems almost immune to such disaster; a growing number of Maine lobstermen continue to haul in a grand 20 million pounds a year of delectable crustacean with no shortage looming on the horizon. Why?

The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier by Colin Woodard explains how Maine lobstermen voluntarily conserve their lobster population and keep the industry sustainable.

The stereotype of the Maine fisherman as stoic, independent and not easily impressed is apparently well deserved. Woodard suggests that Maine's lobsters benefit from small, traditional, often ancient, fishing communities that jealously guard their resource. Though anyone can theoretically obtain a license to fish for lobster in Maine, the pros protect their harbors from interlopers, snubbing neophytes with no ancestral ties to the community, and even vandalizing their traps.

Maine lobstermen have also protected their lobster population by making the breeding female lobster almost sacred. Woodard lauds the lobstermen's practice of "V-notching" egg-bearing females-punching a small hole in their tail fins before releasing them back into the ocean. Notching is code for "Cherished breeder-not for sale." Lobstermen have agreed among themselves to throw back the V-notched lobsters-even when they are eggless.

Maine's lobstering community also tosses back outsized male lobsters-a practice unique among fishing industries.

Woodard writes ambitiously about the whole state of Maine and its history, starting with its pre-Pilgrim inhabitation by Europeans.
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Format: Hardcover
Despite having grown up in midcoast Maine, the focus of this book, and having had Maine history in school, I learned so much from this book! I had no idea how fascinating the history of coastal Maine was---perhaps because much of it is rather disturbing---not something they wanted to teach us in 6th grade! I also now understand much more about the attitudes I grew up with regarding those "from away". I learned that I was part of a huge migration into Maine in the early 70s---I had always known that most anyone in my class that was not native had moved to Maine the very same summer we did (summer of '72) but I never really realized why. I've been away from Maine for a while now, and this book opened my eyes to some of the recent changes there---how many now are moving to Maine that have no interest in really becoming part of the culture they find there. And of course, I also learned a great deal about lobstering. Growing up, about half the kids in my class had fathers who were lobstermen, but this book greatly increased my knowledge of their culture and of lobsters themselves. I can't recommend this book highly enough!!
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Format: Paperback
After finishing the first short section, my first thought was that the book was a bit of a lightweight -- at best, a paperback to read while flying across the Atlantic. But when I got to the second section which filled in many of the historical gaps -- particularly the "why's" -- from Elizabethan England to the Pilgrims to the modern era, I realized how interesting this book really was. Anyone who enjoys travelogues will enjoy this book; perhaps you need to have visited Maine at least once or have some connection to the state, but if you do read it, you will learn much more about the history of the western world than the title suggests.
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This is a very interesting and comprehensive history of Maine and the rest of New England, going back to the very first settlers of the rugged region. The book explores the dynamics of the various industries that rose and fell (in some cases very hard) throughout the last 400 years in Maine, and the people that gained and lost in the process. The most compelling part of the book in my opinion is the in depth look at the Indian Wars that ravaged the region as well as the fishing and lobstering industries in the last 150 years... but there's a little bit of noise throughout the book including a less-than-exciting part devoted to some of the author's personal early morning fishing trips. They are a valiant attempt to inject some modern day relevance into the book, but i found those anecdotes to be mildly distracting, because the history itself is actually really interesting. I'd recommend it to anyone who has been to or plans to travel to Maine, or who is interested in the lobstering trade, but its not "The History Of The Rise And Fall of The Holy Roman Empire"
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I have purchased and read just about every one of Colin Woodard's books, and this one is among my very favorites.
He has a way of combining present day Maine with historical Maine; Maine seen through his eyes, the eyes of those he interviews, and words written down centuries ago. They all flow together seamlessly, creating a fluid history of this amazing state.
Perhaps it is because generations of my father's family have been born, lived and died in the Pine Tree state.
Maybe it is because I have fished and set lobster traps commercially in New England, and have seen the boom and collapse of the industry:the boom due to plentiful stocks of cod and other groundfish, and the collapse due to over fishing and poor fisheries management.
It might be in part because I know many of the places of which he speaks.
In the end, I think it is all of these, and maybe none of these.
Colin Woodard is simply the best writer of U.S. history I have read.
If you are looking for names and dates, you will find many here. If you are recalling history as written in school textbooks, you are in for a very happy surprise. His history books real like novels, but they are better. Unlike James Michener's historical novels, however, all the information cited in Mr. Woodard's books is true. The people and the events are real. They happened, and many continue to happen to this day.
You will come away from reading this book with a hunger for more information. Maybe, if you haven't visited coastal Maine, you will decide to do so. And if you do visit Maine, or perhaps even live there, you will gain new insights into the forces, both natural and man made, that shaped this great state.
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