Simon Winchester discusses his book “Pacific” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11 at the Museum of Nuclear Science and History, 601 Eubank SE. Admission is $5. The admission fee is also a coupon for a $5 discount on a hardbook copy. Copies are available in advance at Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande NW or online at www.bkwrks.com or at the museum event.

By David Steinberg

How do you tell the story of an ocean in a single book? How, indeed.

Simon Winchester’s “Atlantic” accomplished that task using the outline of the Seven Ages of Man.

“I clearly didn’t want to do the same thing with this book. It’s not a copycat book,” Winchester said, referring to his new book “Pacific.”

Winchester had to narrow the subjects. “Yes, that was difficult. For a start, I really didn’t know after I came up with the basic idea how to structure it. I believe structure is hugely important and certainly on a big, sprawling topic as this,” he said in a phone interview.

It has 10 big chapters, each about 10 significant events in the ocean’s human history between 1950 to 2015.

The first chapter zeroes in on a Doomsday subject embodied in President Harry S. Truman’s State of the Union address on Jan. 4, 1950. The speech hinted at, but did not explicitly mention, his decision to test thermonuclear weapons, Winchester said.

“He didn’t have to. So far as the United States was concerned, the 64-million-square-mile expanse of the Pacific Ocean was the only place big enough and empty enough, and American enough,” to allow for the testing of such weapons, the author wrote.

The second chapter relates the start of a worldwide consumer revolution – the making of the first Japanese transistor radio.

The third chapter, “The Ecstasies of Wave Riding,” is about the admission of Hawaii as the 50th state of the union on Aug. 21, 1959. Surfing became the symbol of the Hawaiian Islands in American popular culture. Hawaiians of all rank and file, of all ages, surfed long before the islands achieved statehood.

Winchester said that on balance the Americans, the British, the French and the Germans – white people – haven’t been terribly kind to the Pacific’s indigenous peoples. In the process, the contributions of the native peoples from all across the ocean have been ignored.

The book’s epilogue seeks to shed light on a major contribution of Hawaiians – the traditional Hawaiian sailing canoe, called a wa. In 1976, a Polynesian crew demonstrated that it was possible to cross  long stretches of the Pacific without a single navigational instrument. In fact, last year another crew attempted to show that the sailing canoe could circumnavigate the globe without a clock, a sextant, a compass or a GPS.

The book’s subtitle is as sprawling as its subject: “Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers.”

Despite the doom of gloom of many chapters, Winchester wants readers to come away with a sense of hope about the future of the ocean.

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