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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  January 3, 2011 7:00am-8:00am EST

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know. i think there would have been resistance in some quarters, but there would have been a lot of pressure to think about it at least. >> rick, we've come to the end of our time today. this is your third appearance here at the library, our 300th program, and we're very pleased. rick atkinson. >> next simon winchester presents a history of the atlantic ocean. the author examines the early exploration of the ocean, as was current issues such as overfishing and pollution that affect the body of water today. simon winchester discusses his book at politics and prose bookstore in washington, d.c..
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the program is just under an hour. >> i am barbara meade, one of the osha at politics and prose. the first time that i met simon winchester was about 12 years ago in 1998, and he had come here to speak about his book, "the professor and the madman," the book about the making of the oxford english dictionary. but i tell you, i was just so bowled over by listening to his stories. if ever there's anybody who is a natural born storyteller, it's simon. and so i would just determine that after that that we would have simon back for every book so he could tell us the stories behind every book. and so, this is the seventh time i counted that you have come. and so i hope we can have a lifetime of your telling
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stories. simon studied geology at oxford, and you could certainly see this in his new book. first of all, he feels the atlantic ocean is so alive that it is perfectly qualifies to have a biography written of it. he says it's alive, capricious, wind, water is, water and waves and wind of animals and birds of ships and man. and further, this is his quote from simon, of all the oceans in the world he says, the atlantic possesses the greatest concentration of marker events of human history. it, as seems unarguable, the
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mediterranean could run fairly he said to have been the inland sea of classical civilization, then surely the atlantic ocean by virtue of this huge concentration of ideas, events, inventions and developments, has become an unarguably also the endless sea of modern civilization. no other ocean comes close to filling this role, which is why the atlantic rises head and shoulders above all its taller, pressure and colmer maritime cousins. so here's simon to give us more stories about what is going on in the atlantic. and simon, i hope you include in that the time that you were stranded on the shore in greenland waiting for the fishermen to come rescue you. >> yes. >> you can tell that quickly.
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[applause] >> well, thank you, barbara very much indeed. it is wonderful to be back here, although tinged with sadness. all of you know, of course, about carla's passing, and i'm really sorry. all of the writers that come here revered this extraordinary couple of women who created this store. and we miss her terribly, so i am sorry, very sorry indeed. [applause] >> about five or six years i was driving in chile, the story begins really in the pacific ocean, and i was driving on the road in southern chile from punta arenas to the tour is fine
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national park. one or two of you may have been there. it's a fairly rough gravel road with very few habitations along it, and it's not a very pleasant road to drive on. and it's very late in the evening, and there was a furious rainstorm. just appallingly dreadful night. and i need a hotel because clearly i wasn't going to progress much further to the north, and there weren't any villages. but i saw on the left hand side a little wooden sign which said del rio, which didn't look terribly promising. but i thought i'd give it a bash anyway. so i turned left and bumped it down is even more dreadful road. and eventually was confronted by this enormous scottish looking castle, a huge place with one or two lights, dim lights burning.
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and i knocked on the door and was greeted by a person and he said yes, we are indeed a hotel. we have had not had gas for about six months, but we are more than happy you should come and stay tonight on such a foul tasting. he told me a little of the history which indeed he had been built by a scotsman who start a sheep farm in the 1860s or so. and now they raise, i was going to say llamas, but kissing cousins of llamas down there. they would cook one for me for dinner that night. it sounded very agreeable, but that's indeed what they made for me and it was wonderful with some good chile. it was a totally nice evening at a baked bread and i felt like i was king of the world, it was great. and then afterwards, this does have a point, they showed me
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into the library which had a huge note and a great fireplace. they lit the fire, a bottle of whiskey, good whiskey, so i couldn't have been happier. i was confronted by this enormous collection of books. in the end i selected one, and i mustn't take it down from the shelf about half past 10. i started reading it and it was so fascinated by the story i read, that when i stopped, finished the book, the sun was coming up. it was one of those books that just completely captivate you. it was the book that prompted, galvanized me into action to write this book about the atlantic ocean, and, therefore, is somewhat ironic. but not entirely ironic because i read this book was born sort of intellectually, without saying too pretentious. the pacific because i've written a book about 20 years ago when i
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was living in hong kong about the pacific ocean, and everyone told me in hong kong that the pacific was the notion of a future. so i drank the kool-aid and said well, okay, and decided to write a book about it. and spent a lot of time traveling from chile and australia, and at last the, crisscrossing echoing to islands in between. is a fairly commercial failure. it wasn't as bad if it has become i mentioned before which i wrote about america in the 1970s which sold only 12 copies. [laughter] but it wasn't quite as bad as that but it was pretty bad. and the reason i think when we analyze why was it might well have been true to say the pacific was the ocean of the future, but what it clearly wasn't in human terms anyway, it
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had very little human history in it. i mean yes, there were the polynesian and magellan and people like that. virtually speaking it was nothing compared to the great richness of the mediterranean, and then of the atlantic. so with that idea in the back of my mind, galvanized by this book i read in chile that i will tell you about later, i will tell you about this book towards the end of this chat, i decided what i've done in the 1980s in hong kong with simply the wrong horse. i chose the wrong road ocean to write about. if i'd chosen right i would have a bigger chance of of making a book that was somewhat more readable. and so as you mentioned, i decided to write it as a barber the first of all because it has a just -- has a definable birth. we know when the pacific came into being was about 200 billion years ago, when this kind of
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comedy the world and, surrounded by this enormous sea, and broke in half a century and water cascade in the middle and that was the beginning of the atlantic ocean edited will assume this s-shaped configuration in yesterday until about 50 million years ago. but nontheless, that's its origin. its birth could be written about geologically, and it's likely death which we know when it will cease to be, which is in about 170 million years, this fairly keen school of future geologist basically in texas who they are very clever people who do a lot of mathematical and protect our comments are going to move into future. i linger on it but basically what's going to happen, they think, is cape horn, oddly enough, whereby the irish is talk about will start moving
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eastward and will describe a path along the bottom end of the atlantic ocean and will pass the south, south africa, cape of good hope and will continue moving eastward until it gets to south australia and tasmania, and then it will sort of nudge australia, start itself moving anti-clockwise. in cape horn will start moving northward and eventually collide with singapore. it sounds ridiculous, but then cape horn collide with singapore and about 170 million years time. then all of the water would have been squeezed out of what we know the atlantic today. the planet will cease to be. and, of course, it goes without saying humankind will no longer be anywhere near that i mention this only because i might have mentioned this to before and the previous occasion, but i was once talking, the concept of geological time is sometimes
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difficult for people to grasp and of talking to a group of ladies at lunch in kansas city once about the likely volcanic eruptions in yellowstone national park, which is going to every titanic event, and i said when the volcanoes finally erupt in yellowstone all of the great cities of northwestern united states like seattle and portland, probably san francisco, certainly vancouver, they will all be buried under hundreds of feet of ash. and edwards looked alarmed about this precipice will be at least 250,000 years by which time of course humankind will be totally extinct. everyone was sort of related. [laughter] >> except for this woman in the front row who got sort of red-faced and said what? even americans will be extinct? [laughter] >> even americans and 170 million years.
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so it has a lifespan of about 400 billion years. more or less in the middle of that period when we are now, there's a very slim, about 200,000 years, when humankind and habits of the ocean. and that period i really concentrate on in this book because that's where the wreckage -- the richness and the stories come from. the way i decide to organize that, was to try to corral all these events in some sort of order was given to me, bless him, by shakespeare, and then who ever went to see, probably completely unaware of the atlantic's existence. never went on about as far as we know. but nontheless, i had read a copy in an airplane david owen, former british foreign secretary, now lord owen, compiled anthology of his favorite poetry, organized according to, and that's why he
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gave the title, seven ages of man from shakespeare's as you like it. as you remember from school, the seven ages are the infant, to the schoolboy, lover, soldier, the justice, the old man and didn't return to childhood. and it seemed to me that that would provide a framework into which i could corral as much of what i could find out about the atlantic, into a. and it seems thus far, in his early days in a tour of his book, not all of the criticism is in yet, but so far no one has said how dare you use shakespeare. i think he provided me with very useful structure. i thought what i would do because a note that time limit and i know barber is very fierce, what i thought i would do is pick almost iran just select from this great sort of
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stories, three to illustrate just the tip of the iceberg if you like, the kind of things that i discovered when i was doing the research, which is sort of buried in somewhat in the book, and into a tiny bit about the book i read in chile, why it's important. the three that i sort of selected, one is sort of ludicrous and trivial and unimportant. one is the or generally speaking little-known. i did know about anyone. and the third one is completely ridiculous. [laughter] >> as you will see the first one was something that i came across in the north atlantic, and that was in the faroe islands. the faroe islands, maybe so you have been, a group of 18 islands between shetland and iceland, way up in the high altitude,
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very foggy, very rainy, quite cold that the kind of place an englishman likes. we flourish in places like that. and the long as it were more, but they are but the last, the vikings. has the reputation of the vikings, very strong, sacking all the time. unfortunately, or fortunately no one is at war with the faroese. there are 50,000, population 50,000 faroese, and the men are big strapping chaps. no one to fight. and so they're absolutely bursting with super abundance of testosterone, and clearly need to get it out in ways that you can imagine. what am going to describe to you is one of those ways. but don't worry, it's not dirty.
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[laughter] the islands, there are 18 of them. they have been tilted from west to east such that on the west side there are enormously tall cliffs. some of the tallest cliffs in the world, 2000 feet high. in the slope down until the eastern side, the grasslands disappear into the ocean. so i went first of all in the springtime to an island of the western most of the 18 faroe islands, and sure enough there's a clip that goes way up into the clouds. black dripping, but with occasional patches of green which if you look through binoculars, our patches of grass. not much bigger than this table. they are dotted all over the otherwise the particle landscape of the cliffs. well, what happened each spring
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is votes -- you can imagine the scene the boat smashing up and down. the cliffs are formal. there is water, seaweed. but nontheless, the main inch their boats up to the bottom of the clip and leap up onto the vertical cliff. it's not as foolish as all that because you realize because they have been doing this for years there are, in fact, wrote which had been suspended from the very top of the cliffs all the way down, 2000 feet, very long robes. so the faroese chaps chooses his moment to leap out and swing over the water and crashes onto the cliff top and hold the rope and he is at least secure for a few minutes. and what he does, a site that is unusual, he turned around and bridges down into the boat, flux from the well of the boat a lamb, lots of lamps in the boat. you did notice at first but he
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picks up his lamb and puts it around his neck and somehow secures it with string or something into his collar so the lamb legs -- and then hand over hand he starts climbing up this rope. you see him go up 100 feet, 200 feet and then he disappears and then he might appear again when he is about 800 or 900 feet up, seriously high level, way above the sea which is down below, he then finds to his left on his right, i passed by this grass, which seems in his mind to be suitable for the land that he is god round his neck. the grass is lush and beautiful because it is fertilized by the qantas that live in abundance on these cliffs. when he found what he deems to be suitable, the first piece of grass he removes the lamb from his neck and puts it on the grass while he is holding on
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with his other hand and his foot brace so he doesn't fall himself. the land looks down and thinks, this is not exactly what i got into. but after a few of the land realizes if he doesn't keep his footing he will fall so he better do whatever he can to make sure he doesn't. and he scrambled and discuss about and eventually reaches a point of equilibrium where upon the faroese says, i don't know the actual conversation, but essentially says you're going to be okay. thumbs up. the lamb gives him thumbs up or whatever the equivalent is and the faroese descents and leaves the land there for the rest of the effort and you see if you go into the midsummer to any of the cliffs in any of these 18 islands, you will see vertical cliffs, green patches of grass
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and each patch of grass a tiny little lamb. very tiny the higher up they are. but then, and i saw this what then happens in september, october, is that the faroese chap comes back, clearly not having got rid of his testosterone during the summer, and reassess the rope up to where the lamb was back in april, and he is confronted when he gets back to the right place not with a lamb but now with this enormous sheet what hasn't had anywhere to run. it has just been eating the grass. just gets really chubby and hanging on. and i would like to be able to report that he puts the lamb around his neck, not at all, not at all. a simple gesture, he pushes the lamb off and the lamb tumbles down, crashes into the sea to independently it is enormously dangerous to travel anywhere around the foot, the cliffs
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because in this sort of monty python -esque moment, there are falling sheep. and they take them back and beat them. they have these and claim that these are the finest taking lamb in the world. that's the story. ipod which is share with you in the ludicrous end of the spectrum. now you have to wipe the smiles off their faces because the next-door is not ludicrous at all. it is quite serious and maybe i am telling that the people in new york, who because of the demographic, quite rightly wanted noticed what very few it. but i'm hoping -- july 1916, the royal navy was losing the battle of the atlantic. two battles of atlanta, one each each of the world wars, both of
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which were german submarines would attack vessels coming eastbound from canada and the united states bringing supplies to the british isles. the german submarines in both instances would fire torpedoes at the cargo ships and the royal navy would attempt by using our gunfire or depth chargers to stop. in the first world war the german submarines when they fired their torpedoes had to come to the surface. technology didn't allow them in the first world war 25 the torpedoes from underwater. and so relatively easy, the royal navy if they saw one of these submarines, to attack them with naval gunfire. at the problem was in 1916, summer, is the royal naval guns could fire with much frequency because we had run out cordite, the propellant for the shells. the reason we run out of cordite is because we couldn't get
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enough of a singular chemical component of cordite, which is acetone, which many of you in this audience will know him, nail polish remover. exactly. i don't want to make any sort of gender related claims, but 50% of you will know what that is. the rest of you probably won't. anyway, that is the background. there was not enough acetone because we had brought all our acetone from the germans. the germans are unlikely to sell is acetone when we are at war with them. that's the background. in manchester, the edge of manchester, i used to work for the guarding and much revered figure, the man who made the remark that -- he used to have lunch every tuesday in manchester at the liberal cup with someone that he found
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interesting. and on this particular tuesday, which i think was in july 1916, he had lunch with a white russian professor of biology from the university of manchester. during the course of a very long conversation, he got very excited and said i have often attempted to try to ask him by well by well, he said i developed a new technique for producing acetone in very large quantities. he had no idea what acetone was, wasn't a slight bit interested but remembered this fact. the following tuesday he was down in london where he was having lunch with david lord george was at the time that minister of munitions at lord george was going on and on about the fact that royal navy was losing the battle of the planet because we run out of cordite, couldn't make the cordite because we didn't have enough acetone. so the same word was being used that one week later and a light went off.
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cases this is extraordinary. i met a chap just last tuesday in manchester who claims, to be able to great acetone in large quantities. lord george says an amazing and we should have been down to london. so they brought them down to london and he was interviewed and discovered he wasn't in that case, and say what you need is he said, well first of all, to do this i need something with the bats or hoppers for distilling tubes or something, paper read would be lovely orchestra. they said you're in luck because the gin factory which is in east london just went bankrupt and we are taking control of the site. so we can factory -- couldn't be better, thank you very much. said he was given a chance expected. what else? something with, like a maze. they said you can have made
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because that all comes from canada and it keeps getting torpedoed by the germans. so we can't spare that. what else? he said have a horse chestnut? as it happens, some of you may know, each autumn in britain school children for school boys play a game called congress. i was told yesterday in america it was called something else we take horse chestnuts and you put a string through them and suspend them by chronic lumbar, and another little boy would try to get his conqueror against yours and see which one breaks first. is a very, very popular game. still is in britain. it was decided to capitalize on this, the autumn of 1916, the word would run from the british government that children, certainly collect them. they can't play the game. they should collect these things and it would be given to someone
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and brought down to london. so what happened? that september was that children collected as usual competent paperbacks but then they would be persuaded to give them over. the lorries would come down to london. thousands of these would arrive, go to the gin factor it would be poured into the bats, the gin plant and using the professor's magical techniques, first of all from the taps at the bottom of the vats would come a struggle and a team and a gush and detroit of pure acetone which was been taken in take two cars down to the royal naval ordnance factory, turned into cordite which was then loaded onto the royal naval ships and guns started firing again, and by the late autumn 1916, the whole tide of the battle of the atlantic was reversed and the german submarines were being sought again, and war started to turn
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very much in europe's favor. the following summer, it was clear everything had changed over the battle of the atlantic, the complexion of a change in our favor, it was decided among other things that we should give this fellow a metal, and the war, a knighthood or something like that. and so the government talked about this and it said, he is a foreigner. the person that should give him this award should be the british foreign secretary, who was alfred. he invited him, who he knew, they knew each other for other reasons, to london after we're terribly grateful. his majesty would love to give you a knighthood. we would love for you to get to call yourself serve. and he said that's awfully nice of you and i'm terribly grateful but the fact of the matter is i don't want an honor from the british government. what you want, however, because i secretary of the english
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league of sinus is i want a public declaration from the government to save his majesty's government would look with favor on the establishment of a homeland for the jewish people in palestine. and so alfred said i think we can probably do that. so there were discussions through the summer and then on the 17th of november, 1917, the letter was formally written, delivered with a copy of gratitude to the professor of biology at the university of manchester, saying precisely that. his majesty's government -- would look on favor. that was the declaration which led in 1942 the duration of a state official. the statement created from chemistry, a little-known aspect of chemistry. but my point of view, crucially in the middle of the atlantic ocean. that's the more important story. [applause] then the third one, is going to
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be a tidy little but unless will i'll be -- i will try to the third one is frankly ludicrous. in the south atlantic there is a british possession, extremely miserable place, the most isolated inhabited island in the world. .. >> in 1941, for reasons best known to themselves, the british
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government decided to classify or reclassify this island as a ship. it was an entirely new name. they called it hms atlantic isle. they decided it was a static ship from which one could observe, once again i'm not obsessed with submarines, but how submarines were raising in the south atlantic. they appointed six sailors to go down there and take command of the ship. the capital -- captain, derek bosie. he fell in love with one the island women, called emily rogers. although from what i can gather from his writing, they never even held hands. it was so unbelievely chased. they barely spoke. but he in his writings was
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totally enraptured by emily. and he hoped, i think it was more fancied than reality that she reciprocated. she wrote about three paragraphs in a book that he published in 1954 about his love for emily rogers. as i say, nothing -- nothing ever happened. and he was very sad and what he wrote about, it was the departure when the war was over and he had to leave the girl behind the beach. there were two paragraphs. i went there in the 1980s, i think it was, and one the things i wanted to do was to go and see emily rogers. who was this women that had so encaptured. of course, 30 object -- 30 or 40 years had passed. she was no longer a slip of a girl, she was 60-year-old lady married and a grandmother. married to the chief islander,
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mr. glass. i don't know his first name. anyway, i walked through the village of the seven seas and not a particularly difficult place to navigate since there's only about 40 houses to where they lived. there was her husband, mr. glass, rather large man standing with his arms folded. he said i understand you are a writer. i said yes. i imagine you are here to see emily. i'd rather like to. absolutely not. that story was so embarrassing to me and her and everyone on the island. we never of want it repeated. he and emily were the only two islanders i never got to see. so anyway, i did all sorts of other things. then got back to where i was living at the time and wrote a book. and i confess, and i have to take my lump for it, i voted those two paragraphs from derek's book, because they were beautiful. it was a very tender piece of
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writing about, you know, a young naval officer with the young love affair with the island girl. i thought no more about it. in the 1990s, i was in south atlantic lecturing on various islands like south george and tristan. we eventually came to tristan, you see the beautiful volcano ahead of us. we filled up to me and sort of full flood telling us about the history, and we dropped anchor, or we hoped to. then out from the little harbor came a little rubber boat with a policeman on board. the policeman does many other jobs. he quite literally wear different hats. on this occasion, he was wearing the hat of tristan. he came aboard and said is there
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a mr. winchester on board? yes. he said you can't long. the story that you told 15 years before about emily. i said i'm sorry. he was impeccable. i couldn't land. so that -- it was embarrassing. because all of the americans sort of filed past me and you've been lecturing. as if you know about it, you are not allowed. i had to play patience or something with the chairman captain of the ship. and then they all came back three or four hours later. they aren't that interesting. we went off somewhere else. that happened two more times. then i had to go back to research to do this book. so i was down there again last year. now they have e-mail. and so at least the administrator of the island who is a british colonial official had e-mail. he was a chap -- i knew him. i used to know him in pakistan. he's clearly not at the cutting end of diplomacy, why he's
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ending his career in tristan, i don't know. i e-mailed him. i said david, i'm writing this book. and i'm coming down to tristan. you know, i have a little bit of history with tristan. that's the situation in? he said very much hoping to see you. we'll put it to the island council. by now emily rogers is dead, her husband is dead, 50 or 60 years since the book, 40 years since my book. you think the fires had been dumped down president not at all. the island council has formerly decided, this is quoting david, that you will not be allowed to land on this occasion or indeed ever. so i stand in full humility before you as the man despite having written about this, i'm not allowed to travel to tristan. those are the three stories that
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i plot. and i'm just going to if i may round it off by going back to the book that i read in chile. the book that so captured me and i think it's out of print, but it's the sort of book if you could if it comes back into print, start here. it's a pnp book. it's by john marsh. it's called "skeleton coast" about a ship wreck on the skeleton coast of what was then southwest africa, and now nomivia. it's from the bodder, a book called the canadian river. it's absolutely treacherous, razer sharp, winds, fogs, disagreeable cold currents, and if you do happen to fetch up on the coast, there's no water. and you die basically. i mean it's just no substance at all. well, the star, which was coming
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down from liverpool ultimately to go around the cape and go up to aden with 60 passengers on board, it struck something called the shall in november 1942, sent out a distress message. 60 survivors and everyone survived the wreck. they managed to get on to shore. they built themselves a temporary shelter and awaited rescued. normally you don't get rescued. in this case, they did. this was the story of their rescue. it was accomplished over land. a convoy of police vehicle. took them about two months. they were all rescued, no one died expect in the maritime side of the rescue, which didn't succeed, a number of ships came, one of them was wrecked itself, the others turned back. the one that was wrecked was south african harbor board tug called mr. child's i'll yacht.
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it got relatively close. two young men tried to swim ashore with a rope. they were called [inaudible] and a scotsman called mr. mcintyre. mr. mcintyre's body was never found. i read this story and i thought i want to go and find this wreck. because these wrecked ship don't decay. there's nothing to cause them to decay. they remain there. and also there was now the incredibly lonely grave. so i vowed that i would try to get there eventually. on this -- researching this book, i did. i managed to find -- i happened to be in cape town and i got a flight to the capitol. then i got on a little tiny plane which took me to a remote place. i found a very agreeable man with a land rover. i had the gps reference of where we believe the ship was stranded. no one had seen it. we went up the coast for a
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number of days. sure enough in the end, we found it. there was the wreck of the old liverpool star with all of it's cargo still around. you open the big wooden boxes and find one the cargoes she was carrying, lightbulb, still unbroken after 60 years in the desert. probably didn't work, but they were still there. the shelter was still there. no the canvas, but the shelter. then i wanted to go to the grave. that's about 16 miles south of the wreck site. you come to the point called rocky point. when you look at the waves, the enormous waves coming in. every time the waves go town, you see two tiny pyramids of rusted iron. which is all that remains of this tug. and then the great big pile of rocks and whale bones and planted vertically in the sand, a brass plaque which most
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unvisited grave site in the world. no one goes there. but this is raised in memorial to two men who very bravely attempted to rest -- rescue in 1942 the two men. i was very moved. i had gone there after reading the book in chile. i decided that i needed to do something. i had taken a tiny bottle that i had found in the wreck of the star. sandblasted it almost pour unadorned glass. it was the sort of thing that the woman might have kept. i had that. so i wrote a note saying, sounds corny, thank you for trying, now rest in peace. put it into the bottle and screwed it shut. typical message in the bottle for the sailor and put it in the whale bones and left it by the grave. that was as much as i thought i could do then. then i go back to new york and
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wrote the book. i was being haunted by the fault that mr. mcintyre was born on the island, traveled down the atlantic to cape town to another atlantic ocean city, had taken a job on a little boat that worked in the atlantic, drowned in the atlantic, and his body was swept out into the atlantic never to be found again. so in the end, i decided the best thing to do was to dedicate the book to him. the book is dedicated to mr. mcintyre, and to me, it sums up at least part of the story of our human relationship with this great mass of water, the atlantic ocean. thank you very much. [applause] [applause] [applause] [applause] >> we have questions.
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you got to go to the mike. over here. >> thank you, that was wonderful. [inaudible comment] >> john marsh. john marsh, in the book, i think you can get it online. i know that's a dirty word to you. you can find secondhand copies. it was published in south africa, i think. >> something that seems to connect all of the stories is they connect to england, which is an island nation in the middle of the atlantic. so that makes sense. do you have stories about new england? which depended heavily on the atlantic and people went back and forth to stay in touch and make a living whaling and in trading. >> there's a whole heap of stuff about whaling from new bedford and nantucket, and there is -- there's a lot -- i don't want to sound as if i'm trying to sell
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the book, but perhaps that's what i'm trying to do in a way. there's a lot about everything. i don't know if any of you heard this morning, i was on the morning edition program. looking at the very nice interview by lynn neery, looking at the comments which i did on the train coming down to washington this evening, the first comment was an angry man saying you are racist and eocentric. there was no mention in the discussion about npr about the middle passage and slavery. there's heaps in the book about the middle passage and slavery. there's not much about the titanic. quite a bit about the luis tape ya. but i try and cover all of the bases. yes, the lover chapter is all about poetry and music and art and art techture. and the day that i was writing
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about -- i think in may. on the day that i was writing, you may remember this story, a little girl from new york was standing on a rock just where windsor, and she was swept away by a wave while her parents watched in horror. it was dreadful. there's a lot about new england. thank you. >> you've illuded to it a little bit. just a logistical question. your book is about a huge event, but a single event at a point in time. this is about a huge subject, limitless. what are the logistics of writing a book on a limitless subject in? you've talked a little bit about the framework and selecting something. do you select the outline, then research it, and then write it, or how do you do a book like?
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>> well, certainly, yes. i mean in a way. structure is hugely important. i think i've always said that if i'm asked to teach about writing nonfiction, i say the three elements. the idea, the idea is king. the primacy of the idea, you got to have a good idea. the second most important is structure. how you write the idea. the idea really could get away. you could write a 20 volume dissertation, you have to look at the classic work on the mediterranean and the world. i mean that's two 900 page books. that's one point in time describing the history of one much smaller seed. so you got to be very disciplined about your structure. that can have an awful lot of risk. is shakespeare the right structure? thus far i have dodged the
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bullet. someone will come along and say this is a monstrous way to organize it. the third leg, i mean i don't mean to dismiss the writing. the writing -- one trying to make it good. but in the order of precedence, i think idea, structure, and writing. it would be nice if all three were given equal merit. if they had to be put in order, idea comes first and structure comes second. structure before writing, i think. it was rather vague answer to your question. but it's important to me. sir? >> i was delighted to hear that you had not attempted to go back to visit tristan. that was my favorite book of your "outpost." >> oh great. >> i was wondering if you went back to any of the islands st. helena. >> if you have not been to st. helena, there's a ship that leaves every 12 weeks.
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inexpensive, wonderful food. terribly nice stuff on the boat. it goes portland, to tenner reef, to dakar, and then ascension island, and st. hell lain -- st. helena, and you have to stay for a week. they take you back to ascension island and picks up the contract workers that are there and brings them back and you go back on to cape town where you can fly back to washington. i hardly recommend it. there is no airport in st. helena, you'll have to go by ship. >> thank you, mr. -- sir. i was curious going back, one
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the impressions that i cleaned from your book was that scientist were not exactly attendantive to seismic activity. in mount -- >> [inaudible] >> is now demonstrating seismic activity. should we be concerned? >> about cracatowa? >> yeah? >> no. it goes off every day. you need to worry about the ones that don't go off, because when it does, it goes off big time. yellowstone, if you can wait a quarter of a million years. it's doing what the pharaohs do. don't worry. >> if i can ask a question about dictionaries, is it true that
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you've stopped consulting your dictionaries at home and you now only look up words on your ipad? >> well, i know had where this question comes from. it was the decision -- i was in australia when a oup made this remark that he would not invisit the third edition of the oed being published in a hard paper format. and i got telephoned because the books i've written about the subject. i said quite honestly, i don't -- i think that's a natural -- i hate saying it in a place like a book shop. but in 30 years time, the oed volume third edition will be published in 2037. they say june 20, '37. i think by then humankind will not be extinct.
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i would think they would produce a hard back. as i do now, if i want to no a word -- for instance, the oed web site is being relaunched december 10th. i've been given a sneak preview. it is amazing. you can look as i did the other day. i looked at a timeline of the introduction of words into the english language. i decided to look at australian aboriginal words. it's interesting historically because an awful lot came in when we started colonizing australia in the 1830s, '40s. there's been a recent resurgence because of the prize among the aboriginal people.
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the words have been introduced, and bruce chapman had a lot to do that with as well. using the new tools as availabl, you can find out all of the words that have come from the really most obscure australian aboriginal languages and then quotations from books that employs them. if the book was written by an interesting author, you can find the biographer. you cannot do that with a hard book. the diction i look at almost exclusively online. >> two more questions. >> you go ahead. >> thank you. thank you. in terms of global warming, are as many in the atlantic at risk as they are in the pacific? >> no. because the islands -- particularly the islands in the
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indian ocean and islands in and around delta and bangladesh, they are much more liable to be undated. most of the islands in the atlantic ocean are volcanic and big and massive. and they are at risk from other things. but not so much from the rising sea level. it's the city around the periphery of the ocean that are, london, and new york most notably. it's interesting that england is not fighting the water. we should no, there's no point in fighting rising sea levels. venice should know that. build things that float. they are building things that float. department stores that float. as water raises, fine.
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the tide rises all department stores. but london is at the moment still not advances funds to rebuild the barrier which is now going to be over topped barely soon, and new york of course, the subway system which is really vulnerable to flooding and a huge number of pumps at the moment. but pumps is the only thing they can do to fight rising sea levels, they are going to have a spend a lot of money on even bigger ones. so floating. i mean stop global warming, of course. but float rather than fight. [laughter] >> okay. one last question. >> forgive me, because i can't not remember the exact location in the atlantic, canary islands or portugal. but there is a geological slip. >> yes. [laughter] >> this i will remind you, the volcano on the west side of the canary islands, and it is --
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this is an extraordinary story. i go into it some detail in the book. there was a bbc, all of the dignity and accuracy, there was a documentary that said when the volcano erupts, an enormous slab of rock is going to fall off the western side and create a tsunami which will inundate new york. no geologist in his right mind thinks it will happen in tens of thousands of years. if it does happen, the big chunk of rock almost certainly isn't going to fall off and the way it's going to create isn't going to be nearly as large as that. but the interesting thing is that the sponsor, the financial backing for that bbc film was given by a chicago-based
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reinsurance company. [laughter] [applause] [applause] >> okay. [applause] [applause] >> thank you. >> thank you. >> simon winchester is the author of several books, including "the professor and the madman" and "cracatoa." for more information, visit >> book tv. follow us for news. >> we are here at the national press club with diane rehms, npr host and honorary chairwoman of the press club's book and author night. she is promoting her new book, "life with maxie." can you tell us what that book is about? >> maxie is a little long-haired
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chihuahua that came into our home seven and a half years ago when we had a big home with a big garden and then he had to move to a condo. it's all about life with maxie. and that move and the impact he has had on our lives. he's such a special dog. >> what are some of the changes that maxie had to become accustom to. >> for one thing, he wouldn't walk. he wouldn't walk on a leash. so i had to push him in a stroller before we left the house. he was king pasha. you know? and i was the one getting all of the exercise. but since we've moved to the condo, he's finally learned to walk. he's become friendly, he used to
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nip at people, and now he's the friendiest dog in the world. i could have brought him here tonight, and he would have gone up to everybody and allowed them to pet him. >> what inspired you to write about maxien >> -- maxie? >> you know, i was speaking out in salt lake city, utah, and the publisher heard me speak about maxie. two weeks later, he sent me a letter asking me to write a book. what can i say? so i wrote the book. and then signed the photographer, and we took thousands of photographs. and there we are. :


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