Book Club: ‘Vast Expanses’ by Helen M. Rozwadowski

‘A timely and useful oceancentric natural history of the ocean-human relationship… Rozwadowski thoroughly brings readers up to date on the essential issues of marine exploration, research and the environment’ – Booklist

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The book cover of ‘Vast Expanses’ by Helen M. Rozwadowski

In ‘Vast Expanses: A History of the Oceans’ author Helen M. Rozwadowski delivers a complete yet concise retelling of the human-ocean relationship through both geological and modern history. In it she explores the evolutionary, geopolitical, cultural and scientific impacts our oceans have had on us, from the creation of life on earth to the formation of civilisations and the birth of industrialization and scientific exploration. It is a fantastic glimpse into the past that will have you re-evaluating how you see the present, whilst also sparking a fresh appreciation for the marine world and a renewed desire to help protect it.

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A large part of the book focuses on how maritime history helped to shape national and imperial powers and inspired globalisation

The real strength of this book is the way Rozwadowski blends historical information and scientific fact into a compelling narrative that focuses on the relationship between mankind and the seas. At its core it is an evaluation of how our oceans have helped to develop and define us over time. Beginning with the formation of our oceans billions of years ago and the early effects they had on shaping the planet, we continue to see how early civilisations began to explore and utilize the oceans to advance themselves, slowly showing how as time and technology improved the sea became the backdrop to the development of the new world through trade, conflict and discovery. Leading into modern history we are also shown how a re-discovery of the oceans both culturally and industrially has dramatically shifted how we perceive them multiple times over a relatively short period.

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Technological advancements like that of Scuba diving helped to expose people to the hidden underwater world which in turn greatly changed our relationship with it

Another key theme of the book is how as a species we have often misinterpreted the ocean as a boundless and infinite resource that can be indefinitely exploited and taken advantage of. However by re-examining our ocean history it shows us that our short-sightedness and lack of awareness for the marine environment has led us to a point where we are now the ones creating the biggest impact, in a much less positive way. In this way the book emphasises the importance of continuing to learn more about the oceans both now and throughout the past to help forge a healthier relationship with them for future generations.

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Vast Expanses tracks how the ocean has gone from something expansive and indefinite to knowable and vulnerable over time

Overall ‘Vast Expanses’ is an insightful, informative and well written account of the human-ocean relationship over time. Anybody who wants to know more about how our oceans have shaped us and in return how we are changing them, could wish for no better story than this one.

This review is the sixth in our new Marine Madness Book Club! At the beginning of every month we will be releasing a new review of an ocean inspired book and encouraging you to let us know what you think in the comments and via social media. To find out more visit the Book Club page here.

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