Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers, by Simon Winchester
This book really bothered me. It is not a worthless piece of junk, but it is almost as if the author wants it to be. Like with his book on the Atlantic Ocean (perhaps we can expect future volumes on the Arctic, Antarctic, and/or Indian Oceans?), the author has sought to convey the history and contemporary issues of a large body of water surrounded by notable nations and sought to talk about it using contrived ways that demonstrate his own lamentable biases. As someone who has a great deal of hostility to the worldview commitments of the author I found this book to be almost insufferable. Calling the author a self-hating European hypocrite is perhaps too kind for the sort of approach that the author takes, showing how he has bumbled his way through the Pacific, even managing to get someone killed or imprisoned in North Korea because of his idiocy, and the selective hatred of imperialism that leads him to pander to China’s behavior while condemning that of the United States is impossible to take at face value without ascribing to the author some sort of leftist political agenda that excuses imperialism so long as it comes in the face of leftist politics and not that of British, American, or Australian desires to protect their own cultural achievements.
This particular book is about 450 pages long or so and is divided into ten chapters that are focused on areas that the author finds convenient to study and that are twisted and contorted to suit his own defective worldview. The author begins with a look at the lonely see and sky of that most non-pacific of oceans, before moving on to an author’s note on carbon. The author discusses the horrors of the nuclear testing on and around Bikini Atoll (without providing similar condemnation for the testing of nuclear weapons by other nations than the United States). After that the author moves to a praise of Japanese efforts by Sony to build with transistors and seems to mourn the growth of American creativity in recent years. The author discusses the fun of surfing, while blaming whitey for killing Hawaiian birds and viewing the same Polynesians who destroyed Rapa Nui as being a sustainable indigenous culture. The author discusses North Korea’s role as a regional irritant, and the decline of Western imperialism in the Pacific (without discussing China’s imperialism there as negatively). He discusses El Niño with typical leftist environmentalist panic and attacks Australians for their concerns about demographics and their identity as European settler colonists. He discusses sea vents and volcanoes to justify his scientific interests, the supposed fragility of the Pacific and its diversity and life, and closes with a discussion of rivalries and Chinese aggression.
This book is a case study of how not to deal with a region. For one, it is perhaps inevitable that a book about something as large as the Pacific is going to end up involving a lot of convenience reporting and sampling. The author, as a leftist self-hating Brit, is of course interested in self-loathing and it shows. This book is largely of interest to other self-hating Europeans or those people (like the Chinese and Japanese) that the author largely refuses to criticize to any great degree. The fact that the author has nicer things to say about North Korea and its lunacy than about South Korea suggests that the author has his priorities screwed up. This book would have been far more balanced had it been critical of French imperialism (in New Caledonia, for example), had viewed the Chinese with a great deal more suspicion (and been more aware of China’s own imperialism extending at least from the Sung period if not well-before in the Pacific region). That said, the author probably had no interest in balance or any interest in doing more than mocking the voyage of the Kon-Tiki and a great deal of other aspects of European culture that are more worthwhile than his own dribbles, and it shows.