This Week’s Book Review – The Gulf of Mexico

Looking for a good read? Here is a recommendation. I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review. You do not have to agree with everything every author has written (I do not), but the fiction I review is entertaining (and often thought-provoking) and the non-fiction contain ideas worth reading.

Book Review

The History, Heritage, and Future of An American Sea

“The Gulf of Mexico: A Martime History,” by John S. Sledge, University of South Carolina Press, 2019, 252 pages, $29.99 (Hardcover)

The Gulf of Mexico is America’s sea. The wealth of two continents, from gold and silver in the sixteenth century to petroleum in the twenty-first, passes through its waters. It has provided food and recreation for those in the countries around it.

“The Gulf of Mexico: A Martime History,” by John S. Sledge, is a comprehensive history of the Gulf, from its earliest times to the present.

A prologue explains the author’s personal connections with the Gulf of Mexico followed by a brief introduction describing the Gulf’s physical and biological attributes. Sledge then plunges into the past. He starts with pre-Columbian history, describing the various native peoples that lived along the Gulf’s  periphery. A varied lot, they ranged from the primitive Arawak living on the islands, to the sophisticated culture of the Missippian People and the Aztec and Incan civilizations.

The Spanish conquest of the territories surrounding the Gulf follows, with a description of its -+French and British, establishing their own colonies and sending buccaneers to seize the wealth of Spain. This includes the emergence of the United States through revolution, and the impact of that new nation on the Gulf.

Sledge shows the US was not the only nation to emerge in the Gulf. He shows how the Spanish colonies broke away from Spain and Haiti from France in the nineteenth century to create a constellation of independent states – and briefly a breeding ground for pirates. The Gulf remained roiled in violence throughout the nineteenth century due to Texas Independence, the Mexican-American War, the United States Civil War and the Spanish American War. Sledge describes this violence.

The book is not just about warfare. Sledge has chapters describing the economic engines of the Gulf. The earliest involved harvesting of logwood for dyes. Cotton, timber, and petroleum also had their turns as Gulf industries, as described by Sledge. He also presents the role the fishing industry played during the Gulf past and continues to play in the present. The tourist industry, everything from recreational fishing to cruise ships is also described.

“The Gulf of Mexico” is a marvelous and comprehensive description of the Gulf of Mexico. He touches on its history, its heritage, and its potential future. The author is entranced by it. After finishing “The Gulf of Mexico” you may well be too.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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One thought on “This Week’s Book Review – The Gulf of Mexico”

  1. Thanks for the recommendation.  It sounds interesting.

    In a similar vein, you may want to take a look at “Sea Room” by Adam Nicholson  (2015), ISBN 978-1250074959, about the Shiant Islands off the West Coast of Scotland.  He covers similar ground to Sledge, but takes it even further back to the Continental Drift and other geological processes which created the islands, before going into the history and botany of the islands and the surrounding seas.  Since Mr. Adamson inherited the islands, he also ruminates upon the meaning of ownership of something which has existed since long-past geological eras and will continue to exist long after today’s society has slipped into old forgotten myths.

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