The Ocean Bookshelf

After consulting a crack team of specialists the Deeplings at DSN, here are the books, in no certain order, we feel should provide the backbone of the essential ocean reading collection. There are many others I am sure we are missing.  Feel free to add any you think should have been here below in the comments and I will add them into the grand list.

  • Sylvia Earle and Linda Glover’s Ocean: An Illustrated Atlas. This volume is so much more than a compilation of maps but a treasure trove of information provided through essays and photos. For the scientist and the layperson alike.
  • Helen Rozwadoski’s Fathoming the Ocean is admittedly dry but no other book provides the level of historical detail and insight into the exploration of the deep oceans.  The book provides a wonderful account of how we determined the depths of the oceans.
  • The Civilization and the Limpet is a classic.  Wells is masterful story teller and weaves 25 essays on a broad range of topics including cephalopods.
  • Cindy Lee Van Dover’s Deep Ocean Journeys was a major inspiration for me to become a deep-sea biologist.  One part science and one part an excellent account of a woman in science and the only woman and scientist pilot of the Alvin submersible.
  • Koslow’s The Silent Deep has become the new bible of deep-sea biology.  A great accessible read for everyone and vital reference for the marine biologist.
  • The most AWESOME marine theme photographic album ever published has to be Nouvain’s The Deep. Purchase it and prepare to spend a weekend consuming a well designed and compiled masterpiece. Add to it Reef and make a week of it.
  • The Search for the Giant Squid by Ellis will provide everything you wanted to know about the gargantuan beast from the deep. Ellis is a masterful story teller. The book covers all giant squid from historical accounts of Kraken attacks to the basic biology of giant squid. An engaging must read quickly consumed in a weekend.
  • Matsen’s Descent is an absolutely glorious and harrowing tale of Beebe and Barton’s and the events surrounding the Bathysphere dives. The book is well researched and provides both the heroic and non-heroic that allowed these two men to climb into a hollow sphere and descend deeper than any other human at the time. I would also check out Half Mile Down by William Beebe where he describes his and Otis Barton’s 1934 descent to 3,028 feet off Bermuda. And of course I also loved Matsen’s Jacques Cousteau: The Sea King. Add the latter so you know where so much of marine science started at.
  • Song for the Blue Ocean by Carl Safina is one of the few books that has made me weep.  Safina’s experience as a scientist and a conservationist yields the most thoughtful marine conservation book yet produced. He simultaneously writes about his passion for conservation but is concern for the fisherman and cultures threatened as well. He truthful discusses when fisherman, scientists, nonprofits, and governments have failed and prospered.
  • World Atlas of Coral Reefs like Ocean: An Illustrated Atlas is best described as an “atlas plus” providing a comprehensive and detailed account of all the world’s coral reef.
  • Between Pacific Tides by Ed Ricketts is the classic text that introduced as all to intertidal ecology and the rich biology of system so near to many of us.
  • The ultimate source for everything invertebrate…Brusca and Brusca
  • Heal the Ocean by Fujita is the ying to the yang of Song for a Blue Ocean.  By focusing on success stories it instills in us that we can still protect and save the ocean.
  • The Rise of Fishes is for everything you wanted to know about the evolution of fishes with numerous illustrations and photographs. If you want to know just about one fish…try the excellence that is Cod.
  • Mitchell’s Seasick is the Silent Spring for the oceans. Enough said.
  • The Wave by Susan Casey is a must read. A brilliant mix of science and surfing to explain waves.
  • Only in Saltwater Buddha would you find the eclectic mix of science, Zen Buddhism, Hawaiian culture, and surfing.  As a religion and biology double major I found this to be the book that brought peace to my conflicting sides.
  • Of course you need to own both The Log from the Sea of Cortez and The Voyage of the Beagle. If you don’t own them then stop what you are doing and proceed to the nearest bookstore.
  • “In 1820, the Nantucket whaleship Essex, thousands of miles from home in the South Pacific, was rammed by an angry sperm whale.”  The accounts of the tragedy that ensued are provided in The Loss of the Ship Essex, Sunk by a Whale. Of course this story also provided the inspiration for Moby Dick. Read both
  • And speaking of classics no list would be complete without 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
  • Not for a general audience, but AMAZING for marine scientists: Dynamics of Marine Ecosystems
  • Patrick O’Brian Aubrey-Maturin novels…read all of them
  • David Dobb’s Reef Madness is the book I wish I would have written. An excellent account of how Darwin spread controversy in more than one field of science. An excellent narrative with painstaking detail.
  • I finish with a Marlinspike Sailor a cult classic for its wonderful illustrations and The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Knots and Ropework for its shear breadth.

Dr. M (1801 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Additionally, Craig is obsessed with the size of things. Sometimes this translated into actually scientific research. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.

13 Replies to “The Ocean Bookshelf”

  1. Excellent post and helpful for my ever-growing to-read list. What are y’all’s thoughts on the The Unnatural History of the Sea?

  2. A great list, I’ll be looking for some of these. However, I’m surprised you did not add The Silent World by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Frédéric Dumas. The ‘Aqualung’ begins here.

  3. I second Unnatural History of the Sea and would add Beautiful Swimmers and The Most Important Fish in the Sea. Also, In the Heart of the Sea adds even more depth to the Essex sinking, and is more thorough and critical than Chase’s account.

  4. Quality list – my favourite is The Deep, and the Silent Deep is on my shopping list; one suggestion for addition to the list is ‘Under Antarctic Ice’ by Norbert Wu & Jim Mastro.

  5. Nice list!

    It made me check out 2 books by Richard Ellis (“Great white shark” & “Monsters of the sea”) from the library today.

    I second “In the heart of the sea” by Nathaniel Philbrick. Great read.

  6. I suggest you might add four books that discuss results of the recently completed 10-year international program, the Census of Marine Life, that established a baseline of marine life against which future change can be measured: Discoveries of the Census of Marine Life: Making Ocean Life Count, Paul V. R. Snelgrove, Cambridge University Press, 2010, Citizens of the Sea: Wondrous Creatures of the Census of Marine Life, Nancy Knowlton, National Geographic, 2010, Life in the World’s Oceans: Diversity, Distribution, and Abundance, Wiley-Blackwell,2010, edited by Alasdair McIntyre, and World Ocean Census, Firefly Books, 2009, Darlene Trew Crist, Gail Scowcroft, and James M. Harding.

  7. Thanks for putting together this great list.

    I suggest “The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat” by Charles Clover.

  8. For the fans of subaqueous Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, Alluria Publishing has released Cerulean Seas, an undersea supplement for the Pathfinder RPG.

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