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Beach Reading

Exceptional Books About Beaches and Coastlines

Compiled By Terry Morse

“You can walk for hours on the beach with no sense of loneliness, as a dog may walk with its master, whose company is an end in itself.” – Carlton Ogburn, Jr., The Winter Beach, p. 148.


The Beach: The History of Paradise on Earth, by Lena Lencek and Gideon Basker. NY: Penguin Books, 1998. An enteraining history of attitudes towards the beach and bathing in Western civilization.

The Beaches Are Moving: The Drowning of America's Shoreline, by Wallace Kaufman and Orrin H. Pilkey. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1983. An excellent book on the principles, follies, and best practices of modern coastal development. Pilkey is the guru of shoreline protection in North America.

Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay, by William W. Warner. Boston: Little Brown, 1994. Originally published in 1976, this is a nicely written paean to the marine resources of Chesapeake Bay, especially the blue crab, and to the people who harvest them. With beautiful pencil drawings by Consuelo Hanks.

Between Pacific Tides, 5th ed., by Edward F. Ricketts, Jack Calvin, and Joel Hedgpeth; rev. by David W. Phillips. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1985. The classic guide to the intertidal life of North America's Pacific coast, originated by Ed Ricketts (Doc in John Steinbecks Cannery Row), and subsequently updated by others. It remains the fundamental popular reference to the subject.

Beyond the Outer Shores: the Untold Odyssey of Ed Ricketts, the Pioneering Ecologist Who Inspired John Steinbeck and Joseph Campbell, by Eric Enno Tamm. NY: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2004. Moving biography of Ed Ricketts, Doc of John Steinbecks Cannery Row and author of Between Pacific Tides.

The Biology of Rocky Shores, 2nd ed., by Colin Little, Gray A. Williams, and Cynthia D. Trowbridge. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. This college-level basic text on the biology of rocky shore habitats has expanded greatly in size and coverage. The first edition focused on northwest Europe; the second edition, besides being updated, includes world-wide examples.

Coastal Marshes: Ecology and Wildlife Management, by Robert A. Chabreck. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988. A basic-level book on the biology of coastal salt marshes.

Coasts: Form, Process and Evolution, by Colin D. Woodroffe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Though somewhat technical, the writing is clear and can be understood by a determined lay person interested in the geological and oceanographic forces that shape coastlines.

Fire Under the Sea: The Discovery of the Most Extraordinary Environment on Earth – Volcanic Hotsprings on the Ocean Floor, by Joseph Cone. NY: Morrow, 1991. Well-written description of the discovery of deep-sea hydrothermal vents and the scientist swho study them.

Killer Algae, by Alexandre Meinesz. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. An invasive alga is introduced into the Mediterranean from an aquarium, with devastating effect on native species.

Marine Reserves: A Guide to Science, Design, and Use, by Jack Sobel and Craig Dahlgren. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2004.

North Pacific Seaweeds, by Rita M. OClair and Charles E. OClair. Friday Harbor, WA: Plant Press, 2000. A well-executed guide to the seaweeds of the north Pacific coast of North America, by the authors of Southeast Alaskas Rocky Shores: Animals (see below.)

The Northwest Coast: A Natural History, by Stewart T. Schultz. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 1990. A comprehensive and readable guidebook to the northwest coast of North America, including natural history and human impacts.

The Oregon Oceanbook: An Introduction to the Pacific Ocean Off Oregon Including its Physical Setting and Living Marine Resources, by Trish Parmenter and Robert Bailey. Salem, OR: Oregon Dept. of Land Conservation and Development, 1985. The subtitle says it all. Regrettably, out of print.

The Outermost House, by Henry Beston. NY: Ballantine Books, 1971. Originally published in 1928, this is the classic nature book on the Cape Cod shore.

The Pacific Northwest Coast: Living With the Shores of Oregon and Washington, by Paul D. Komar. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998. An excellent introduction to beach and ocean processes operating on the Oregon coast, plus some of the follies of coastal development.

Pacific Seaweeds: A Guide to Common Seaweeds of the West Coast, by Louis Druehl. Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing, 2000.

Plants of the Oregon Coastal Dunes, new ed., by Alfred M. Wiedemann, La Rea J. Dennis, and Frank H. Smith. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1999. More than a plant guide, it includes a description of the varied dune habitats and commmunities, plus the geological and climatic factors that influence them.

Sea Change: A Message of the Oceans, by Sylvia A. Earle. NY: Putnam, 1995. Sylvia Earle is as eloquent an advocate for the oceans as was Rachel Carson, who inspired her.

SeaLife: A Complete Guide to the Marine Environment , ed. by Geoffrey Waller. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996. This is a great book for anyone interested in the ocean and ocean life. It covers both physical and biological oceanography with authoratative articles and numerous excellent line drawings, plus attractive color illustrations to help you identify marine vertebrate organisms, and of common shallow-water marine environments showing characteristic invertebrates.

Seashore Life of the Northern Pacific Coast: An Illustrated Guide to Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia , by Eugene N. Kozloff. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1983.

Seashores: A Guide to Animals and Plants Along the Beaches , rev. ed., by Herbert S. Zim and Lester Ingle. NY: Golden Press, 1989. A very basic but useful guide to plants and animals of beaches, rocky shores, and the near-shore marine realm of North America. Nicely illustrated.

Seaweeds of the Pacific Coast: Common Marine Algae from Alaska to Baja California, by Jennifer Mondragon and Jeff Mondragon. Monterey, CA: Sea Challengers, 2003.

A Scientist at the Seashore , by James S. Trefil. NY: Collier Books, 1984. The physics of phenomena commonly observed at the beach, such as waves; tides; surf; bubbles and foam; sand movement; and why smooth, flat stones skip when you throw them.

Shells & Shellfish of the Pacific Northwest: A Field Guide, by Rick M. Harbro. Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Press, 1997. Excellent.

So Excellent a Fishe: A Natural History of Sea Turtles, by Archie Carr. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press, 1973. This book was written before the era of satellite tagging, so it took a great deal of effort and inference to come up with relatively little information. Still worth reading, however.

Sharks of the World , by Leonard Compagno, Marc Dando, and Sarah Fowler. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water comes this new, attractively illustrated field guide to sharks. (Princeton Field Guides series)

Shoreline for the Public: A Handbook of Social, Economic, and Legal Considerations Regarding Public Recreational Use of the Nation's Coastal Shoreline , by Dennis W. Ducsik. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1974. Though over thirty years old, the issues discussed in this book are still timely.

Southeast Alaskas Rocky Shores: Animals , by Rita M. OClair and Charles E. OClair. Auke Bay, AK: Plant Press, 1998. This exceptional book includes considerable natural history information on the species covered, usually missing from standard identification guides, and is applicable beyond the limits of Southeast Alaska.

To Follow the Water: Exploring the Ocean to Discover Climate, From the Gulf Stream to the Blue Beyond, by Dallas Murphy. NY: Basic Books, 2007. A playwright/marine journalist explores physical oceanography and the connections between ocean and atmosphere that affect our climate.

Wanderer on My Native Shore: A Personal Guide & Tribute to the Ecology of the Atlantic Coast , by George Reiger. Not as philosophical as The Winter Beach, but readable, informative, and nicely illustrated.

Waves and Beaches: The Dynamics of the Ocean Surface , rev.and upd. ed., by Willard Bascom. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1980. Semi-technical, but still aimed at a general audience, Bascom discusses in detail how waves are formed, how they behave, and the effect they have on coastlines. Also covers ocean currents, other beach processes, and the impact of man-made structures on beaches. Highly recommended if you are looking for technical detail.

What is Natural?: Coral Reef Crisis, by Jan Sapp. NY: Oxford University Press, 1999. Beginning in the 1960s, outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish began devastating coral reefs in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Was this a human-caused ecological catastrophe, or a natural phenomenon from which the reefs would eventually recover? Was drastic action called for, or should nature be allowed to take its course? Reading like a good mystery novel, this book raises important and still timely philosophical and practical issues about how to react to apparent crises under scientific uncertainty.

The Winter Beach , by Charlton Ogburn, Jr. NY: Pocket Books, 1971. A naturalist and man of rare wisdom shares with you his journeys along the Atlantic shore.

The World’s Beaches: A Global Guide to the Science of the Shoreline, by Orrin H. Pilkey, William J. Neal, Joseph T. Kelley, and J. Andrew G. Cooper. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. [Non-technical; an excellent reference for sandy shores naturalists covering the geological, oceanographic, and biological processes that shape beaches, and how they are can be read from the beach we see.]


“The Beach: A River of Sand.” An oldish, but well-done video on beach processes and the effect man-made structures have on them. VHS, 21 min. Apparently no longer available from Britannica Educational Films; now for sale by School Media Associates (note: I am not familiar with this company, and am not vouching for its reliability. See it also on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqT1g2riQ30.

“Local Hero,” by Bill Forsyth. Starring Burt Lancaster, Peter Riegert, and others. Wryly funny story of a Scottish coastal village coveted by an American oil company. One of my all-time favorite movies.

Quotations About Shore and Sea

“One of the fastest-shrinking categories of wilderness is coastlines. Cottages and tourist roads have all but annihilated wild coasts on both oceans, and Lake Superior is now losing the last large remnant of wild shoreline on the Great Lakes. No single kind of wilderness is more intimately interwoven with history, and none nearer the point of complete disappearance.” – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, With Essays on Conservation from Round River. (NY: Ballantine, 1970; p. 267)

“You can walk for hours on the beach with no sense of loneliness, as a dog may walk with its master, whose company is an end in itself.” – Carlton Ogburn, Jr., The Winter Beach, p. 148.

“He was a bold man that first eat an oyster.” – Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745, Polite Conversation (1738), dialogue 1

“It is unseasonable and unwholesome in all months that have not an r in their name to eat an oyster.” – William Butler, 1535-1618, Dyets Dry Diner (1599)

“Waves are the wind’s footprints left on water.” – Terry Morse, 1950-

“There is no finer restorative than a walk on the beach.” – Terry Morse, 1950-

“Friends of beaches don’t let friends drive on beaches.” – Terry Morse, 1950-

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