Alyssa Rosenberg writes about culture and politics for The Washington Post’s Opinions section.
The remote is now very near: Mount Everest has traffic jams, and Instagram influencers are posing at Chernobyl. The Google Car maps where we live, photographing our homes usually when the lawn is unkempt. The world has never felt smaller or more known, for good and ill.
Into that world comes Ian Urbina’s “The Outlaw Ocean” bearing an unsettling idea: There is still much we don’t know about our world, and the consequences of our ignorance are likely to arrive onshore not in a gentle swell but with crashing force. Urbina argues that the vast oceans and their borders with land are changing more quickly than we can imagine. The wide expanses of the sea are ungoverned, if not ungovernable, because it benefits too many powerful people to let them stay that way. The result is a book that leaves behind the unnerving feeling that we’re becalmed and can move in no positive direction: “The Outlaw Ocean” brings the reader up close to an overwhelming truth, but the magnitude of the revelation is paralyzing.
The book grew out of Urbina’s reporting about the sea for the New York Times, and as a result, it is constructed as a series of seafaring yarns. The installments vary wildly in tone, as you might expect in the nautical genre of storytelling. Max Hardberger, a raffish oceanic repo man, stars in Urbina’s heist story. Offshore abortionist Rebecca Gomperts helps women in an outlaw feminist fable. Captains Adam Meyerson and Wyanda Lublink are the book’s environmentalist Ahabs, chasing down not a fearsome whale but a Japanese ship that slaughters whales in exceptionally brutal fashion. And men like Lang Long, a Cambodian who was trafficked and sold into the Thai fishing industry, are modern-day Billy Budds in a system that lacks even the rough justice of a drumhead court-martial.
That Urbina has been able to pluck these people out of the vast blue expanse that surrounds them and locate them, both on the map and in our minds, at least for a moment, is an impressive feat of reporting. (It’s also to his credit that Urbina knows how to serve as a gangway between his reader and his subject material without making himself the story.) While all nonfiction books presumably exist to tell readers something they didn’t already know, “The Outlaw Ocean” uses our lack of knowledge to bolster his argument: If we don’t know much about sea slavery or the battles between environmentalists and the fishing industry, it’s because it’s hard for us landlubbers to know what happens so far from shore.
This isn’t the only sense in which Urbina has constructed his book as a kind of inexorable current, circling around and around again. Though it certainly has its lighter segments, especially Urbina’s visit to the Principality of Sealand, a micronation founded in 1967 on an abandoned offshore platform, his stories keep converging on a grim point: that the vastness of the ocean has served the purposes of governments and businesses that prefer to operate in a realm without rules.
There are exceptions, like the tiny island nation of Palau, which is trying to curb illegal fishing through quirks of maritime law that give it dominion over 230,000 square miles of ocean. But apparently, there are plenty of powerful people who stand to benefit from the lawless state of the ocean — and plenty more of us who so badly want to believe that we can have cheap, ethically harvested seafood that we’re willing to let them keep it that way. That may be difficult to do after reading “The Outlaw Ocean.” Urbina’s chronicles of man’s inhumanity to man, as well as to fish — some of which leave the creature in “Jaws” looking less like a monster and more like a justified revolutionary — had me considering giving up seafood.
Urbina is so successful at communicating the scale of the ocean, and the cruelty and neglect above and below its waters, that reading his book sometimes feels like gasping for a breath of air before slipping under the waves again.
Situated on the main street of the historic Delaware Riverfront town of New Hope, Pennsylvania, Farley’s Bookshop and its knowledgeable, experienced staff have endeavored to satisfy the literary tastes of the area inhabitants for over fifty years. Whether you are Bucks County born-and-bred or just stopping by to enjoy the crisp river air and delightful scenery, you will be pleasantly surprised to find the largest and most diverse collection of books-in-print in Bucks County. Farley’s may have competition, but it has few peers. We encourage you to browse our website, but please remember that getting acquainted with our online persona is no substitute for exploring the narrow passageways and teeming shelves of our storefront and discovering that perfect book nestled amongst so many others.
New Hope for American Art is the most comprehensive book ever published on artists from, and surrounding, the New Hope Art Colony (also known as the Pennsylvania Impressionists). This book, with its 612 pages and over 1,000 color plates of artwork include biographies of 165 individual Pennsylvania Impressionists and New Hope Modernists as well as artists from the Philadelphia Ten, a pioneering group of women all educated at Philadelphia art schools.
In this book, you'll find biographies and artwork from such artists as:
New Hope for American Art was authored, designed and published by James M. Alterman, an expert in the field of Pennsylvania Impressionist and Modernist painting. A longtime collector and owner of two fine art galleries, Alterman wanted to create a user-friendly book intended not only to educate collectors and enthusiasts about this art but to help train one's eye. The book offers valuable tips on how to avoid common mistakes often experienced by new collectors drawn from the author's personal experiences as a collector and fine art dealer.