Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Wave by Susan Casey (nonfiction)

In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean

“If I scare myself once every day, I’m a better person….It helps to have that little jolt of perspective that life’s fragile.” Laird Hamilton in The Wave, by Susan Casey

copyright Tom Servais
How much fun is this! This nonfiction title lives up to the buzz that came out when it was released. It has just about everything that would make a fiction novel exciting, except that this is real. Susan Casey explores just about everything to do with the ocean. Some of it leaves you kind of breathless, like waves that so huge they can take out a cargo ship with nothing left to show it existed just minutes before.

Casey spends some of the time discussing surfing, especially tow-surfing where the waves are so big surfers are put in place and hauled out via Jet-Skis. Invented by surfer Laird Hamilton, the surfing world has been rattled by the ability to ride bigger waves than ever. She follows him into the water, and explores the sort of mentality that makes someone want to ride a wave that could easily pummel them. Then she examines the science behind the big waves in Hawaii, California, Mexico, and beyond. Spending time in Alaska, she looks at how the region was affected by a tsunami in the 1930s and shows just how much unimaginable damage was done.

Andrew Ingram/The Cape Times
From there she investigates rogue waves that have tossed big ships around like toys, and explores some of the possible reasons behind these freaks of nature, as well as the historical evidence of shipwrecks that point to these being far more common than once thought. For example, she explains the problem that even modern cargo ships face: bulk cargo hatches. These huge openings allow goods to be lifted in and out of the holds, but are dangerously built so that a boat hit by a rogue wave may have its hatches caved in from the impact, and fill the ship within minutes. This caused two ships to sink on the same day in 1973 in nearly the same place due to high waves. In 1995, the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2 “was buffaloed by a pair of ninety-five-foot waves that jumped out of sixty-foot Atlantic seas churned up by Hurricane Luis.”  These sort of waves are not simply predicted as a weather course, they can appear nearly anywhere at anytime.

Besides the fascinating material covered, the book features photographs and maps to illustrate the dynamic forces of the sea. I really love this book! Yes, I’m too excited about it. I should be more subtle. Thing is, it’s that good. It has become my new “go to” book for a gift...just as Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City was several years ago, because I really can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t be fascinated. It would be especially interesting to pair the reading of this book with watching the documentary Riding Giants, that shows Hamilton and other professional surfers tackling these big waves.

Special thanks to Judy Jacoby of Doubleday for the Review Copy.


  1. Sounds like a great read Amy, I kind of like the idea that mother nature can still throw us a curve ball like rogue waves even with all of our technology and mad weather predicting skills.

  2. I used to body board and am quite familiar with rogue waves a la the kind that appear when the swells come together just right at the Wedge in Newport Beach.

  3. I've been hearing lots of really good things about this book lately. It's on the top of my Christmas wishlist. Great review!