Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World's Superpowers – Simon Winchester
Summary: Simon Winchester writes about cultural, political and environmental trends in the Pacific Ocean, focussing on the period from 1950 up to the present day. Instead of attempting a sweeping summary of the region's history, Winchester selects a handful of topics—the testing of nuclear weapons, surfing’s rise in popularity, the discovery of hydrothermal vents in the deep ocean, and so on—that he sees as representative of larger patterns.
Thoughts: A decent book; Winchester is an engaging author. I particularly enjoyed the epilogue, with its discussion of how the indigenous people of Polynesia were able to travel freely from island to island, and thus represent one culture even while separated by vast expanses of ocean.
(The notes below are not a summary of the book, but rather raw notes - whatever I thought, at the time, might be worth remembering.)
Winchester, Simon. 2015. Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers. Harper.
- 33: “It is generally agreed that, perhaps more than any other spy before or since, Klaus Fuchs changed world history.” Fuchs passed information from the development of the atom bomb in Los Alamos to the Soviets.
- 36: Carbon dating uses 1950 CE is a common reference year, partly because of the amount of carbon-14 created by nuclear weapons. “Before Present” (BP) means “before 1950”
- 90: at Sony’s founding, Masaru Ibuka wrote out “a formal company prospectus”, outlining how (among other things) the company would distribute surplus earnings to its employees, not seeking profit for the sake of profit.
- 106: “Sony” - the name of the company - was chosen for its resemblance to the latin sonus and the association with the word “Sonny”, which had positive connotations at the time.
- 148: Yvon Chouinard states that one of the founding philosophies of the company Patagonia was a flexible-time policy - employees should be free to do their work at a time that suited them, so that they could do things outdoors when conditions were suitable (e.g. surfing, rock climbing)
- 183: Wildlife flourishes in the four-kilometer-wide Korean demilitarized zone. Winchester mentions Siberian cranes, brown bears, musk deer, Amur gorals (similar to deer)
- j: cf. the de facto wildlife reserve in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl
- Southern hemisphere: cyclone
- Northern Hemisphere, Pacific: typhoon
- Northern Hemisphere, Atlantic: hurricane
- 244: the best way, arguably, to measure/compare storms (e.g. hurricanes) is a storm’s minimum central pressure
- 245: when compared by minimum central pressure, the most powerful Pacific storms dwarf the most powerful Atlantic storms
- 247: due in part to its specific heat, in part to its translucence, and in part to its ability to move/convect, water (i.e. ocean) is much better at absorbing/trapping solar radiation than most solids (i.e. land)
- 248: winds are named for the direction they come from. currents are named for the direction they’re heading.
- 254: winds have a powerful effect on the movement of water in the Pacific ocean - at times, the Pacific ocean can be 2 feet higher at its western coast than at its eastern coast.
- 263: of several cyclical patterns over the pacific, the Madden-Julian oscillation has one of the shortest periods - it recurs every 30-60 days, and brings hot, stormy weather to the tropical western Pacific
- 263-264: The Walker Circulation, which causes the strong trade winds that push the pacific around, and whose weakening causes El Niño, is predicted to become weaker due to global warming. A possible result is a switch to El Niño becoming the norm, rather than the exception.
- 316: to look up: Marie Tharp’s 1977 map of the world’s mid-ocean ridge system - originally painted in watercolours by renowned mountain/landscape artist Heinrich Berann
- 382: in advance of the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, the Atya people indigenous to the area were the first to leave. Similarly, the Andamanese, native to islands in the Bay of Bengal, sought high ground before the 2004 tsunami.
- 428: to learn more about: the Hokule’a, deep-water sailing canoe built in Hawaii
- 430-431: Melanesians and Papuans settled groups of islands that are relatively close together (<300 miles between groups). Polynesians traversed enormously greater distances in settling and migrating around the Pacific.
- 431-432: James Cook and James Banks, while exploring the Pacific on the Endeavour, were guided by a Raiatean priest named Tupaia, who knew the names of ~70 islands around the Pacific and said he had visited many of them. He navigated by observing the water, the stars, and passing animals
- 453: to look up: Report of the [UN] Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (2013)
- 454: to read: Naomi Oreskes’s Plate Tectonics
- 455: books about/touching on Polynesian navigational techniques: Ben Finney’s Sailing in the Wake of the Ancestors, David Lewis’s We, the Navigators
Posted: Feb 11, 2021. Last updated: Feb 11, 2021.