The Living Great Lakes Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas

Jerry Dennis

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

320 Pages



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Named the Best Book of the Year by the Outdoor Writers Association of AmericaWinner of the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award and the Great Lakes Culture Award for Nonfiction from Michigan State University
A Read Michigan Notable Book

If fresh water is a treasure, the Great Lakes are the mother lode. No bodies of water can compare to them. Superior is the largest lake on earth, and the five lakes together contain a fifth of the world's supply of standing fresh water. Their ten thousand miles of shoreline bound seven states and a Canadian province and are longer than the entire Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the United States; their surface area is greater than New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island combined. People who have never visited them—who have never seen a squall roar across Superior or the horizon stretching unbroken across Michigan or Huron—have no idea how big they are. They are so vast that they dominate much of the geography, climate, and history of North America. In one way or another, they affect the lives of tens of millions of people.

The Living Great Lakes is the most complete book ever written about the history, nature, and science of these remarkable lakes at the heart of North America. From the geological forces that formed them, to the industrial atrocities that nearly destroyed them, to the greatest environmental success stories of our time, the lakes are here portrayed in all their complexity.

This book is more than just history, however. It is also the story of the lakes as told by biologists, fisherman, sailors, and many others whom Dennis, a veteran nature writer, came to know during his travels. At its heart is a narrative of the author's six-week voyage through the lakes—and beyond—as a crew member on a tall-masted schooner, and his memories of a lifetime spent on and near the lakes. Through storms and fog, on remote shores and city waterfronts, Dennis explores the five Great Lakes in all seasons, and discovers that they and their connecting waters—including the Erie Canal, the Hudson River, and the East Coast from New York to Maine—offer a surprising and bountiful view of America.

The result is a meditation on nature and our place in the world, a cautionary tale about the future of water resources, and a celebration of a place—a vast collection of places—that's both fragile and robust, diverse and endangered, rich in history and wildlife, and worthy of our full attention.


Praise for The Living Great Lakes

"Jerry Dennis has written a masterwork. The Living Great Lakes is passionate, poetic, and meticulously researched. Its voice beckons like a trusted friend: look, discover, enjoy. Dennis's intelligent writing brims with humanity. To say this is a book about the Great Lakes is like saying Moby-Dick is about whales. This is history at its best and adventure richly described. A magical book, hugely enjoyable and entertaining."—Doug Stanton, author of In Harm's Way

"In an account that is both a voyage of discovery and a deeply felt personal memoir, Jerry Dennis poignantly places us within the ecological and historical grip of the Great Lakes. Dennis shows that America's 'inland seas' embody and evoke issues of global consequence. A fine contribution to American maritime and environmental writing that inspires not only personal contemplation but an understanding of water-borne environments as shared legacies that connect us all."—Michael J. Chiarappa, Western Michigan University

"A vigorous adventure story packed with tidbits about the Great Lakes' extraordinary human and natural history. Dennis brings to his subject a respect born of knowledge of the sublime, deadly power of the lakes' storms."—Nature Conservancy magazine

"Michigan is lucky to have and have had such clear voices speaking for it as Voelker and Dennis."—Gray's Sporting Journal

"Dennis is simply the finest essayist/storyteller that this state has. And he is arguably one of the finest active writers in the country."—Sault Ste. Marie News (Michigan)

"Jerry Dennis is a master of conveying appreciation of nature, a love for the outdoors, and the glory that is northern Michigan. He makes it clear on almost every page that he is in the first rank of America's nature/travel/fishing authors."—The Flint Journal (Michigan)

"Sometimes when I've managed to construct that rare, decent sentence, a swagger develops, a cup of literary smug us poured. When this happens I turn to one of four literary craftsmen, read just a few pages, and am brought back to my humble reality. The writers are Jim Harrison, John McPhee, Thomas McGuane, and Jerry Dennis."—Riverwatch

"Nature writer Dennis enlivens his fine guide to the Great Lakes with a storyteller's sense of pacing, savvily blending the factual with the picaresque. An enticing homecoming party for the Great Lakes, with a welcome-back for some readers and an invitation for others."—Kirkus Reviews

"Dennis weaves anecdotes from his childhood, such as a family-fishing trip on Lake Michigan, together with informed commentary on the natural history of the lakes and the people who live there, as well as evocative descriptions of the enchanting view of the forests along Lake Superior."—Publishers Weekly

"A wonderful book." --Douglas Brinkley, author of The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Jerry Dennis writes about nature and the outdoors for such publications as Sports Afield, Gray's Sporting Journal, and The New York Times. His previous books have been widely praised and have been translated into five languages. He lives in Traverse City, Michigan.
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  • Jerry Dennis

  • Jerry Dennis writes about nature and the outdoors for such publications as Sports Afield, Gray's Sporting Journal, and The New York Times. His previous books include From a Wooden Canoe and The River Home, among others. He lives in Traverse City, Michigan.
  • Jerry Dennis


    Jerry Dennis

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