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.


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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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