27 August 2018

Beautiful Swimmers, by William Warner

Posted by Callan Bentley

The subtitle of this wonderful book is “Watermen, Crabs, and the Chesapeake Bay.” It’s an excellent account of crab ecology in the Chesapeake Bay as it stood in the mid-1970s, and simultaneously a sympathetic portrait of the lives of the locals who capture those crabs for sale to the seafood market. The writing is thoughtful and calm, paced very similarly to John McPhee’s writing, rich in quotes from the watermen speaking their local vernacular. It’s no surprise to me that it won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 1977 (two years after Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and a year prior to Carl Sagan’s The Dragons of Eden). I found it utterly engrossing, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the Bay’s economy or culture, a yen to learn more about the seasonal rhythms of an extraordinary animal, or just a taste for a soft-shelled crab sandwich, one of life’s finest pleasures (in my humble opinion). The title, I should note, is a translation of the scientific name of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, which I’ve always appreciated, given that the first two syllables are pronounced identically to my own first name. Recommended.