Carl Safina’s Reading List

On my night table right now:

Shadow Country, by Peter Matthiessen. I’m not an ardent reader of novels. But Peter is special. First, his books were enormously important to me when I was young. Now I live not far from him and I’ve gotten to know him a bit, and knowing his speaking voice and a little of his personality, I like to see and hear him working on the page. This book was thirty years in the making, and Peter turned down many a fishing invitation in the final marathon push, which lasted several years. It’s interesting to see him assuming the different personae in the book, using accents and language and inflections from a different time and place. I also like getting a sense of the lay of the land from a time when southwest Florida was just emerging from wilderness to the over-exploitation of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, yet still lay largely beyond the law.

Winter World, by Bernd Heinrich. Another hero of my youth whom I’ve recently met and gotten to know a bit, Heinrich is perhaps the most perceptive nature writer working today. He’s a real scientist who relays reliable information and dances at the edge of what is not known with precision, insight, and a gentle, easy conversational tone which I not only greatly admire but also, as a writer myself, envy. It’s a terrific book for anyone with even the slightest interest of animals in winter, because it takes something familiar and superficial, a chickadee at your bird-feeder, say, and instantly gives you a much deeper, more intimate relationship with that being. In a nutshell, these animals are all, in their ways, so incredible they’re almost beyond belief.

The Moon Pulled Up An Acre Of Bass, by Peter Kaminsky. This is a book about an October spent fishing every day. While that might seem like too much of a good thing — and it can be — the book includes many people and places I know well on the east end of Long Island. So when I can’t go fishing, and now that my boat is out of the water for the winter and my recreation includes birding and cutting firewood, I can take an occasional fishing outing on the page. The author gave me the book this fall when I took him out for a few hours in my boat, so the sense of familiarity is all the more special and personal.

Grey Seas Under, by Farley Mowat. A great writer, Mowat’s Sea of Slaughter was one of my touchstones in inspiring me toward writing books myself. A recent gift from a friend, this is the only book at my bedside that I haven’t yet delved into. It’s about a Canadian ocean-going salvage tug whose work was rescuing massive ships in trouble, usually in horrific storm conditions. The jacket says, “the stout ship and her brave crew saved hundreds of vessels and thousands of lives as they battled their ancient enemy, the North Atlantic.” I’ve never seen the sea as an enemy but it sure can be terrifying when you’re too far from land and it comes up and traps you. I’ve been on ships when the chairs were flying, and at least once when I was by no means sure I’d ever see shore again.

Carl Safina is co-founder of the Blue Ocean Institute and author of three books, including Song for the Blue Ocean and the most recent Voyage of the Turtle. He was one of six authors to contribute to the feature article “Storm’s Coming” in the September/October 2008 Orion magazine.


  1. The Moon Pulled Up An Acre Of Bass sounds like an awesome book to read, I’ll have to check it out!

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