Sunday, April 30, 2006


The blue crab.

William W. Warner, Beautiful Swimmers (Back Bay).

William Warner wrote this book about the blue crab and the men who go out on Chesapeake Bay to catch them in the early 1970's, and it is a classic in the mold of Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert. Warner completely masters his subject. A researcher at the Smithsonian Institute then and today (as near as I can tell), Warner spent many a night sleeping in odd spots to wake up hours before first light so that he could join Maryland and Virginia crab fisherman on the water. It's hard to say whether Warner has more affection for the blue crabs or the men who fish for them. He digests and relates an impressive array of scientific and learning about the crabs and their environment, but I was no less impressed by his ear for the local dialect and his ability to win the trust of and relate to the fishermen. Perhaps things fall slightly flat when Warner turns to the business of shipping and selling the crabs; if so, it is only because his heart is on the water, not at the market.

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