A history of shells and the creatures that make them, revealing their outsized role in human affairs and what they have to tell us about the changing oceans.
Seashells have been the most coveted and collected of nature’s creations for thousands of years. They were money before coins, jewellery before gems, art before canvas.
In The Sound of the Sea, Cynthia Barnett blends cultural history and environmental science to trace our long love affair with seashells and the hidden lives of the mollusks that make them. From the mysterious glow of giant clams to the surprising origin of Shell Oil as a family business importing exotic shells, the book is filled with unforgettable stories. As it explores the perfect symmetry of a Chambered Nautilus, the pink-glossed lip of a Queen Conch or what we hear when we hold a shell to the ear, it makes a powerful argument for listening to shells—and acting on what they are telling us about the impacts of climate change on the seas, marine life and humanity.
"Will have you marveling at nature… Barnett’s account remarkably spirals out, appropriately, to become a much larger story about the sea, about global history and about environmental crises and preservation." — 24 Books to Read this Summer, The New York Times Book Review
"... Cynthia Barnett presents us with a glittering Wunderkammer for our age, a staggeringly varied history — scientific, cultural, philosophical and economic — of one of the most beloved and enduring natural objects on Earth: the seashell... “The Sound of the Sea” is a glorious history of shells and of those who have loved shells. It is a history of fascination and of shame. It stretches our capacity to absorb new knowledge. It is as complex, multichambered and beautiful as its subject, and if Barnett can awaken our sense of wonder, then perhaps there is hope for jump-starting our collective sense of responsibility toward the oceans and one another." — Katherine Norbury, The Washington Post
"“Seashells were money before coin, jewellery before gems, art before canvas,” says science writer Cynthia Barnett in her arresting meditation on shells and ocean history." — Andrew Robinson reviews five of the week’s best science picks, Nature