CHRISTMAS – SORTED. If you’re stuck for a gift in the region of £25, whether it’s for a diver or a non-diver, I reckon this large-format book should have first claim. Get a copy for yourself while you’re at it.
Mind you, if you noticed it on a shelf you might be forgiven for thinking it was one of the many books for divers you’d seen somewhere before.
Blue-green cover, a seal with its head cocked appealingly, even the title Secrets of the Seas – surely that must have been used before?
But then you see the name Alex Mustard and you know there will be underwater photographs inside and they will be outstanding.
You might not know the name of Callum Roberts unless you have come across his books Oceans of Life and The Unnatural History of the Sea. He is a professor of marine conservation and a tremendous writer, and these two make for a great partnership.
So, knowing the authors, what you wouldn’t expect to find inside is the collection of semi-random pictures with uninformative captions that such blue-covered books can sometimes contain – and of course you don’t.
This is a terrific production, the photos carefully chosen, grouped, displayed and thoughtfully captioned to illustrate Roberts’ 10 concise, carefully considered essays.
What Roberts does with deceptive ease is to make sense of the seas. Through an inspired blend of words and pictures the authors celebrate the best of the underwater world while using its beauty to underline the multiple threats it faces and the sights we no longer see.
There is a measure of acceptance that, while humans must alter their behaviour, such change is as much for our sakes as for the ocean’s, because evolution is all part of the natural world. Earth has survived cataclysmic change many times before, species come and go, and for every loser there is a winner (even if it is jellyfish or lionfish), but the seas will remain.
There is no overt environmental preaching, but the fact that the seas are in a period of transition and uncertainty underscores every spread, lending the book an elegiac quality.
And when you read the last chapter, about seals, you’ll understand why there is one on the cover and why there is still room for optimism if we can just get our act together.
Most importantly, this title has that quality shared by every great book about the underwater world – by the time you’ve turned the last page, you’re itching to go diving.
Steve Weinman

Bloomsbury Natural History
ISBN: 9781472927613
Hardback, 240pp, £25