Hamilton-Paterson--Englishman, novelist (Gerontius, 1991, etc.), poet, journalist, traveler--has written an impressive book reflecting all these attributes. For starters, he creates a spine-tingling scare in the form of a lone swimmer, tethered to his boat, peering at the tropical depths. The tether becomes untied; the swimmer looks up to find his vessel gone and himself alone in a featureless seascape. We meet the swimmer throughout the text, in wonderful, self-reflecting passages of hope and despair. In between are rich chapters covering an idiosyncratic collection of sea lore, anthropology, coral-reef ecology, war stories, commercial fishing, and, as an abiding theme, sad commentary on man's exploitation of man and nature. Hamilton- Paterson is particularly eloquent in describing the Philippine archipelago (he lives in a fishing village on one of the islands, when not in Tuscany), lamenting the transformation there of a tiny, arid island into a Japanese businessman's haven for golf, sun, and sex. In a chapter on piracy, the author describes the casual violence that pits one native group of sea ``nomads'' against another, abetted by the easy acquisition of guns. But there is nothing new under the sun, he reminds us, telling of Caribbean pirates of centuries ago, or of the plundering of survivors by rescuers then and now. Similarly, he notes, the despoiling of nature and the decimation of species are nothing new--except that the stakes are higher. Hamilton-Paterson comments ironically on the rules governing the size of fish that can be sold, culled from drift nets and other megatraps. The small fry and porpoises and other protected species are already dead or will die, he says, when returned to the deep. Some light moments on mythical islands, some straightforward history, and some high-tech mapping of the sea floor are also included in this very personal and well-informed collection--and, yes, we do find out what happened to that swimmer stranded at sea.