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A loving look at a body of water--some 350 miles long and anywhere from 21 to 100 miles in width--which is one of the most heavily traveled in the world and one rich in both natural resources and in history. Calder is well-suited to elaborate on this subject, having simplified the awesome mysteries of science in such previous books as The Comet is Coming!, Einstein's Universe, and The Key to the Universe. Lying between England and France, the channel was destined to become a critical strategic area for the military battles that have periodically convulsed Europe. But it was also destined to be a curiously benevolent buffer, even with its raging crosscurrents, that thwarted the Spanish Armada, Napoleon, and Hitler. As he tours each area along the channel, from Ushant to Brittany to Chergourg to Normandy to the Dover Strait and back past Hastings, Weymouth Bay, Plymouth, Penzance, and the Isle of Scilly, each name and sight prompts a description of the geology and historical importance of the area. So we have not only a natural history of the channel, but reflections on the Armada, the French assistance to the American Revolution, the Battle of the Atlantic, French nuclear technology, and the D-day landings on Normandy's beaches, among others. The Normandy chapter is most interesting for its tactical discussion, as seen through the eyes of the Allied commanders, of the topography of the coast there. ""The English Channel is shaped like a megaphone,"" Calder writes, ""and it is the Channel of English, by which the language has been broadcast around the Earth."" The author gives us pause to reconsider, with this essay, one of the most crucial waterways in the world. Its history is not yet finished, as workers begin digging the tunnel which will bring England and France ever closer within the decade.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1986
Publisher: Viking