As one of the world's foremost naturalists, Matthiessen has roamed the globe in search of the rare-becoming-more-so. Vanishing species (from the snow leopard to the sea turtle) are usually the springboard for his often luminous prose. His usual goal is to make the mysterious familiar enough that the reader can recognize its value; here, he strives to give mystery to the familiar, and thus give value to what is often deemed commonplace. It seemed that while Matthiessen was out chasing the great white shark and crafting perfect sentences, his own backyard--the South Fork of Long Island and the fishermen who live on it and work the shores around it (and who had given him work in the early 50's, when he could make more per porgy, so to speak, than per page)--had become the stage of a process of extinction as pitiless and inexorable as any Matthiessen had yet witnessed. Granted, there is clearly little the author could have done to protect the world of the South Fork fisherman, but his sense of guilt underlies every word of this book. He is, after all, writing about people who were once his friends, whom he respects deeply for the harsh, independent life they have chosen. And as the reader enters the community of surfmen and baymen--whose greatest foes were once the huge breakers through which they launched their oar-powered dorries, but who are now the developers, bringing high taxes and pollution, and the sport fishermen, with their spurious rallying cry of ""conservation""--it becomes clear that the author thinks he is too late; Men's Lives is, in fact, an elegy to a species of man that had more knowledge of and regard for the beauties and terrors of nature than any Johnny-come-lately-naturalist. And though the book could have used a stronger editorial hand (there is a great deal of material that while not being literally repetitive comes pretty close and blunts the author's argument), it is nevertheless a remarkable evocation of a rough, close-knit, proud and fiercely independent community and the larger world of the sea that offers them life--and death.