Book Review: The Atlas of Ship Wrecks & Treasure by Nigel Pickford

While I’ve reviewed atlases and other reference books from cover to cover before, I don’t do it often given the fairly dry nature of reading them. That being said, The Atlas of Ship Wrecks & Treasure by Nigel Pickford is a fairly simple and streamlined read from D.K. publishers that’s meant to ease the reader into some of the more famous shipwrecks and treasures out there under the sea.

This book does state that it’s not meant to be an in-depth reference (or legal advice) for treasure salvors. Many of the wrecks covered in the book don’t even have detailed coordinates to allow the reader to pinpoint their location. Rather, it’s expected that the reader will conduct their own research and due diligence prior to undertaking any salvage operations.

A little over half of the book consists of two-page spreads covering individual shipwrecks. These pages have some basic text on the vessel, its cargo, and the circumstances (if known) of its sinking. As can be expected from a D.K. book, they’re well-illustrated with drawings and photographs of relevant objects.

The first half of the book moves chronologically from ancient times to the present. Each historical section is separated by a map of the region under examination with a numbered list of prominent sunken vessels in that area. No doubt every marine archeologist would argue that every wreck is a treasure trove of historical evidence, however the book seems to have a more narrow definition. The criteria for what wrecks this book encompasses seems to be that they must have been carrying some cargo of treasure, money, or artifacts of major historical significance. If the ship was carrying gold bars, then it probably would’ve been considered for the book. Obviously, not every shipwreck in history is covered, otherwise the book would be enormous.

Famous wrecks, such as various Spanish treasure galleons, the Whydah, East India merchantmen, etc., get coverage. As the book moves into the present, obvious wrecks like the Titanic, Andrea Doria, and the Japanese submarine, I-52, are also discussed. My biggest criticism of this first half of the book is that the text doesn’t go into a great amount of detail. It covers the basics of these wrecks and notes any salvage efforts that have been attempted, but it’s definitely not going to wow any serious student of marine archeology. Furthermore, some of the maps in this section have typos or are missing some pieces of information which can be annoying.

The latter half of the book is a gazetteer that covers the worlds oceans (and seas) and catalogues the major shipwrecks in them. Information included in the gazetteer is very basic in nature since it’s purely a reference and contains no narrative. Generally speaking, it lists the name of the vessel, date of sinking, nature of the cargo, trade route taken, and any known salvage attempt on the wreck. This part of the book does list far more shipwrecks than the first half, so it does work as a decent starting point for further research and casts a far wider net.

Overall, this book wasn’t terribly exciting, nor was it awful. The reading was average and it could’ve done with another round of proofreading. The information in it is fairly standard and good enough for the D.K. book, but anyone looking for an in-depth tome on marine archeology should definitely seek more specialized sources.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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