Book Review: An Ocean Garden: The Secret Life of Seaweed

Vibrant portraits reveal the beautiful, diverse world of marine flora.

Photographer and author Josie Iselin’s new book, An Ocean Garden: The Secret Life of Seaweed, is an ode to algae.

Replete with beautiful images of hand-picked seaweed, historical anecdotes detailing the cultural importance of seaweed, and sections of gorgeous prose, Iselin’s latest project is part coffee-table book, part poetic meditation on an often overlooked but integral part of marine biology.

[gallery:205781|align:left|caption:GALLERY Explore more seaweed.]

Mention “seaweed,” and most people probably think of crinkly, square sushi roll wraps. But Iselin brings the world of seaweed, a loose term used to describe large algae, to life. “As the tide retreats, the jungle is brought to its knees, again prostrating itself on the shore or hanging in curtains from steep rock walls or pilings,” she writes.

The book features several pages devoted to breathtaking photos (taken on a flatbed scanner) of specimens, each with the date it was collected, name, and origin. Amid the scientific information about the incredibly diverse organisms, and the surprisingly myriad ways in which we depend on them—they’re used in everything from the additives to keep the chocolate suspended in chocolate milk to the textile dye used for printing— Iselin weaves in anecdotes of her own experiences at the beach, combing for algae or simply marveling at this underwater world.

“I fell in love with seaweed at the kitchen counter,” writes Iselin. “I had returned with a sack full from the windswept beach, and as I dropped each specimen into a tub of saltwater, its form and color and translucent sensuality awakened. Pale pinks mingled with bright greens and yellow oranges. Rounded fronds, bumpy textures, and slender tendrils unraveled.”

After a dive into An Ocean Garden, readers will surface with a newfound appreciation for the tremendous bounty and beauty beneath the ocean.

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