Orrin Pilkey ’57
University of California Press, 2011

It may appear to be a scholarly approach to beaches, but once you wade in to this book, you will find an entertaining and informative read. With a light touch, Pilkey and his co-authors manage to describe some heavy concepts like erosion, tsunamis, and human impact. Their goal, they say in the introduction, is to provide “a global perspective in regard to beaches, how they form, how they evolve, and how they are similar but different.”

They succeed, starting off by providing some beach history with Julius Caesar landing near Dover in 55 BC, Leif Ericson reaching Newfoundland in 1001, and Columbus claiming land for Spain on a San Salvador beach in 1492. They mix in some less profound landings—like beach volleyball arriving in Europe through a nudist camp in France.

But they quickly get down to business, as geologists, earth scientists, and coastal studies experts.

One chapter explains how to read a beach, starting with the large landforms and then working down to dunes, washover fans, and tide lines. Don’t miss the smallest and newest features, the bedforms on the surface of the beach. There is a whole descriptive language of ripple marks, like flat-topped and ladderback. How they look reveals how they were formed.

Besides providing a deeper understanding of beaches, tides, wildlife, and geology, the authors point out problems like beach mining in the Caribbean, sea walls (which can narrow beaches) and shoreline development, and the rising sea level. They make the point that humans are the greatest threat to the world’s beaches. This is nothing new, they note. Manmade hardscapes date back to ancient Rome.

Whether it is through offering a broader understanding of nature and its forces, or a new approach to rising sea levels and human efforts to groom, replenish, or generally control the sand and waves, this book offers many new ways to explore the beach.

Read more about author Orrin Pilkey in our Tracking section.