The Gulf of Mexico: A Maritime History

John S. Sledge (Author)


The Gulf of Mexico presents a compelling, salt-streaked narrative of the earth's tenth largest body of water. In this beautifully written and illustrated volume, John S. Sledge explores the people, ships, and cities that have made the Gulf's human history and culture so rich. Many famous figures who sailed the Gulf's viridian waters are highlighted, including Ponce de León, Robert Cavelier de La Salle, Francis Drake, Elizabeth Agassiz, Ernest Hemingway, and Charles Dwight Sigsbee at the helm of the doomed Maine. Sledge also introduces a fascinating array of people connected to maritime life in the Gulf, among them Maya priests, French pirates, African American stevedores, and Greek sponge divers.

Gulf events of global historical importance are detailed, such as the only defeat of armed and armored steamships by wooden sailing vessels, the first accurate deep-sea survey and bathymetric map of any ocean basin, the development of shipping containers by a former truck driver frustrated with antiquated loading practices, and the worst environmental disaster in American annals.

Occasionally shifting focus ashore, Sledge explains how people representing a gumbo of ethnicities built some of the world's most exotic cities--Havana, way station for conquistadores and treasure-filled galleons; New Orleans, the Big Easy, famous for its beautiful French Quarter, Mardi Gras, and relaxed morals; and oft-besieged Veracruz, Mexico's oldest city, founded in 1519 by Hernán Cortés. Throughout history the residents of these cities and their neighbors along the littoral have struggled with challenges both natural and human-induced--devastating hurricanes, frightening epidemics, catastrophic oil spills, and conflicts ranging from dockside brawls to pirate raids, foreign invasion, civil war, and revolution. In the modern era the Gulf has become critical to energy production, fisheries, tourism, and international trade, even as it is threatened by pollution and climate change. The Gulf of Mexico: A Maritime History is a work of verve and sweep that illuminates both the risks of life on the water and the riches that come from its bounty.

Product Details

$29.99  $27.59
University of South Carolina Press
Publish Date
November 13, 2019
7.3 X 10.0 X 0.9 inches | 1.7 pounds

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About the Author

John S. Sledge is senior architectural historian for the Mobile Historic Development Commission and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. He holds a bachelor's degree in history and Spanish from Auburn University and a master's in historic preservation from Middle Tennessee State University. Sledge is the author of six previous books, including Southern Bound: A Gulf Coast Journalist on Books, Writers, and Literary Pilgrimages of the Heart; The Mobile River; and These Rugged Days: Alabama in the Civil War.


"John Sledge is a historian of the first order, and he is also an exceptional writer. This is history at its best--engaging, focused on the people, and well-researched. The history of the Gulf is an international, multi-generational tale, and Sledge navigates it like a skilled mariner."--James Delgado, maritime archaeologist, historian, explorer, and author
"John Sledge's The Gulf of Mexico is an admirably compact and fascinating overview of a coast and sea that remain almost unknown to most Americans. Its broad coverage of everything from Native American sailors to modern industrial and recreational fishing makes it a welcome and inclusive addition to the literature of the maritime history of the Americas."--Lincoln Paine, author of The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World
"Evident in each judiciously crafted sentence of this elegant book, John S. Sledge's love of the Gulf of Mexico is appropriately infectious. He rightfully celebrates and affirms the southern sea's enriching past and gives readers reason to want for its wholesome and meaningful future. Like the sea itself, this book is a gift."--Jack E. Davis, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea
"In his paean to the Gulf of Mexico, John Sledge skillfully pilots readers past the familiar beaches and hurricanes of the South's backdoor to the Atlantic. Along the way he reveals 500 years of audacious history afloat on its often roiling waters, with a cast of seagoing characters as diverse as the watery biome beneath their hulls." -- Gregory A. Waselkov, author of A Conquering Spirit: Fort Mims and the Redstick War of 1813-1814