A scientist’s exploration of the "ocean engine"—the physics behind the ocean’s systems—and why it matters.
All of Earth’s oceans, from the equator to the poles, are a single engine powered by sunlight, driving huge flows of energy, water, life, and raw materials. In The Blue Machine, physicist and oceanographer Helen Czerski illustrates the mechanisms behind this defining feature of our planet, voyaging from the depths of the ocean floor to tropical coral reefs, estuaries that feed into shallow coastal seas, and Arctic ice floes.
Through stories of history, culture, and animals, she explains how water temperature, salinity, gravity, and the movement of Earth’s tectonic plates all interact in a complex dance, supporting life at the smallest scale—plankton—and the largest—giant sea turtles, whales, humankind. From the ancient Polynesians who navigated the Pacific by reading the waves, to permanent residents of the deep such as the Greenland shark that can live for hundreds of years, she introduces the messengers, passengers, and voyagers that rely on interlinked systems of vast currents, invisible ocean walls, and underwater waterfalls.
Most important, however, Czerski reveals that while the ocean engine has sustained us for thousands of years, today it is faced with urgent threats. By understanding how the ocean works, and its essential role in our global system, we can learn how to protect our blue machine. Timely, elegant, and passionately argued, The Blue Machine presents a fresh perspective on what it means to be a citizen of an ocean planet.
About the Author
Helen Czerski is a physicist and oceanographer at University College London’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. The author of The Blue Machine and Storm in a Teacup, she is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, writing regularly about the physics of everyday life. She lives in London.
Riveting.... The cultural history fascinates.... Wide-ranging and meticulously detailed, this captures the wonder, beauty, and intrigue of its subject. — Publishers Weekly, starred review
The Blue Machine is a point of departure, a map for further exploration. Not since reading The Diversity of Life by E.O. Wilson have I read a book as timely, salient, and informative.
— Todd L. Capson - Science
[Czerski’s] profound, sparkling global ocean voyage mingles history and culture, natural history, geography, animals and people. — Andrew Robinson - Nature
A beautifully written guide to the seas reveals the hidden complexity of their role in moving energy around the Earth.... A brisk tour of the oceans, like a sleek catamaran skipping over the waves. Deftly harnessing the trade winds of history and geography, guiding us through eddies and currents of anecdote, [Czerski] leaves us with an understanding of the complexity of the oceans. — Tom Whipple - The Times (UK)
A dazzle of stories beautifully told.... Czerski argues throughout that to truly see the miraculous oceans, to understand and to feel our connection to them, is vital and integral to our history and our future. Her outstanding book advances that understanding and honours that connection. Her readers will see the seas anew. — Horatio Clare - Telegraph (UK)
Lively and engrossing.... Czerski is an exceptionally able guide.... Alongside her vivid portrayal of waters sliding over one another, colliding, mixing and turning into ice or water vapour, she explains how the living beings within the sea also form part of the ‘blue machine’.... [An] excellent and important book. — David Abulafia - Spectator
A spectacular read. — Martin Chilton - The Independent (UK)
Czerski’s fascinating new book casts the ocean as an extraordinary giant engine, and helps us grasp its complex physics and its key role in climate change. — Graham Lawton - New Scientist
Czerski aims to greatly expand and even revolutionise the reader’s understanding of what is going on in seven tenths of the planet that is not covered in land. — Financial Times
Czerski is a wonderful writer.... a compelling and elegantly written story.... [The] Blue Machine really does change the way you see the world.
— Christopher Hart - Daily Mail
Helen Czerski, urging us to see the ocean as a presence, not an absence, has done a remarkable job of shoehorning an overview of the whole shebang into a single, very readable volume. — Jon Turney - Arts Desk
I love Helen Czerski’s writing, and this is her richest work yet—as clear as springwater, yet as filled with fascinating things as the ocean itself. — Sarah Bakewell, author of How to Live and Humanly Possible
In Helen Czerski's hands, the mechanical becomes magical. An instant classic. — Tristan Gooley, author of How to Read Water: Clues and Patterns from Puddles to the Sea
Awash with fascinating facts. Helen Czerski writes with authority, passion, and an easy conversational style. You will want to be out there on the ice and ocean with her. I loved it. — Hugh Aldersey-Williams, author of The Tide: The Science and Stories Behind the Greatest Force on Earth
The Blue Machine is quite simply one of the best books I have ever read. Helen Czerski is a consummate storyteller…In places you’ll drift serenely among corals or dense kelp forests, in others you’ll ride Atlantic breakers or fear for your life in a tropical storm…When you resurface, you will be bursting with enthusiasm and wonder and you’ll understand how the ocean works and more besides.
— Dr. George McGavin, zoologist, entomologist, and broadcaster
A fascinating dive into the essential engine that drives our world. Czerski brings the oceans alive with compelling stories that masterfully navigate this most complex system. — Gaia Vince, author of Nomad Century: How Climate Migration Will Reshape Our World
In this captivating and urgently needed book, Helen Czerski weaves a wonderful, watery spell, entwining spectacular science with poetic awe as she expertly guides readers through the workings of a vast, unfamiliar world. Moving and thrilling, The Blue Machine tells us about the seas but also makes us care: an epic love story that captures the ocean’s beating heart.
— Jo Marchant, author of Cure and The Human Cosmos
Helen Czerski weaves together physics and biology, history and science, in a beautifully poetic way. Fascinating, funny, and deeply moving. From vast currents and tides to the smallest creatures that inhabit our oceans she reveals the spellbinding wonder of the oceans. From the opening paragraph, I was entranced. — Professor Alice Roberts
A compelling read for science buffs and ocean enthusiasts. — Kirkus Reviews