Review: Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916 by Michael Capuzzo

Combining rich historical detail and a harrowing, pulse-pounding narrative, Close to Shore brilliantly re-creates the summer of 1916, when a rogue Great White shark attacked swimmers along the New Jersey shore, triggering mass hysteria and launching the most extensive shark hunt in history.

During the summer before the United States entered World War I, when ocean swimming was just becoming popular and luxurious Jersey Shore resorts were thriving as a chic playland for an opulent yet still innocent era’s new leisure class, Americans were abruptly introduced to the terror of sharks. In July 1916 a lone Great White left its usual deep-ocean habitat and headed in the direction of the New Jersey shoreline. There, near the towns of Beach Haven and Spring Lake-and, incredibly, a farming community eleven miles inland-the most ferocious and unpredictable of predators began a deadly rampage: the first shark attacks on swimmers in U.S. history.

For Americans celebrating an astoundingly prosperous epoch much like our own, fueled by the wizardry of revolutionary inventions, the arrival of this violent predator symbolized the limits of mankind’s power against nature.

Interweaving a vivid portrait of the era and meticulously drawn characters with chilling accounts of the shark’s five attacks and the frenzied hunt that ensued, Michael Capuzzo has created a nonfiction historical thriller with the texture of Ragtime and the tension of Jaws. From the unnerving inevitability of the first attack on the esteemed son of a prosperous Philadelphia physician to the spine-tingling moment when a farm boy swimming in Matawan Creek feels the sandpaper-like skin of the passing shark, Close to Shore is an undeniably gripping saga.

Heightening the drama are stories of the resulting panic in the citizenry, press and politicians, and of colorful personalities such as Herman Oelrichs, a flamboyant millionaire who made a bet that a shark was no match for a man (and set out to prove it); Museum of Natural History ichthyologist John Treadwell Nichols, faced with the challenge of stopping a mythic sea creature about which little was known; and, most memorable, the rogue Great White itself moving through a world that couldn’t conceive of either its destructive power or its moral right to destroy.

Scrupulously researched and superbly written, Close to Shore brings to life a breathtaking, pivotal moment in American history. Masterfully written and suffused with fascinating period detail and insights into the science and behavior of sharks, Close to Shore recounts a breathtaking, pivotal moment in American history with startling immediacy.

Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916 by Michael Capuzzo. Narrated by Taylor Mail. Originally published in 2003. Audiobook published in 2015 by Audio Bookshelf. Run time is 3 hours and 47 minutes.

I love sharks! I have also always loved the movie Jaws. When I found out that the story of Jaws was based around the real life shark attacks of 1916, I searched out a book that would tell me all about this event. I was so looking forward to reading this book.

Close to Shore is filled to the gills with info. It delivered everything I could possibly want to know about the event. You get a perfect picture of what life was like in that era, as well as what things lead up to the attacks. You also get plenty of scientific opinions of sharks from that time period. As you read, you learn how those opinions of sharks have evolved over the decades. We learn about each of the victims and we hear from eye witness reports. There is just so much great information, but it never feels like an overwhelming amount.

I found it so amazing how people viewed sharks in the early 20th century. It just seems so odd to think that at one time people legit felt like sharks couldn’t possibly hurt a human because a shark wasn’t strong enough to bit into a human. Scientist and fishermen alike felt that sharks just weren’t that strong and that the attacks were more likely -get this- caused by giant sea turtles or….. are you ready for this? Tuna. Yes. They felt that limbs hanging on by a thread was caused by tuna fish. It is mind boggling that people couldn’t just look at a shark and think of it as an apex predator, a tank in the ocean!

The thing is, though, that back in 1916, most people, scientist included, had never even seen a shark. People didn’t know what a great white looked like. They didn’t know how many were out in there under the water just feet from you. Up until these attacks, there had never been an official attack on a human by a shark in America. Stories from South Africa and Australia about people killed by sharks just seemed like tall tales. Fiction. It never happened HERE, so it can’t possibly be real. There were no photos or videos of attacks. Just eye witness accounts, and people just simply couldn’t believe a creature like that existed. There was nothing like that on land and people just couldn’t imagine it. People didn’t start studying sharks seriously until the 1970s. Back in the 1910s, next to nothing was known about sharks, especially the infamous great white. Also around this time, people for the first time start going to the beach to swim and have fun vacations. Before the early 20th century, that just wasn’t a thing to do. 1916 is when the American public first came face to snout with sharks.

Close to shore briefly teaches us a little bit about the biology of sharks. Nothing too detailed. That’s not the main point of this book, but there is enough there to really paint a picture of how they live, swim, hunt. Through the book we learn how shark knowledge has grown and how theories have changed. The book also brings up attacks that have happened in other decades since 1910s as refrences for the kind of attacks that happen. The author did a fantastic job researching not only the 1916 attacks, but also the time surrounding that summer.

Very entertaining. I really enjoyed learning about the first officially documented cases of shark attacks in America. I thought this was a great read. If you are a fan of sharks and or 20th century history, I think you’d really enjoy this book. It was very fascinating and worth a read!


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