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A Sea of Glass

Searching for the Blaschkas' Fragile Legacy in an Ocean at Risk

Drew Harvell (Author), Harry W. Greene (Foreword)

Available worldwide

Hardcover, 232 pages
ISBN: 9780520285682
May 2016
$29.95, £24.00
Other Formats Available:
"The author makes an eloquent plea for marine biodiversity conservation."—Library Journal
"Harvell seems to channel the devotion that motivated the Blaschkas."—The Guardian 
Winner of the 2016 National Outdoor Book Award, Environment Category

It started with a glass octopus. Dusty, broken, and all but forgotten, it caught Drew Harvell’s eye. Fashioned in intricate detail by the father-son glassmaking team of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, the octopus belonged to a menagerie of unusual marine creatures that had been packed away for decades in a storage unit. More than 150 years earlier, the Blaschkas had been captivated by marine invertebrates and spun their likenesses into glass, documenting the life of oceans untouched by climate change and human impacts. Inspired by the Blaschkas’ uncanny replicas, Harvell set out in search of their living counterparts. In A Sea of Glass, she recounts this journey of a lifetime, taking readers along as she dives beneath the ocean's surface to a rarely seen world, revealing the surprising and unusual biology of some of the most ancient animals on the tree of life. On the way, we glimpse a century of change in our ocean ecosystems and learn which of the living matches for the Blaschkas’ creations are, indeed, as fragile as glass.

Drew Harvell and the Blaschka menagerie are the subjects of the documentary Fragile Legacy, which won the Best Short Film award at the 2015 Blue Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit. Learn more about the film and check out the trailer here.
Drew Harvell is Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University and Curator of the Blaschka Marine Invertebrate Collection. Her research on the sustainability of marine ecosystems has taken her from the reefs of Mexico, Indonesia, and Hawaii to the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest. She is a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, a winner of the Society of American Naturalist Jasper Loftus-Hills Award, and a lead author of the oceans chapter in the recent U.S. Climate Change Assessment. She has published over 120 articles in journals such as ScienceNature, and Ecology and is coeditor of The Ecology and Evolution of Inducible Defenses.
"The author makes an eloquent plea for marine biodiversity conservation."—Library Journal
"Harvell’s encounters with rarer creatures of the deep are as exciting for the reader as they were for her, but the takeaway from A Sea of Glass is an SOS call for a change in human behavior."—Hakai Magazine
"Stunning photos . . . contextualize the dramatic taxonomic and ecological shifts in ocean life over the past 150 years."—Nature
"Harvell seems to channel the devotion that motivated the Blaschkas."—The Guardian
"A wonderful example of the intertwining of science and art where each expression of the wonders of the human mind sparks another."—The Explorers Journal
"Curator and marine ecologist Harvell recounts her quest to find the living versions of the creatures and the scientific insights the 150-year-old glass replicas still provide." - The Best "Art Meets Science" Books of 2016

"Both the Blaschka collection and Harvell's work certainly stand the test of time as a testimony to the beauty and magnificence of the oceans' majesty and wonder."—CHOICE
"Beautifully written, multifaceted book . . . opens the doors of marine ecology to new audiences at a critical time."—Resurgence & Ecologist Magazine
"You will want this book and then you will want to give it to one and all for a delightful and stimulating introduction to our wonderful ocean creatures."—The Quarterly Review of Biology
“An engaging travel adventure that blends art, science, and natural history. A Sea of Glass documents Drew Harvell’s quest to document the conservation status of some of the ocean’s most charismatic marine invertebrates, from sea slugs to octopuses. Inspired by her discovery of a lost collection of handblown glass animals, Harvell dives the world’s oceans to determine how their living counterparts are faring in today’s beleaguered marine ecosystems. Beautifully illustrated, A Sea of Glass is both a call to action and a loving ode to our oceans.”—Ted Danson, actor, activist, and founding member of Oceana
"This book is significant not just for its scholarship on a fragile ecosystem but also for its celebration of the symbiotic relationship between art and science.”—Dale Chihuly, American glass sculptor and founder of the Pilchuck Glass School
A Sea of Glass weaves two amazing substances, water and glass, into a living tapestry of history, with mesmerizing stories that combine science, art, and the lives of people who, like the author, were fascinated with the menagerie of small, rarely seen sea creatures that shape the nature of the ocean and, therefore, of life on Earth. Many of these animals have sharply declined in recent decades, but knowing of their existence may inspire caring and protection for them and the living sea they—and we—need to survive.”—Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence, former chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and founder of Mission Blue
“Drew Harvell’s new book spans the fertile yet rarely visited boundary between science and art. Part history, part exploration, and part cautionary tale, A Sea of Glass transforms the fascinating story of the Blaschkas’ glass sea creatures into an elegant metaphor for the fate of our oceans. The result is a visual feast and a splendid read.”—Thor Hanson, author of Feathers and The Triumph of Seeds
“A Sea of Glass is a superb story inspired by the unparalleled artistic creations of two talented Bohemian glassmakers who provided a time capsule of marine life 150 years ago that now serves as a baseline for the author, a marine biologist, to reflect on the fragility and resiliency of life in the ocean. A delightful merger of art, science, and travel adventure that entertains, enlightens, and inspires.” —Jane Lubchenco, U.S. Science Envoy for the Ocean and first woman to be appointed administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


Rachel Carson Environmental Book Award Honorable Mention, Society of Environmental Journalists

National Outdoor Book Award, Environment Category, National Outdoor Book Awards Foundation

Mann Library Book Talk - October 27, 2016

In a book talk given at Mann Library in conjunction with Mann’s special fall 2016 exhibit program, “Exploring a Sea of Glass: A Celebration of Art, Biology and History Through the Works of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka,” Harvell presents some of the wondrous sights and sobering lessons of her exploration. "Sea of Glass" received the 2016 National Outdoor Book Award for natural history literature.

Exploring a Sea of Glass
Preview the Mann Library exhibition "Exploring a Sea of Glass," and hear from Professor Drew Harvell, whose book, "A Sea of Glass," inspired it.

Fragile Legacy: A Sea of Glass trailer.

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