Cynthia Barnett, The Sound of the Sea

Recorded January 11, 2023

A compelling history of seashells and the animals that make them, revealing what they have to tell us about nature, our changing oceans, and ourselves.

Seashells have been the most coveted and collected of nature’s creations since the dawn of humanity. They were money before coins, jewelry before gems, art before canvas.

In The Sound of the Sea, acclaimed environmental author Cynthia Barnett blends cultural history and science to trace our long love affair with seashells and the hidden lives of the mollusks that make them. Spiraling out from the great cities of shell that once rose in North America to the warming waters of the Maldives and the slave castles of Ghana, Barnett has created an unforgettable account of the world’s most iconic seashells. She begins with their childhood wonder, unwinds surprising histories like the origin of Shell Oil as a family business importing exotic shells, and charts what shells and the soft animals that build them are telling scientists about our warming, acidifying seas.

From the eerie calls of early shell trumpets to the evolutionary miracle of spines and spires and the modern science of carbon capture inspired by shell, Barnett circles to her central point of listening to nature’s wisdom—and acting on what seashells have to say about taking care of each other and our world.

Biography: Cynthia Barnett is an award-winning environmental author and journalist who has reported on water and climate change around the world. Her latest book, The Sound of the Sea, was named one of the best science books of 2021 by NPR’s Science Friday, and one of the best nonfiction books of the year by Kirkus Reviews, the Tampa Bay Times and others. Cynthia is also author of the water books MirageBlue Revolution; and Rain: A Natural and Cultural History, longlisted for the National Book Award and a finalist for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Award for Literary Science Writing. She has written for National Geographic, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Salon, Politico, Orion, and many other publications. Cynthia is the Environmental Journalist in Residence at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications in Gainesville, where she lives with her family.

Florida Voices is generously supported by the Fred J. Brotherton Endowment for Literature, established at The Four Arts by the Fred J. Brotherton Charitable Foundation. Fred Brotherton, who died in 2003, was for many years a Benefactor of The Four Arts and a strong supporter of its programs. Florida Voices, featuring the state that was Mr. Brotherton’s winter home, serves as a continuing memorial to this much-respected member of The Four Arts.

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