Crabs, Beer and Bay
Photo by Oblivious Dude used under a Creative Commons license.

William M. Warner, Beautiful Swimmers (Back Bay Books, 1994).
Both a natural history of the Atlantic blue crab and the Chesapeake Bay, and a cultural history of those who earn a living from crabbing. The biology and habits of the crab, the waters and weather of the bay, how to catch and harvest the crab — all of these are tied together. If you want to know how to tell a jimmie (a male crab) from a sook (a mature female), it’s here too. Warner was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1977 for this book. Since then, the Bay has suffered a decline and there are fewer of watermen in Maryland and Virginia, but Beautiful Swimmers has never been out of print and it still describes their world.

Peter Stoler reviewed it for Time, and Ned Daly reviewed it in Takoma Voice. Pinckney and Julie Dunlap blog about the book. Tom Horton profiled Warner for Washingtonian. Some folks credit Warner with making the Maryland blue crab famous, though I think the crabs were doing OK in that department before he came along. Like Warner did many times in writing the book, Johnny Apple went crabbing. Tom Anderson visited Tangier Island thirty years after Warner did. The Strathspey sails where Warner went, too.

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Bertha's Mussels
Photo by Earl – What I Saw 2.0 used under a Creative Commons license.

Madison Smartt Bell, Charm City (Crown Journeys, 2007).
Each of Charm City‘s four chapters describes a walk through Baltimore: along Greenmount Avenue and Charles Street, and in Fells Point and Dickeyville. Bell knows his way around, he knows some useful local experts, and he has done his homework, which he slips into his descriptions of the buildings, businesses and places he passes. These are not walking trips for tourists, per se; Bell is more interested in Baltimore’s neighborhoods, and in grittier parts of town than tourists will see on the rebuilt waterfront. The city’s slow evolution is a recurring theme.

Two reviews from national newspapers: Mark Kamine in The New York Times Book Review, and Russ Smith in The Wall Street Journal. Two reviews from Baltimore: Robbie Whelan in Baltimore’s City Paper, and David Dudley for Urbanite Baltimore (scroll down). Russ Smith blogs about the book. And in the Express, Kris Coronado got Bell to recommend some local eats.

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