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Farewell William Warner

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Like most crustaceans, the blue crab has stalked eyes. When a crab is at peace with the world, they are but two little round beads. On the prowl, they are elevated and look like stubby horns. As with insects, the eyes are compound. This means that they possess thousands of facets—multiple lenses, if you prefer—which catch and register a mosaic of patterns. More importantly, simple laboratory tests seem to indicate that the stalked and compound eyes give the blue crab almost 360-degree vision. Those who with ungloved hands try to seize a crab with raised eyestalks from the rear will have this capability most forcefully impressed on them.
—William W. Warner, Beautiful Swimmers, Penguin Books, 1976


William Warner captured, with every precise word, the glory of the natural world. His Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay (with Jonathan Raban’s Passage to Juneau, William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways, and Kenneth T. Jackson’s Crabgrass Frontier) is among the best books you’ll find on the shifting strengths of nature’s communities. You might not think you ever needed to know so much about crabs ...


The New York Times reports on Warner’s death:


William W. Warner, a former administrator at the Smithsonian Institution and the author of Beautiful Swimmers, a study of crabs and watermen in the Chesapeake Bay, which won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1977, died on April 18 at his home in Washington. He was 88.


The Times article provides a short overview of Warner’s life from his college days at Princeton through his Naval career and his work in the Peace Corps, to his administration work at the Smithsonian. Warner wrote three books after Beautiful Swimmers: Distant Water: The Fate of the North Atlantic Fisherman (1983), Into the Porcupine Cave and Other Odysseys: Adventures of an Occasional Naturalist (1999), and At Peace with All Their Neighbors: Catholics and Catholicism in the National Capital, 1787-1860 (1994).

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