Now in paperback
A Year with the Watermen
of Vanishing Tangier Island
Tangier, Virginia: a community unique on the American landscape. Mapped by John Smith in 1608, settled during the Revolution, the tiny sliver of mud and marsh is home to 470 hardy people who live with one foot in the twenty-first century and another in times long passed.
They are separated from their countrymen by twelve miles of often tempestuous water—water that for generations has made them a chief source for the rightly prized Chesapeake Bay blue crab, and has lent the island its claim to fame as the softshell crab capital of the world.
But the very water that has long sustained Tangier now erases it day by day, wave by wave, as the island sinks and the bay rises. Experts reckon that islanders will soon be forced to abandon their homes. Conservative and deeply religious Tangiermen ponder the end times.
Chesapeake Requiem takes an intimate look at the island’s past, present, and tenuous future, and sounds a warning on the coming fate of countless coastal communities.
BEST BOOK of 2018
The Washington Post
Christian Science Monitor
Public radio's "Science Friday"
"My choice for the best nonfiction book of 2018. . . .I can't remember a book in recent years that taught me quite so much. Every page is vivid and rich. . . .A model for what serious reportage should be."
--Stephen L. Carter, Bloomsberg
"An intimate, meticulously reported and captivating account of life on the island. . . Swift masterfully reveals Tangier as it is—a proud but struggling community of fewer than 500 people trying to hold on to what they can amid unending hardship and isolation."
--Steven Ginsberg in the Washington Post
"Earl Swift has long shown a talent for locating the big and poignant stories that lay hidden in plain sight within the day-to-day lives of unsung Americans. With Chesapeake Requiem, his gift is on fine display. . . .a big story about a small place, a canary-in-the-coalmine tale that's sad and beautiful, haunting and true."
--Hampton Sides, author of Americana, In the Kingdom of Ice, and On Desperate Ground
"This is a powerful book. . . . Earl Swift's Chesapeake Requiem is a tale of our time, movingly told. Perhaps it will inspire some of us living safe on higher ground to more action on behalf of those at risk."
--Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature
"Earl Swift is as much a master of crafting words on the page as capturing the instructive voices on this shrinking Chesapeake island. He has written not a farewell but a commencement, not an insular but a universal story, one we all should know, of challenge, forbearance, and possibilities."
--Jack E. Davis, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea
"Deeply moving and well-reported. . . . Swift’s ability to truly embed himself into the community, combined with his gorgeous prose, make for a truly remarkable book that comes not a moment too soon."
--Beth Macy, author of Factory Man, Truevine, and Dopesick
"An elegy to a disappearing way of life and a rumination on the coming global upheaval from climate change driven sea level rise. The story of Tangier Island, so beautifully described by Earl Swift, will soon be repeated in a place near you. It is a lovely book. Wonderful, poetic, stirring writing."
--Callum Roberts, author of The Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea
"Chesapeake Requiem is a riveting documentary. It also has the deep currents and satisfactions of a magnificent novel."
--John Casey, National Book Award-winning author of Spartina
"Precision is compassion in Earl Swift’s portrait of an island, its culture and locales and its future. . . . As the islanders struggle with the here-and-now effects of a warming world washing up against their shores, the religious politics of an inherently conservative place are strained, and real people come alive in these pages. This is a humane and difficult and supremely reported book. That is why it’s necessary, not only to understand one place on planet Earth but what that place tells the rest of us about the hard choices we’re about to make."
--Christopher Cokinos, author of Hope Is the Thing with Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds
"Swift's twilit portrait of Tangier, based on a year he spent there, is immersive, sensitive, and clear-eyed. He captures the grain of the place, all its nicks and whorls. . . . A mournfulness accumulates as we settle in to this beautifully peculiar pixel of America, knowing as we do that beneath those tidal rhythms ticks a very grim clock."
--Jonathan Miles in Garden & Gun
"A graceful melding of history, nature writing, and perceptive cultural commentary. . . . well-rendered narrative about how one specific island’s fate stands as a warning for all coastal regions."
"A masterful narrative of place, people, and nature, supported by the best sort of on-the-ground, in-depth journalistic reporting. . . . Swift does what only the best environmental writers can do. He reveals the complications and multiple storylines that underly an environmental crisis. And he builds compassion and connection, if not complete understanding, between readers and those who see the world quite differently."
--Stephanie Hanes in the Christian Science Monitor
"To write about a place that is not your own, and to do it faithfully, requires a few things that seem in short supply these days: time, empathy, and suspension of personal prejudices or preconceptions. . . .[Swift] still does it the old way, the right way: comprehensively, and with generous understanding."
--Mickie Meinhardt in The Bitter Southerner