Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916
Author: Michael Capuzzo
2001: New York, Broadway Books
I picked up a used copy of Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916 when I was at the beach. I thought I’d enjoy giving myself a good scare with a shark tale.
The story in Close to Shore is true. Michael Capuzzo went to a great deal of research to bring a vivid and accurate depiction of a group of shark attacks off the New Jersey coast in 1916.
In 1916, there wasn’t nearly as much knowledge about sharks and shark attacks as we have today. The unfortunate truth is that a cluster of shark attacks that occurred within one week caused a frenzy along the Jersey coast that caused not only widespread panic, but spelled economic doom for some of the finer hotels along the beach.
Written as social history, Michael Capuzzo carefully chronicles the events of what is believed to be a renegade white shark that went on the attack in the summer of 1916, beginning July 1. Three adults and one young boy fell victim to the voracious man-eater as she continued on the attack for 12 days.
After much terror and panic the shark attacks were stopped, by capture and killing of the shark, which by this time had a bounty on its head. Bounty hunting for shark created a concurrent frenzy of its own.
Capuzzo’s book is academic, but intriguing. He offers not only the perspective of the horrified people along the Jersey Coast, the lame attempts at protecting themselves from sharks, and the all-out hunt for the man-eater, but Capuzzo also invites us to view the situation from the perspective of a juvenile, hungry, and disoriented shark. It is an interesting contrast, even though it does not invoke empathy for the shark.
Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916 is not an easy read, but it is a worthwhile one. Capuzzo manages to keep the narrative from becoming too erudite, but it is filled with fascinating facts, beliefs, and accounts of the shark attacks based on primary and secondary resources.
Any historian or academic will immediately appreciate the work put into this book by Capuzzo. Students and layman might find it a bit of a thick read, but will benefit from the social and historical context into which Capuzzo places the first documented shark attacks on humans in the United States.
I recommend this book with 3 out of 5 stars. It isn’t intrinsically engaging, like the fictional novel and film Jaws, but it is all the more readable because it is an accurate account of the shark attacks on the Jersey Shore in 1916.
Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916 can be purchased from Amazon.com.