The list of things that have changed the world grows every year. Publishers, eschewing modesty, make big promises on their covers, guaranteeing explanations of how one thing caused some massive change or another in history. The greatest weakness of these books, of course, is that monocausal explanations are doomed to fail if taken too seriously. The best authors build on their promissory hook to explore larger historical forces driving change. The subtitle of Carmel Finley’s All the Boats on the Ocean similarly promises to pin a large historical change on one cause, but the promise feels as if it is the publicity department’s, not the author’s, because the book attempts to do much more than explain how government subsidies depleted the world’s oceans. In fact, the author is interested in several stories in addition to the one promised in the subtitle....

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