UNZ: 17-06-2024,

Why are lighthouses so fascinating? In part, it’s because they’re luminal zoons in liminal zones. And why is Tom Nancollas’ Seashaken Houses: A Lighthouse History from Eddystone to Fastnet (Penguin 2019) such a good read? In part, it’s because it doesn’t use pretentious phrases like “liminal zones” and “luminal zoons.” Instead, it uses clear prose and simple illustrations to describe the huge effort and astonishing ingenuity of the White men who designed and built an essential but often overlooked part of the early modern world: the rock-based lighthouses that saved countless lives and ensured safe voyages for countless ships.

Seashaken Houses: the cover of Tom Nancollas’ unconscious celebration of White male achievement

Seashaken Houses: the cover of Tom Nancollas’ unconscious celebration of White male achievement

Or they ensured safer voyages, at least. The sea has never ceased to be a dangerous place and lighthouses didn’t end the wrecks and the drownings. Indeed, the first chapter of Seashaken Houses describes how lighthouses sometimes couldn’t save their own keepers, let alone the ships and sailors they were built for. Tom Nancollas asks his readers to “imagine a time-lapse film” of a dangerous patch of sea “13 miles” off the southern coastal town of Plymouth, England. If the film reached “back three centuries” and were “rewound at speed”:

It would show four towers falling and rising upon the Eddystone reef: one disassembled, one combusting like a firework, one destroyed in a storm, their materials cycling from stone to wood,

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