Book Puts Beach Development into Historical and Ecological Context

Jan 14, 2013

Author Bill Sargent takes the long view in his new book "Beach Wars: 10,000 Years on a Barrier Beach."

Bill Sargent selected Thomas Hart Benton's depiction of a family fleeing a storm surge for the cover of his book.

In March of 2012, crews began demolishing five homes on Chatham's North Beach Island. The action was ordered by the owner of the cottages, Cape Cod National Seashore, but came after months of strenuous protest by leaseholders and numerous observers who argued that the buildings were more than just summer homes - they were part of Chatham's cultural heritage.

That's a notion that Bill Sargent challenges in his latest book, Beach Wars: 10,000 Years on a Barrier Beach.

The book takes the long view of things, chronicling Chatham's barrier beach from the days of woolly mammoths to the present. Along the way, Sargent subtly but clearly makes the point that our current attitudes toward barrier beaches everywhere are out of sync with the natural rhythms of these ever-changing systems.

It's a hard message for many to hear. People have come to his door and harrassed his wife. One posted a thinly-veiled death threat on a public web forum.

In the end, Sargent concludes that neither side was wholly right or wrong in the fight over North Beach Island. Instead, he offers something sorely missing from many conversations in our nation today - a compromise born out of rational thought and tempered with empathy.