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America’s Best Beaches (Leatherman)

America’s Best Beaches
Miami: Stephen P. Leatherman, 112p.
Paper, $17.95. ISBN 0-9663451-0-X.

Available from Amazon

It is always a pleasure to review a book designed to enlighten and foster more enjoyable use of America’s better beaches. Beaches are tourism’s number one destination in North America and Europe, and there are good reasons for it: beaches bring forth images of play, relaxation, freedom, warmth, mystery, danger, and even, thanks to Hollywood, romance. No other part of our earth can give us all that in one place!

The problem for tourists is which beach provides what. It was the problem I encountered when bringing my new European family to Florida where I had just accepted a position as director of coastal studies. I didn’t know which beach was best for us, much less for tourists! (Out of this quandary was born a guidebook to “Florida’s Sandy Beaches” published in 1985.)

As Dr. Leatherman correctly points out, the famous beaches are not the best beaches. Indeed, any beach heavily promoted through advertising would never be a “best beach” be cause hotels are the reason behind the promotion and not the beach. Dr. Leatherman’s response to this lack of good beach information is this book. He uses a rating system of 50 criteria on a sliding scale of 1 to 5 to select the best beaches in six regions of the U.S. for eight beach categories: swimming, walking, wilderness, sports, city, novelty, surfing, and best overall. These beaches are then described in a folksy, person al manner that only partially seems to rely on his selection criteria. Thus, his touted “objectivity” of beach selection is submerged and not self-evident from his descriptions of the various beaches. Nevertheless, this book is a handy, easy to use guide to some of America’s better beaches. However, it is necessary to supplement this book with local maps and parking information. Fortunately, addresses of state tourism offices are included to attempt to get this necessary information to use the beaches described. A section on beach safety is a welcome and informative part of the book, as is the section on beachcombing.

The rating system presumably employed in his selections is generally complete and simple to understand and apply. The only missing element I could see was the criterion of “type of beach use” with a sliding scale from family use to nudist use. This element is of great importance in selecting any beach! From the eight categories of beach included it is not evident which beach would be the best family beach. In deed, all 50 criteria are of equal value in his system, meaning that “longshore current” is equal in value to “amenities.” The score for best beach is the simple sum of the 50 rated criteria. If he weighted these ratings in some way to select for his eight categories such is not evident or even discussed in this book.

Any book by definition is incomplete and contains errors. In any future edition Dr. Leatherman should consider adding detailed maps and parking information for the beaches he selects as “best” in order to make the book more self-contained and useful. (In fact, one of his regional maps shows Pensacola in the wrong place.) Definitions of his eight categories would be useful, as well as more “objective” descriptions of the beaches selected. Replacing some of the slightly out of focus photos would help too, including adding a photo of seashells in his beachcombing section. Highlighting the topics under beach safety would be useful too. A section on beach use policy problems to keep the beaches “best” might be useful to add. Including a note about others rating beaches annually such as the NRDF’s beach pollution and the EU’s blue flag beaches would be useful. Finally, the word questionnaire has two “n’s.”

My final comment is my surprise at Dr. Leatherman’s self-promotion as “Dr. Beach.” I think of so many beach scientists more deserving of such a mantle to include Per Bruun, Orrin Pilkey, Paul Komar. Orville Magoon, etc., to name only a few. Any sense of objectivity would seem to go against adopting such a title for oneself!

Nevertheless, buy the book as it delivers on what it promises. We need all the books we can get to encourage a more informed use of beaches by the public. This book may also push local governments into improving their beaches and facilities in order to become candidates for “best beach.”

David W. Fischer, Professor
Faculty of Marine Sciences
Universidad Autónoma de Baja California
Ensenada, B.C., Mexico

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