Posted by: coastlinesproject | January 15, 2013

Beach Wars; William Sargent WCAI NPR interview.

Book Puts Beach Development into Historical and Ecological Context


  • 28:07
    Interview with Bill Sargent, author of “Beach Wars.”


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.

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.

Read more in; Storm Surge; A Coastal Village Battles the Atlantic, Just Seconds From the Ocean; Coastal Living in the wake of Katrina and Beach Wars; 10,000 Years on a Barrier Beach. See Strawberry Hill, UPNE, and Schiffer book tabs at the top of this page.



  1. Bill, I am reading your book Beach Wars. Page 26 ends abruptly. Is the missing text elsewhere in the book or somewhere else online? I know that Arbella was in the Winthrop Fleet and briefly put ashore at Jeffries Creek, aka Manchester. Thanks, Steve

    • Hi Steve,

      Yes you are right I cant believe we missed that! The good thing about print on demand is that we can make these corrections for the next printing> I can send you a copy. Thanks!!

      • Thanks for your response. I finished reading Beach Wars today. Facinating, and VERY close to home. We live on Upper Capltiva, the barrier island (aka North Captiva) during the winter. Our island book club is reading Beach Wars for our March meeting. I will lead the discussion and would like to email you the discussion questions for comment. I am also going to recommend reading the article in Scientific American, July 87, Beaches and Barrier Islands, by Robert Dolan and Harry Lins. I would also like to obtain annual aerial photos of our island since Hurricane Charley over washed and split our island into three, since healed. Major bulkheads were installed on the southern tip of our island and a major breakwater was installed seaward on the northern tip of Captiva. Both of these project are likely having a long term impact on the relatively unprotected shoreline of our island that stretches northward for 3.5 miles. How do I get these photos to help us track the impact and predict erosion? On old aerial photos of our island you can see the ridges of sand and vegetation that probably follow the 31 year proxigean cycle. Our island has no bridges, roads, or gas vehicles…boat only access. The southern 2.5 miles are State Park. Before 1926 it was part of Captiva but is now separated “permanently” by Redfish Pass. The northwest tip of our island lost an entire street of lots since the 60s. We have seen two homes condemned and removed. One around 1990 and another in 2010. The one removed in 2010 was being built on the footprint of an old cottage, but was really huge. It was condemned before it was finally occupied. We have also seen one cottage moved.

      • Hi Steve, I checked and we left out several paragraphs,thanks! We used to explore those islands from my father’s boat out of Boca Grande> I also wrote Just Seconds From the Ocean, Coastal Living in the Wake of Katrina that has a chapter on Charlie making a landfall on Cayo Costa. If you check with the Mote Marine lab in Sarasota one of their scientists might have a full collection of aerials of the area. The oldest ones go back to the Soil Conservation Survey in 1938! The lab used to be on Bird Island I think near Captiva. When were you at Tufts I did a short stint at the Fletcher School in 1971. Little of it stuck!

  2. Bill,

    Please email or post the paragraphs that finish page 26. I would like to email you the book club questions for our discussion next Friday. After they are edited I will also post them if you like.

    Thanks, Steve A’66

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