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Distributed for Reaktion Books

The Ocean at Home

An Illustrated History of the Aquarium


Distributed for Reaktion Books

The Ocean at Home

An Illustrated History of the Aquarium


The mysterious world beneath the ocean’s surface and its inhabitants have captivated humanity for centuries—the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and ancient Chinese all kept fish in their homes to observe and admire. But it was not until the nineteenth-century invention of the aquarium that the deep was truly domesticated, offering the curious a chance to create an indoor exotic sea world, in miniature.

In The Ocean at Home, Bernd Brunner traces the development of the aquarium from the Victorian era to the present day. Along the way, in this fascinating history, Brunner provides insight into the cultural and social circumstances that accompanied the aquarium’s swift rise in popularity. Brunner tells a compelling story of obsession, discovery, and delight—from the aquarium’s origin as a tool for scientific observation to the Victorian era’s elaborately decorated containers of curiosity, to the great public aquariums that are popular in cities around the world today.

Featuring more than 100 illustrations, this updated edition of The Ocean at Home offers a colorful and captivating look at how a Victorian obsession still enchants many today. Both the owner of a humble goldfish bowl and the dazzled spectator at major public aquariums will find The Ocean at Home an appealing and knowledgable guide to the aquatic worlds we create.

160 pages | 30 color plates, 80 halftones | 5 1/2 x 9 | © 2011

Sport and Recreation

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“Who knew that the 1970s staple began as Victorian England exotica?”

Los Angeles Times Jacket Copy

“The aquarium is a microcosm of the sea, a bit of the ocean scooped up into our living rooms. Bernd Brunner’s slim but fascinating and beautifully illustrated book sets out to explore the history of this phenomenon, which he memorably describes as ‘Noah’s ark in reverse.’ In the process, Brunner, a German writer of measured, slyly humorous tones, reveals much about how we relate to our greater environment.”


The Ocean at Home beautifully fills an important gap in social as well as in natural history.”

James Hamilton-Paterson, author of Rancid Pansies

Table of Contents

Prologue: Dive In

1. The First Seed: The Secret of the Ocean
2. The Second Seed: Chambers, Cabinets, Cases
3. The Third Seed: Pet Fish
4. ‘Passion and Diligence’: Pioneers
5. ‘A Strong, Intensive Desire’: The Propagandist
6. From Salt- to Freshwater Aquarium: The Lake in a Glass
7. Arriving in the United States: Aquarist Societies and Museums
8. Exotic Species and Transport: Diverging Beliefs
9. Fashion Show: The Typology of Parlour Aquariums
10. ‘A New Kind of Theatre’: The Large Aquariums
11. From Aquarium to Oceanarium and Beyond
12. The Dark Underside of the Aquarium

Epilogue: Are Fish Really Meant to Be in a Box?
Appendix: An Overview of Present-day Aquaria and Oceanaria
Select Bibliography

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