Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Looking for a Ship” as Want to Read:
Blank 133x176
Looking for a Ship
John McPhee
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Looking for a Ship

4.08  ·  Rating Details  ·  885 Ratings  ·  81 Reviews
/McPhee/John More than two months on the New York Times bestseller list, Looking for a Ship is a fascinating of the last American merchant ships. Through the details of a South Pacific journey and the tales of disaster, greed, courage, and stupidity that are told along the way emerge the history and character of an extraordinary callin
Hardcover, 0 pages
Published June 22nd 1993 by Random House Value Publishing (first published 1990)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Looking for a Ship, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Looking for a Ship

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,312)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Rex Fuller
Jul 24, 2013 Rex Fuller rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Wing-shooting Achernar, Mars, Sirius, and Venus” (navigating by sextant).

“Plimsoll marks”: TF – Tropical Fresh Water, F – Fresh Water, T – Tropical Seawater, S – Summer Temperate Seawater, W – Winter Temperate Seawater, and WNA – Winter North Atlantic. Painted on the hull of a cargo ship, they indicate the maximum safe loading depth of that particular ship, for the expected weather and sea conditions - Winter North Atlantic being hell. First mandated in Britain to control greedy overloading.

Sep 13, 2008 Kelly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nonfiction aficionados
Recommended to Kelly by: Steve Friedman
I first read an essay, The Search for Marvin Gardens, by John McPhee in a collection, and then asked about him in my essay writing class. Soon, I was on a hunt for his books - but just the right ones. Not the geology. Not collections of essays, which were easy to find but just looked... old. Yes, I judge books by their covers - but also by their tables of contents and flipping through and reading a few lines here and there - and I wasn't sold.

Finally, I wandered into a secondhand bookstore in t
Richard Bradley
Apr 11, 2010 Richard Bradley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: sailors, travellers, romantics, lovers of fine writing, lovers of ships and the seas
This book is 5-stars for me because it's about a great subject, things it says are familiar and true in my own personal experience, and it is an excellent piece of writing. It's a friendly narrative. It finds humor for us. This book tells the story of a way of life, in those days. Very descriptive, with a pleasant sound and the rhythm of the seas carrying it right along. There's no shying away from the one big truth that danger stalks men and ships on the open waters and in the harbors. In that ...more
Amar Pai
Mar 23, 2011 Amar Pai rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Captain Paul McHenry Washburn : if he wasn't real you couldn't make him up

Ran away from home at 13
Became a hobo, rode boxcars across America (Great Depression era)
Joined a freak show (SEE the man who feels no pain when shocked)
Joined the Ringling brothers circus
Became an amateur boxer
Hopped aboard a ship, became a sailor
Went to war (WWII)
Worked his way up through the ranks, became a merchant marine captain
Became a great-great grandfather (while young enough to still be a captain; dun
Jul 16, 2012 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

John McPhee is a nonfiction writer of rare gifts. Peerless as a storyteller, McPhee brings the reader into his subject from unexpected--often quirky--angles and makes even the rocks of the earth into protagonists worth caring about. In Looking for a Ship, McPhee befriends seaman Andy Chase and shares his journey as a sailor of the dwindling US Merchant Marine. Much of said journey takes place on land as Andy, who is nearing the end of his obligatory half-year ashore, goes looking for a ship. He
May 24, 2016 Moira rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is the rarest of pleasures - almost extinct, it seems, these days - to read nonfiction into which the writer inserts himself not one single bit. McPhee is a master of it, and his books feel true to life as I understand it. That is, people are stupid and heroic, profound and blinkered, and the narrative of any given day outstrips most adventure novels. Here, the U.S. Merchant Marine is examined through the lens of one ship and her extraordinary captain.

I dare you to read this and not at least
Sep 04, 2007 Peter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you have ever had a dream of living on the open ocean, this book is a good place to start. It is a first person account of life in the Merchant Marines - one of those institutions I have heard of, but have no idea what it really is. At times, the author seems to be writing almost as a stream of consciousness, skipping from topic to topic and mixing time periods. Most of the time, this style seems to work, but at several points seemed to leave me lost as to who and what the author was talking ...more
Dec 07, 2008 Eric_W rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nautical buffs
This is McPhee's report of his voyage on a freighter, the Stella Lykes. Another thing I really want to do before I croak. He travels for 42 days, through the Panama Canal and down the coast of South America delivering containers. The are attacked by pirates, navigate around storms, and discuss the decline of the American Merchant Marine. My father actually took a trip on one of the Lykes container ship and was stuck for several weeks on the west side of the Panama Canal during our invasion of Pa ...more
Frank Ryerson
Sep 03, 2012 Frank Ryerson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
McPhee is able to enter the lives of others and open them up to us brilliantly. I read this book after reading an excerpt in The New Yorker, and loved the chance it gave me to feel and see what it would be like to have a life on the sea, knowing I would never likely have a life on the sea. I still think about one captain's remark that he hated when he hear a TV weatherman say that "the storm moved safely out to sea." Nothing safe for those folks out on the sea! A good lesson in perspective.
Jun 16, 2016 Chad rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature, travel
After reading McPhee for years in The New Yorker, I finally read one of his books after looking on a whim to see what my library had of his. Such solid, unpretentious writing, completely uninterested in spectacle but very interested in the colorful lives of the Merchant Marines with whom McPhee is embedded for the book.

A few context-free quotes from said men:

"I knew everything about bananas except how they talk. If they get below fifty-four degrees, they're dead. You might as well have taken a s
M. J.
Jul 02, 2015 M. J. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-other
In role playing game theory, we identify three "motivations" for players to play--in rough terms, gamists who want the excitement of winning and losing, narrativists who want the plots and moral issues, and simulationists who want the settings and characterizations and reality of unreal events. In helping to define the last of those categories, I noted that these categories play in other media as well, that the appeal of simulationism was the same as the appeal of travelogues and documentaries, ...more
Looking for a Ship is an extended human interest story about the US Merchant Marine. The book is dated since the ship McPhee shipped out on was a steamship but it is a riveting story about the crew and of course the ship. In these times of heightened awareness of pirates it was interesting to hear about the pirates of South America in the late 1980's. there were many interesting parts to the story but the few that hit me was what the merchant marine calls the deck crawler which chips the non-ski ...more
Charlie Brown
Sep 07, 2010 Charlie Brown rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
John McPhee can take topics like geology or engineering or cooking and write absorbing books about them. Some of these topics, like geology, I would discard after only the briefest consideration; McPhee's books cause me to re-examine the things he writes about and make me wonder what other interesting topics I have closed my eyes to.

Here, we follow Andy Chase as he looks for a ship in the almost-but-not-quite-dead American merchant marine. When he finds it, it is the ~665' container ship STELLA
Aug 28, 2012 James rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This has been my least satisfactory audiobook experience to date. When I was an undergraduate with literary ambitions, I fantasized about joining the Merchant Marine after securing my long-term unemloyability with a degree in English literature. I couldn't imagine anything nobler or more manly than to add "able-bodied seaman" to my CV like Kerouac and O'Neill. I wasn't particularly diligent about anything in those days, but cursory research led me to understand that it was virtually impossible a ...more
Mar 31, 2008 Scott rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Scott by: Mike Wedaman
If I were the kind of fella to write books, I like to think that they would end up looking like McPhee's. Most of the time, his style and "authorial presence" are invisible, so when he does stick his head in with a bit of subtle subjective commentary, it stands out.

I always kind of wished I could have spent a summer on an ore freighter on the great lakes or something. I would read on the deck. They would call me "college boy." But that is never going to happen, because, let's face it, I would p
Nicolai Steskow
May 22, 2015 Nicolai Steskow rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful story about life on a merchant ship told by John McPhee. I've only just come across McPhee, but with everything I read by him I grow more and more fond of his writing. It seems effortless, but it's only because he is such a skilled writer - he always knows exactly where he wants to take a story and he takes it there. He is quickly becoming one of my very favorite authors, and one I look to for inspiration.
Thomas Burchfield
I truly enjoyed this book by the prolific NEW YORKER writer about life in the U.S. Merchant Marine, circa 1990. It's a beautifully written true-life adventure and a clear-eyed informative account of a way of life known to few of us, outside of a few fictional accounts. McPhee's clear and eloquent prose, both simple and sophisticated (with occasional flashes of impish humor) all but had me feeling the salt air and the deck tilting under my feet. Some might find the ending abrupt, while others mig ...more
Jul 23, 2014 Suzanne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Stunning. If John McPhee wrote a phone book I'd read it. One of the most amazing parts is his inclusion of the geological observations about the Andes written by a 20-something Charles Darwin, yes, that Darwin, seeing shells high up in the mountains and figuring out that they were once on the sea floor. McPhee also gets inside the fears, pride, and work ethic of the members of the Merchant Marine.
Adam Rabiner
McPhee's first person account of a 42 day trip to South American he took with the Merchant Marines a quarter century ago is entertaining and informative. One of my friends from high school became a merchant mariner and now I have some idea of the kind of career and life he's led. McPhee discusses how older union cards trump younger ones, the decline of the American Merchant Marine, the mechanics of ships, navigation, different ports of call, piracy, and the men who choose this life. McPhee, obse ...more
Jul 23, 2015 Ed rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
910.45 Author accompanies his friend Merchant Mariner Andy Chase on his search for a berth as second mate and then on a 42 day cruise on a container ship from Charleston, SC to the west coast of South America. Along the way we learn of the decline of the American shipping industry, sea lore, piracy, and other dangers of the sea. Fascinating.
Mar 04, 2013 itpdx rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I very much enjoy McPhee's books that give us a look at places or jobs that, while very important to our world, are out of sight (and probably out of mind). In this book he follows a US Merchant Marine Second Mate while he "looks for a ship" essentially tries to find a job. And then once he gets it, McPhee sails with him from Charleston down the west coast of South America on a container ship.

McPhee fills us in on the Merchant Marine Service, the ways to join, career trajectories, the history o
Feb 15, 2015 Artie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great literary non-fiction about life on a freighter. Not quite five stars but still really good. My major complaint is that they didn't bother including maps of the ship's voyage.
Ryan Williams
May 17, 2013 Ryan Williams rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I introduce John McPhee's work to British readers - usually after they've outgrown Hunter S. Thompson and detested Tom Wolfe - I urge them to start with Oranges, and work their way through his work from there onwards, but saving this volume for last.

Annals of the Former World might be the book that won McPhee the Pulitzer, but I still think this is his best single work. Informative, succinct and written in McPhee's unflashy, elegant style, it places you straight in the mind and nervous syst
Jun 30, 2008 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was great!

I read McPhee's Archdruid after having read Uncommon Carriers. I loved the style and structure of UC (a very recent book), but A (from the 70's), was disappointing. Don't get me wrong, it was good, but I wasn't running around telling people how great it was...

This one just want to tell everyone how great it is! But I don't....because I'm not sure everyone would like it....I think you have to have some inherent interest in international shipping/modern piracy to f
Simon Ross
Classic McPhee. The subject didn't really catch my imagination, but his writing is always excellent.
Mar 09, 2013 Christine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An engaging look at the United States Merchant Marine, a bastion of adventure, battles with nature (and sometimes pirates), and professional sailors, whose passion for the sea can be traced back to the ancient Phoenicians. McPhee traces the career of merchant mariner (and Maine Maritime Academy graduate and professor) Andy Chase on his quest to find a ship--not a small task these dasy--and, once aboard one, to pilot her and her cargo through myriad hazards.

Ever wonder what is in those land/sea
Mar 26, 2008 Doug rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Clipper ships. I like clipper ships. Actually, this book has nothing to do with clipper ships, but rather is about John McPhee hanging out with the Merchant Marine on one those big tanker/shipping crate ships. Pretty interesting look at commerce and shipping and travel from a different perspective than most travel novels. The book was written in the 1980's, and I'd be very interested to see how it would be different now with the global economy that has expanded much more since then. Still, makes ...more
Oct 30, 2014 Carl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is good solid John McPhee story telling. We learn a lot about an aspect of shipping at a time when it was changing a lot, that is the late eighties. A new book would quite different I think.

This was a book from the PT Friends of the Library sale.
Ken Nielsen
Oct 25, 2012 Ken Nielsen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Difficult to rate this book. I enjoyed it very much, but I enjoy books about subjects I have no knowledge of and which are of no practical value to me. Many people would probably be bored by the book.
I recommend it highly for those interested in learning about different things in tis world...
The reviewer below who opened with "This book is about the shipping industry." is right and wrong.
I am not interested in the shipping industry but I am interested in people living lives and doing jobs quite
David R.
This is a sober look at the realities of the Merchant Marine Service, and in the 1990s. McPhee trails a merchant mariner and learns the ropes, the stories, and the challenges of this life.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 43 44 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Wandering Through Winter: A Naturalist's Record of a 20,000-Mile Journey Through the North American Winter
  • Steaming to Bamboola - The World of a Tramp Freighter
  • The Last Grain Race
  • Demon of the Waters: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Whaleship Globe
  • Wake of the Perdido Star
  • The Graveyard Shift
  • My Life in and out of the Rough: The Truth Behind All That Bull**** You Think You Know About Me
  • All Fishermen Are Liars: True Tales from the Dry Dock Bar
  • Seized: A Sea Captain's Adventures Battling Scoundrels and Pirates While Recovering Stolen Ships in the World's Most Troubled Waters
  • Sea Change: Alone Across the Atlantic in a Wooden Boat
  • Big Red: Three Months on Board a Trident Nuclear Submarine
  • Ten Hours Until Dawn: The True Story of Heroism and Tragedy Aboard the Can Do
  • Coming Back Alive: The True Story of the Most Harrowing Search and Rescue Mission Ever Attempted on Alaska's High Seas
  • Last Flight Out: True Tales of Adventure, Travel, and Fishing
  • From This Day Forward
  • Miles from Nowhere: Tales from America's Contemporary Frontier
  • Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds
  • Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings
John McPhee was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and was educated at Princeton University and Cambridge University. His writing career began at Time magazine and led to his long association with the New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer since 1965. The same year he published his first book, A Sense of Where You Are, with FSG, and soon followed with The Headmaster (1966), Oranges (1967), The P ...more
More about John McPhee...

Share This Book