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Two Years Before the M...
Richard Henry Dana Jr.
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Two Years Before the Mast and Twenty-Four Years After (Harvard Classics, #23)

4.13  ·  Rating Details ·  165 Ratings  ·  37 Reviews
R.H. Dana took a sea voyage and decided to go as a sailor not as a passenger. The voyage was bound from his home town of Boston to California. His experiences during those two years form the subject of this volume. Later in life he took another voyage around the world and those observations form the postscript of this book. This books value and interest today are even grea ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published January 1st 2004 by Kessinger Publishing (first published 1909)
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(showing 1-30 of 306)
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Apr 07, 2011 JQ rated it liked it
Recommended to JQ by: WSJ
I never really wanted to pick this book up and read it but every time I did pick it up I enjoyed it. Some of it was dry and near the end I just wanted it to be over. Yet, there were some passages that were so great I went back and read them multiple times. Those passages equal five stars, the rest of the book gets two.
May 29, 2011 Vasha7 rated it it was amazing
In 1834, the Harvard student Richard Henry Dana decided that he needed to improve his health by fresh air and exercise, and therefore shipped as a common sailor aboard a brig bound for California. Thus was the origin of one of the most readable and informative sea memoirs ever written. A good part of its charm comes from the enthusiasm with which Dana describes his experiences: though he does not fail to emphasize the terribly hard work, miserable discomfort, and monotony involved, nonetheless h ...more
Sharon Knapik
Feb 03, 2014 Sharon Knapik rated it it was amazing
I am fortunate to own a set of the Harvard Classics, of which, Dana's 'Two Years Before the Mast' is a part.

It is simply a fantastic read. The gripping narrative moves quickly and takes the reader to a place and circumstance today's readers will never experience. The amount of hardship endured by all would have most people today either curled in the fetal position or whinging to all and sundry about the 'unfairness' of it all. Or both.

This is also an excellent book for pre-teen and teenage rea
Aug 26, 2016 Mac rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people desiring a slice of seafaring life not shown before, the common sailor.
Shelves: favorites
Before Moby Dick was written author Richard Henry Dana Jr. went to sea. He was the latest of a long line of upper middle class men and had had some problems with his eyes while at Harvard College, making it so it was impossible for him to read. He decided to go to sea to effect a cure and signed on to the Pilgrim for a voyage to California.

Dana got his cure and a whole lot more in the bargain. He went around Cape Horn (a terribly difficult passage with storm and ice everywhere) twice. (Melville
Feb 05, 2009 Bathcitygazette rated it really liked it
oh my gosh! what can i say about this book? by the time, that merchant ship landed back in boston.....i couldn't even bring myself to finish & go on shore. i ended up taking a hot shower & washing the sea salt off my body. never have a group of people suffered more or endured more hardship, than these sailors. 3 times they tried to get around the cape horn, 16 months they carried skins on their heads to fill up the hull with 4,000 hides......meant for the leathery tanneries in boston.... ...more
Oct 19, 2012 Andrewcharles420 rated it really liked it
A very eloquent and endearing story! Fittingly--as a Harvard Classics imprint--it had many classical references as well as relations to cantab folks, not all of which I understood (more of a Yalie, myself…), but that added some depth and cultural perspective to the story. I like when a book makes me translate Latin, as long as it's not too much (eventually, I may end up knowing the first lines of Virgil, like some characters in this book), and especially when it's an ebook (available free via Gu ...more
Apr 20, 2013 Jenny rated it really liked it
This book is a fascinating account of Dana's voyage around Cape Horn in 1835 from Boston to California, which was then still a part of Mexico. Dana writes in detail, not only of the life of a sailor, but also of California before it became a state. I admire Dana's honesty and his personality. He is an engaging writer and makes the history that he recounts interesting rather than dull or boring. The only parts that I struggled with were the pages filled with sailing jargon that I just don't under ...more
Jan 01, 2013 Russell rated it really liked it
Written by a young man that sailed from Boston, around Cape Horn, and over to the coast of California on board a ship as common sailor in the American merchant service in 1835 to 1836. The task was to gather hides from California, fill the hold, and bring back the filled ship to Boston.

The author left his collegiate lifestyle in attempt to improve his health, fortunately for us. His journal provides ample material for a wonderfully engaging book about his voyage. His book is full of details, ma
Abe Kazemzadeh
Oct 25, 2013 Abe Kazemzadeh rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this book a lot and towards the end I could barely put it down. I'm into sailing and boating so I liked the description of the sea, weather, and life as a sailor. For people who aren't as into sailing, the terminology might get boring, but in my case it added to the experience of reading the book, even though square rigged vessels have a different terminology that modern fore-and-aft rigged boats. Also, I really loved reading about California before it was part of the U.S. and before a ...more
Joan Kilpatrick
Feb 01, 2012 Joan Kilpatrick rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best, most influential books of my life.

As you can see, I am a bit behind on my updates. When I started this book January a year ago, I could hardly put it down. I wanted to read it to see a view of California before the gold rush, but I learned so much more than that! I did not always know what he was talking about when Dana talked about the technicalities of the sailing ships of the day, but I sure learned a lot. The Barnes and Noble edition that I read had a glossary, diag
May 21, 2016 Sara rated it really liked it
The first time I read this book it sent me searching for nautical definitions, what is a topsail, hermaphrodite brig and where the heck is the forecastle? I became so interested in where they were going I started using google earth to look up all the locations. Be aware it's a bit dry in places, and is written for an 1840 audience. As a historical look at life of the times, I think it portrays an accurate picture of a shipowners son going to sea.
Peter J.
Mar 26, 2015 Peter J. rated it it was amazing
I loved this work. In fact, I love any personal account of high adventure that isn't intended to be released to the general public. The authors of such works are generally so refreshingly honest. I was genuinely saddened when I reached the last page and knew that I would have to send the ghost of Dana back to the bookshelf to never more throw hides on the deserted early shores of San Francisco.
Mar 02, 2015 Mem244 rated it liked it
I agree with the general consensus that the description of California when it was part of Mexico and the parts of the voyage that were memorable (e.g. Rounding Cape Horn) were interesting. The relentless recitation of the most mundane tasks on board the ship almost ruined the book. This author needed an editor who could have pruned about 100 pages. Learning about the intricate details of how to scrub down the deck of a ship was not high on my to-do list.
May 24, 2015 Keith rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an intelligent and sensitive telling of a trip from Boston to California and back to Boston aboard a merchant ship. Those qualities are what make it one of the classic works of American nonfiction. Dana gives a detailed explanation of his chores on board, and thus the book is rife with sailing terms. To me, this was curiously interesting in the first half of the book, but it grew tedious in the second half. I had no idea what he was talking about in a good portion of this book.

For a per
David Redden
Apr 08, 2013 David Redden rated it really liked it
A very interesting autobiography about a well-to-do Harvard student in 1834 who decides to sign up to serve as a sailor on a merchant vessel sailing from Boston down around Cape Horn at the bottom of South America and then up to Nirvana, er, I mean, California. His description of pre-gold rush California was really interesting, and I can honestly say I never before appreciated just how difficult and dangerous sailing was back then. The author, Richard Henry Dana, seems like a very nice man, and ...more
Tori Stuckey
Jan 10, 2014 Tori Stuckey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There were definitely some dry parts. I don't recall this one being much of a page turner, but it really was an excellent and in-depth description of the life of a sailor at that time. I didn't have the least bit of knowledge about sailing prior to this and found it very enlightening. Mr. Dana seems to me like he must have been an exceptional man (though not through any self-aggrandizing by the author) - a very smart and good sort of fellow. This book definitely gave me a greater appreciation of ...more
Feb 19, 2015 Zazzu rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015
I'd give this book a "liked it" if it had more of a sense of story/narrative. It reads more as a journal or disconnected scenes of old California and naval life.

I did enjoy many of the descriptions, but journal dates or some other narrative frame would have helped me enjoy this slightly more.
Jan 07, 2013 TCPils rated it really liked it
Richard Henry Dana’s documentation of his 2 year seafaring journey from Boston to the California coast aboard a merchant ship in 1835 is a fascinating account of the daily life of an ordinary seaman of the time. And what a harsh life it was! Fraught with danger, illness, bad food, tyrannical officers and backbreaking toil from before sunup to well past sundown these sailors endured it with pride and loyalty.
Some readers may find the abundance of nautical terminology a bit off-putting but it r
Apr 08, 2013 Philski rated it it was amazing
Excellent book on Richard Dana's time as a shiphand. I liked his description of the tasks he encountered and his ability to weave some philosophical statements into the text from his point of view (he took 2 years off his education due to eye problems to become a crew member on a trade vessel, and returned to become a lawyer specializing in nautical law). The end of the "two years" part he had some apt comments on romanticizing sea travel and the dangers of such (which is a flaw I have...). I fo ...more
Aug 14, 2010 Nikki rated it liked it
A really interesting account of Dana's experience as a common sailor on a merchant ship for two years in the early 1800s. It is an account taken directly from his journals, which were published after he returned. The book was instrumental in causing reform for the treatment of sailors at that time. The account is at times slow, other times quite grim. By the last 100 pages I couldn't put the book down, because I wanted to see him safe at home in Boston. Many nautical explanations, which I had to ...more
Aug 05, 2014 John rated it really liked it
Great sea story as well as account of early California
Michele Hinton
Mar 06, 2013 Michele Hinton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Any author who wants to write about the sea and ships should read this book. It is vary informative. I have always heard the term when we "land lovers" refer to billowing sails as "sheets billowing in the wind" (read it in novels as well) Sheets do not billow. A sheet on a ship is a line, therefore it can not billow. Sails are referred to as "sail" or "canvas". It makes good reference material.

This book I've had for many years that I bought with a lot of other fancy bound, gold leaf edged books
Chris Conrady
Dec 10, 2013 Chris Conrady rated it liked it
Being a fan of sailing stories, I thought it appropriate to read a classic that is also a true story. It was different than I expected but I really enjoyed it. Particularly the book is centered around the California coast just prior to the gold rush. Being from California and living very near to some of the places that were described in the pre conjestion deail, was very enjoyable. I also liked the perspective of live aboard ship from a land lubber and a regular Jack. All in all, I'm glad I read ...more
Sylvia Seymour
Jan 13, 2009 Sylvia Seymour is currently reading it
Finally! This has been on "the list" since....oh, infancy approximately. Dana's commentary struck me as a bit dry after Smeaton-Chase's good-natured introspection, and I craved more detailed description of place, but it's still good fun. (The version I'm reading isn't shown here -- Ward Richie Press, 1964, two-volume with beautiful graphics, maps, historic photos, and annotation up the yin-yang.)
Dec 15, 2014 Nathan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyable, though I would have liked a diagram of the sails.
Jun 13, 2015 Jeannette rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I journaled and shared thoughts and feelings about this book over a few days time and posted it here.

Two Years Before the Mast

I hope you'll enjoy it and feel free to poke through the blog archives.

May 13, 2009 Mike rated it really liked it
This book provided a very interesting description of what it was like to be a sailor on a merchant vessel in the early 19th century. It also gave an interesting picture of early California.

See more...
Mar 25, 2016 Dale rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book. It's a classic about a college kid that takes time off to do manual labor and has the adventure of a lifetime. Great insight into antebellum American seafaring and life aboard ship in the age of sail. It's also a fascinating snapshot of Spanish California. Dana's life was well-lived.
Allen Price
You really get to know the language of sailing the oceans while reading this book. The author uses all the correct terminology when describing events at sea. Dramatic and colorful - how else could it be when facing the Gods of Weather while bobbing in a wooden cork?
Mar 01, 2008 Joshua rated it it was amazing
Herman Melville wrote, "But if you want the best idea of Cape Horn, get my friend Dana's unmatchable Two Years Before the Mast. But you can read, and so you must have read it. His chapters describing Cape Horn must have been written with an icicle.
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Dana was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on August 1, 1815, into a family that first settled in colonial America in 1640. As a boy, Dana studied in Cambridgeport under a strict schoolmaster named Samuel Barrett, alongside fellow Cambridge native and future writer James Russell Lowell. Barrett was infamous as a disciplinarian, punishing his students for any infraction by flogging. He also often pu ...more
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“We must come down from our heights, and leave our straight paths, for the byways and low places of life, If we would learn truths by strong contrasts; and in hovels, in forecastles, and among our own outcasts in foreign lands, see what has been wrought upon our fellow-creatures by accident, hardship, or strife.” 6 likes
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