Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Death Ship” as Want to Read:
The Death Ship
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Death Ship

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  614 ratings  ·  79 reviews
The Death Ship tells the story of an American sailor, stateless and penniless because he has lost his passport, who is harassed by police and hounded across Europe until he finds an 'illegal' job shoveling coal in the hold of a steamer bound for destruction.

The Death Ship is the first of B. Traven's politically charged novels about life among the downtrodden, which have so
Paperback, 384 pages
Published September 1st 1991 by Chicago Review Press (first published 1926)
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 The Death Ship, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Death Ship

Master and Commander by Patrick O'BrianTinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le CarréThe Good Soldier by Ford Madox FordThe French Lieutenant's Woman by John FowlesThe Steadfast Tin Soldier by Hans Christian Andersen
Military Men
102nd out of 150 books — 43 voters
The Orphan Conspiracies by James MorcanTeamster Rebellion by Farrell DobbsWorking by Studs TerkelThe Big Red Songbook by Archie GreenFree Women of Spain by Martha A. Ackelsberg
Worker's movement
51st out of 53 books — 11 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,199)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Nov 09, 2007 Ramorx rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people of good constitution.
O my fucking christ, this is the most miserable, insufferable book I have ever read. I could only continue reading because its fucking brilliant, and Traven is a genius.
The first part is an occassionally amusing odyssey of a man without a passport dealing with authorities, but mostly its just an painful journey of the absurd into the depths of bureaucratic and legal inanity.
The second part of the book is where it gets really gruesome. Mr No-passport gets a job working in the bowels of the Deat
b. traven played me like a fiddle with this book. i found myself muttering darkly about the bloodless bureaucracy that runs the world, piling up money that will never been seen by the poor, and the honest workers who do their best to stay afloat. it is this kind of rhetoric that stoked my fire:

"There is no getting used to pain and suffering. You become only hard-boiled, and you lose a certain capacity to be impressed by feelings. Yet no human being will ever become used to sufferings to such an
I like sea stories, and I like stories about people who are down on their luck and downtrodden, so yeah, I was bound to like this. Some complain that it gets boring in the middle with a lot of talk about furnaces (hi, Maureen!) and boilers and such, and there definitely is a lot of time spent on the workaday drudgery of the firemen and coal-drags working in the stoke-hold of the titular ship, but I felt this was there for a reason. Traven succeeds in making you feel the backbreaking toil, the fi ...more
Никола Ременски
Great. Fast-read, intelligent book.


Personally, I think that this book has two "parts", well that this book is divided in two essentially different parts. First part has focus on the social aspects of that time, and that aspect is same, even now. Second part is more personal, and actually moves focus from wider picture to little society of the Yorikke, Yorikke's crew, and especially at main protagonist.

The term death ship refers to boat which is worth more sunk than it w
Lauri Manner
Takakannessa luki että tämä kirja on kuin "pannuhuoneiden Moby Dick". Sain 12-vuotiaana isoäidiltäni syntymäpäivälahjaksi Moby Dickin, ja jokainen sen lukuyritys on päättynyt jatkuvaan nukahteluun. Kuolemanlaiva sen sijaan tuli luettua aika lailla herkeämättä putkeen.

Kyseessä on umpianarkistinen seikkailukirja joka yhdistää lennokkaasti ja runsailla lapinlisillä kerrottua merimiesjuttua erittäin purevaan yhteiskunnalliseen satiiriin. Kertojana toimiva Gerard Gales on paperinsa hukannut merimies
There are quite a few things going in favor of this novel: it's funny, it doesn't romanticize the life of a high-seas sailor, it has a playfully Kafkaesque view of governments and bureaucracy, and it has touches of the bizarre-absurd that are entertaining.

What the novel lacks, however, is a character - at least a human character; the Yorkiee is more fully realized than either our hero, Pipip (we don't even know his real name even when he says it's something else), or Stanislav. Both characters
The last time i caught my self searching for an epilogue that i knew it would not exist, just to find something that would make me feel better from what i had just read,was when i read 1984.

By far one of the most depressing books i have ever read, the death ship is the story of a man who unable to prove his own identity after a series of unfortunate events, has no other choice than to embarg οn a coffin ship, a ship where stranded people work as sailors, people with no home and no identity.

The death ship it is I am in,
All I have lost, nothing to win
So far off sunny New Orleans
So far off lovely Louisiana.
(from "Song of An American Sailor")

This was B. Traven's first novel, published in 1934, and it is my favorite of his works. It is a sea story unlike any other, being a story of men at sea as a metaphor for men against what Jack London infamously referred to as the "Iron Heel" of modern industrialism.
Gerard Gales misses his ship, the Tuscaloosa, in Antwerp and is picked up by the
B. Traven is the author of the book behind the famous movie Treasure of the Sierra Madre. He also authored a series of books I've read, on the Mexican revolution, that are now out of print. B. Traven is a mysterious personality who has been identified as being Rett Marue a German national. Whatever he was, this book is memorable as a Kafka-esque tale of a stateless sailor who is tossed across national borders and ends up on a "death ship" with the job of stoker in a hellish engine room. I've rea ...more
Excellent -- I can see that the middle section might be a bit of an ordeal for some readers, and I'll cop to needing the occasional side-trip into something a bit lighter. But Traven keeps the energy high at all times, and I found myself engaged throughout.
Rich Martin
B. Traven may be the most mysterious author of all time, at least in modern days. No one knows who he was, though most think he lived in Germany and was forced to live because of political turbulence. Some think he was more than one person. Whatever, he wrote some great stuff. "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" is a terrific book and a great movie. (Bogie was a perfect villain.) But "Death Ship" might be better. Apparently Traven, whoever he was, worked on a ship that was marked for destruction by t ...more
Um, wow. How had I never heard of Traven before? Apparently he's a big deal... and I now see why. I would not have expected to love a novel about sailors and bureaucracy as much as I did this book. A brilliant novel of the interwar period, scathing socioeconomic critique, hilarious and heartbreaking. And voice? This book has got it.
أنها رواية مؤلمة... زمن الحدود، وجوازات السفر، والتأشيرات.... ليست الحروب مشكلة؛ بقدر ما قد ينجم من آثار؛ عن تلك الحروب....
الحروب العالمية؛ صنعت الحدود، وقيدت حريات البشر... لم يعودوا كالحشرات؛ يطيروا أينما أرادوا... فقط؛ لأجل أن تفرض الدول همنتها؛ على هذا الإنسان..
رواية؛ عن البحث؛ أولاً؛ عن بطاقة بحار... ثم عن جواز سفر؛ لمن هو بدون جنسية... لأنه لا يملك وثيقة؛ تُبت ميلاده، أو جنسيته... فصار؛ بلا هوية، وبلا وطن....
رحلة رجل؛ أضاع بطاقة عمله؛ فلزمه أن يتنقل؛ من مكان إلى مكان؛ تمسكاً بالحياة، ورغب
This book starts well and ends well, but a long part of the middle is just really, really boring. (Sorry Adam, I know you love it.)
Sep 28, 2015 David rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of the unusual
Recommended to David by: ?? WSJ?
The first novel by the mysterious B. Traven. You could talk me into 4.5 stars for this. Quite memorable, which always is a good sign for me.

Although written 85+ years ago, much about it is very modern. Very anarchistic, very graphic, often funny, although ultimately grim. A biting commentary on the human wreckage caused by the turmoil (political and otherwise) after World War One. Set me off on a quest for more B. Traven.

Followed this up with "German Novelists of the Weimar Republic," which has
looks like i have a new favorite.
The best seafaring story Conrad never wrote. Truly an astounding, moving, deeply insightful and often intensely funny novel. It holds all of its qualities every time I read it, and by the next go-through in a few years it will doubtless strike me as much as it ever has. The use of language isn't 'perfect' in all cases but it sounds perfectly right. It's not exactly PC but I can't imagine this book offending anyone except people who deserve a good offending. The plot is wonderfully, fatally absur ...more
1st from taven for me.

the death ship, the story of an american sailor , b. traven, 1934, forward by john anthony west, saugerties, new york, april, 1991

there is song of an american sailor on a white page...forget the name of those things...stanzas? i dunno. the thing is 12-lines long, broken up into 3 groups of 4. ooga booga.

now stop that crying, honey dear,
the jackson square remains still here
in sunny new orleans
in lovely louisiana

she thinks me buried in the sea,
no longer does she wait for m
Steve Evans
Traven's first best-seller, written in Mexico after he shipped up there in the 1920s. The first half is quite amusing actually as the narrator slyly pokes fun both at his own fecklessness and bureaucracy; the second half goes grim and gets down to the nitty-gritty of 20th century life as the author saw it.

Traven's identity was a puzzle even long after he died. The discovery that he was a German national who concocted a variety of identities to fend off the curious had to wait till then. His wido
Nick Jones
Although I took three books on holiday, this, in a 1934 edition translated from the German by Eric Sutton, was on the bookshelves of the house I was staying at...and we should always read other people’s books, so I read it. I had previously read B. Traven’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which is fun but its main interest is that it provided the source of the film. And, overall, Traven seems more interesting as an enigmatic legend than as a writer. I hadn’t even heard of The Death Ship. It is ...more
j to the muthafuckin R
Oct 26, 2009 j to the muthafuckin R rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Some quotes from the book:

"No use to preach to the working-man courtesy & politeness when at the same time the working-man is not given working conditions under which he can stay polite and soft-mannered."

"Morals are taught & preached not for the sake of heaven, but to assist those people on earth who have everything they need & more to retain their possessions & to help them to accumulate still more. Morals is the butter for those who have no bread."

"The regular work on the Yori
Ever be talking about some band or something that has long since kicked the bucket as far as modern cool goes, like, "Dude, yeah, I can't listen to 'em now or anything but The Pixies were my shit back when I was fifteen." but then you go home and on the right night you throw on the Come On Pilgrim LP and it's totally just as good as it was when you were a pissed off high school kid and you're singing along and getting this totally weird bittersweet-but-more-on-the-sweet-side feeling? Ever done t ...more
Can't do much about the title, I'm afraid, but it's a worthy companion to Sierra Madre. Captures the moment after WWI with compassion. Relevant even today as we wrestle with some of the same issues: what to do with undocumented immigrants. The ending is designed more for opening discussions, not settling them. Still, Traven keeps it interesting with very little filler material.
A book that starts off as the kind of vagabond's tale someone like Kerouac would love to have lived. There's hedonistic rootlessness, rebellious joy in the face of adversity and some rather unsubtle commentary on work, bosses, borders and capital that one would expect from someone like Traven.

Once upon the boat things take a very sharp turn. The book becomes punishing and brutal, in a compulsive and addictive way. At various points I couldn't stop and ended up swallowing the book whole in one o
Woo. The mysterious B. Traven uses the lives of post-WWI merchant mariners as a vehicle to convey his feelings about statelessness, heartless bureaucracy and the downward spiral human beings can find themselves in at the bottom of the socio-economic spectrum. Well done...great story about a sailor without identity papers who keeps finding himself in one bad deal after another. Very interesting book, if you keep in mind it's the viewpoint of a Communist who fled Germany in the 20'a or 30's on Ame ...more
The story starts out tongue in cheek. The sailor is a smart ass who gets left behind when he spends the night with a girl he meets at a port bar. Unfortunately, he's also left his sailor's card and other identification back on board the ship too. The story turns Kafkesque when he has to prove that he's American and if he can't the police will escort him to the border. It's the early 1930s and most of Europe is unemployed and hungry. After awhile he does get a job on a ship, but it's so old and t ...more
Thomas Burchfield
"I read the anarchist Leftist writer B. Traven when I was a romantic, idealistic teenager, led to his classic Treasure of the Sierra Madre by its more famous screen adaptation. From there, I read a half dozen or so of his novels. I recall that I liked some (The Bridge in the Jungle, The Rebellion of the Hanged, Government) more than others (The Caretta). Then, like most of my youthful passions, my interest rolled off yonder, like a passing wave on fiction’s great teeming sea, while yet another w ...more
May 17, 2007 Gregorus rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: young people, anarchists, people who work in offices
The metaphors are ripe in this book even as the language is plain. Or, maybe there aren't any metaphors at all.

The book tells a compelling story that just so happens to rail against government bureaucracy, the taboos of society, and the modern idea of 'work' in an unsubtle yet tragically comic way. Since I tend to agree with all of these sentiments, I enjoyed the book. I would be curious what its tendency would be on those who don't feel the same way.

As a sailor without papers in Europe, the pr
This is how my friend Hugh described this book to me: In the first part of the book an American sailor misses his ship somewhere in Europe and has no papers, so he gets deported and kicked out of a dozen countries, sent to jail, left at the border with a sandwich, all of these things taking place at a time when European nations had just begun to require people to have passports, so the officials are always incompetent and don't know how to deport him right. Finally he gets a job on a death ship ...more
Mar 07, 2008 tENTATIVELY, cONVENIENCE rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people considering borders
Shelves: literature, politics
This was the 1st Traven bk I read. He's most known for "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" wch was made into a film by John Houston starring Humphrey Bogart. "The Death Ship" starts out humorously enuf as a comedy-of-errors: sailor gets separated from ship, doesn't have papers, etc. However, the real content of the bk is a critique of a world full of borders & capitalist corruption. There aren't any spoilers in this little review. I'll just say that the situation goes from bad to worse until ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 39 40 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Collected Fiction, Vol. 1: The Boats of the "Glen Carrig" and Other Nautical Adventures
  • The Island of Second Sight
  • Angel of Light
  • Mortal Leap
  • Wonder Tales: The Book of Wonder and Tales of Wonder
  • Och Piccadilly Circus ligger inte i Kumla
  • The Jade Cabinet
  • Vad gör alla superokända människor hela dagarna?
  • Den döende detektiven
  • Svensk maffia: En kartläggning av de kriminella gängen
  • Whistle Stop: A Novel
  • Underbar och älskad av alla (och på jobbet går det också bra)
  • Underbara dagar framför oss: En biografi över Olof Palme
  • The Maimed
  • In Hazard
  • The Heat's On (Harlem Cycle, #6)
  • Jenny
  • Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siècle Culture
B. Traven (February, 1882? – March 26, 1969?) was the pen name of a German novelist, whose real name, nationality, date and place of birth and details of biography are all subject to dispute. A rare certainty is that B. Traven lived much of his life in Mexico, where the majority of his fiction is also set—including his best-known work, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1927), which was adapted as ...more
More about B. Traven...
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre Macario Canasta de cuentos mexicanos The Rebellion of the Hanged The Bridge in the Jungle

Share This Book

“it would have been a rare thing anyhow for an official to come upon an idea that is not provided for in the regulations.” 1 likes
“ordinary people can never fall over the walls, because they never dare climb high enough to see what is beyond the walls.” 1 likes
More quotes…