This real-life story of a sailor lost at sea was originally written as a series of newspaper articles and attributed to the man who went through the o...moreThis real-life story of a sailor lost at sea was originally written as a series of newspaper articles and attributed to the man who went through the ordeal. The introduction makes it clear that Márquez wasn't thrilled with its publication in book form, but as someone interested in stories of ships and survival, I was glad to have read it.
It's a short account told in a straightforward style. The bare facts of the story echo other stuck-on-a-lifeboat tales, but the moments of dark humor and the sailor's short reflection on how he was treated after rescue make this memorable.(less)
I'm addicted to stories about sailing ships, and I grew up in the area where this all happened. So it's deeply disappointing that, despite the the hea...moreI'm addicted to stories about sailing ships, and I grew up in the area where this all happened. So it's deeply disappointing that, despite the the heavy research that obviously went into the book, I found it so deathly dry that I couldn't stand it long enough to even feel like I can rate it.
I enjoy a lot of books that might be written off by some as dull. I've read vintage historical fiction and memoirs from the 1800s. I've devoured multiple first-hand accounts of the same age-of-sail shipwreck, just for fun.
I made it through the first thirty pages convinced that things would pick up. Yeah, there were a lot of short, declarative sentences that made it feel kind of like a book report, but the subject was promising. Also, there was major pirate action on the horizon.
Then I got to this:
"One of Maynard's men swung his cutlass hard against Blackbeard's neck. His head flopped over onto his shoulder, dangling by a few uncut ligaments. The scourge of the Atlantic seaboard fell dead and his crew soon surrendered. Maynard ceremoniously finished cutting the head from Blackbeard's body. This would not only be his trophy but proof to Governor Spotswood that the pirate had been killed and that Maynard deserved the bounty."
The death of Blackbeard, ladies and gentlemen, presented in the same flat tone as earlier passages on trading woes and family drama.
Life's too short to drag myself through books I'm not enjoying.(less)
The shipwrecks I read about are usually age-of-sail affairs that follow the survivors' struggle against their environment (and occasionally each other...moreThe shipwrecks I read about are usually age-of-sail affairs that follow the survivors' struggle against their environment (and occasionally each other). But the wreck of the Morro Castle involves more than just the fire, the crew's response, and the rescue efforts. The author presents historical context, personal accounts, and a heaping pile of evidence against one arson suspect, all delivered in an organized, cohesive way.
The story itself is unnerving. There was unrest among the crew, and the captain died shortly before the ship burned. The fire started in one of the few areas that didn't have an automatic fire detection system. Orders to abandon ship or call for help were delayed by poor communication. Many of the lifeboats either burned or launched with only a few people aboard, leading those who couldn't reach them to jump into the ocean and hope they'd get picked up. One of the ship's design features helped to spread the fire, and rough weather made rescue difficult. But the author makes a credible case that the 135 deaths were ultimately the responsibility of radio operator George White Rodgers.
Right after the wreck, Rodgers was called a hero for getting the SOS out before the ship's equipment failed. The last third of the book explores his history of erratic behavior and later crimes, including an attempt to kill a coworker with a homemade bomb. Rodgers went to prison after being convicted of two murders, where he teased reporters about new information on the Morro Castle.
The book is primarily about the ship and the crew member who may have burned it, but it also brings to life a time when ship owners feared communist infiltration and New York tourists cruised to Havana. It was compelling and written well, but the author doesn't address any other theories about the cause of the fire, even to argue against them.
It was also more difficult to get through than it should have been, because somebody decided to get creative and set it in a tall, narrow typeface. I was interested in the story and am not even that prone to eyestrain, but I had to keep putting it down.(less)
This is not a general overview of polar exploration. It's more about the first-hand accounts written by explorers as well as the cultural and literary...moreThis is not a general overview of polar exploration. It's more about the first-hand accounts written by explorers as well as the cultural and literary impact of these trips to the Arctic and Antarctic. Some knowledge of Scott and Franklin may be helpful.
I was wary of this one right from the first, because I tend to like it when authors don't warn me in their introductions that I may find their initial...moreI was wary of this one right from the first, because I tend to like it when authors don't warn me in their introductions that I may find their initial chapters too dry and academic.
I have an interest in both explorers and hoaxes though, so I wanted to read about the stories. The book is arranged chronologically, and covers Sebastian Cabot, Louis Hennepin, Robert Drury, James Bruce, Samuel Adams, Frederick Cook, Robert Peary, Richard Byrd, Cesare Maestri, and Donald Crowhurst. There is strong evidence that some of these men faked their achievements, but other cases are a little more murky.
One of the most interesting chapters was about James Bruce, a man widely suspected of hoaxing during his lifetime but later exonerated. I got the sense that Drury was included largely because of the possible Defoe connection, that section didn't fit in very well.
When the book delved into the facts of these cases it was fairly good, but the author kept going off on a messy (and heavily hedged) argument about the background and mental state of exploration hoaxers. Phrases like "Oedipal confusion" were used. It's like he didn't trust that the massive drama surrounding these alleged adventures would have been enough to read about.
My sense of who the intended audience was also got muddy at times. Climbing jargon was heavy in a few spots, which was not a big deal, but the author would sometimes make references that sent me running to Wikipedia or omit basic geographical information about the spots under discussion.(less)
While it's a noticeable improvement over my last attempt at reading a book about female travelers, No Place for a Lady still wasn't what I was hoping...moreWhile it's a noticeable improvement over my last attempt at reading a book about female travelers, No Place for a Lady still wasn't what I was hoping for.
My main disappointment was the book's superficial feel. Some of that likely has to do with its location-based organization, which turns the lives of the women included into anecdotes about their destinations. But it's probably also related to the flat, inconsistent writing. There's a lot of information, unfortunately the book is often more focused on itineraries and occasional wacky experiences than the overall lives of these women and their place in society. Transitions between paragraphs about various travelers are abrupt or awkward. Several women appear in multiple chapters, and the author has a habit of referring back (or sometimes forward!) to them without enough of a memory jog.
I came across a few details that don't match up with my earlier reading, which always makes me a little sketchy about trusting a book. It was especially uncomfortable to read a few breezy lines about the unmasking of cross-dressing botanist's assistant Jeanne Baret, considering that a more recent biography of Baret claims she was brutally assaulted by her shipmates.
The book includes a lot of maps and illustrations, which I enjoyed, but the placement of the images, captions, and sidebars sometimes tended to interrupt the flow of my reading.
I think I'd have preferred a longer book that, rather than giving brief sketches of so many women, went more into detail about fewer of them and drew deeper conclusions about their lives and influence. I'd recommend this for people interested in a light overview and some fun stories, but look elsewhere for a meatier experience.(less)
This is the firsthand account of an educated young man who, in 1836, signed up as a sailor on a merchant ship. He traveled around Cape Horn to the Cal...moreThis is the firsthand account of an educated young man who, in 1836, signed up as a sailor on a merchant ship. He traveled around Cape Horn to the California coast, worked to cure and collect hides, and then made the return trip to Boston.
The nautical details might seem dense to those of us who aren't sailing experts, but I still preferred the sections about shipboard life to the ones on California. Some of the California details were interesting enough, especially Dana's time living with a group of native Hawaiians. But it didn't take long for the drudgery of the hide trade to feel repetitive.
The book is full of great descriptions. This most stands out when the sailors are rounding Cape Horn at the end, dodging icebergs, constantly cold and wet, and struggling to work in their ship's ice-encrusted rigging. The biggest weakness in Dana's writing is the way he presents other people. He introduces them, tells us nearly everything he knows about their situation and history, and then barely mentions them again unless they play a key role in something else he does.
Dana himself comes across as a complicated figure. He made sharp observations and didn't hold back from criticism, especially if he thought his target was unfair or foolish. His sympathies can sound uneven to a modern reader, though.
He often seems judgmental. Dana clearly had a strong work ethic and tried to get along with people, but as an educated man from a well-off background, he also seemed to hold himself apart from most of his fellow sailors. At one point he expressed surprise that, while reading to a group of sailors, they were interested in subjects that he thought would be beyond them.
Dana had a lot of impressive qualities, but his story is not exactly that of a typical sailor. It's interesting as a tale of a man expanding his horizons, but a conflict towards the end was an important reminder that Dana could go home and rejoin his upper class life.
He went on to become an abolitionist and an advocate for the legal rights of sailors. My edition included an essay that he wrote about revisiting California twenty-four years later, but it spent too much time on who he met and how he was received.(less)
This is a report of one of the most infamous historical shipwrecks written by two of its survivors. The translation is awkward and caused some confusi...moreThis is a report of one of the most infamous historical shipwrecks written by two of its survivors. The translation is awkward and caused some confusion, and the structure of the book was strange. After the account of the shipwreck, its aftermath, and the fate of its survivors, the writers go into pleasant descriptions of the area they were in as well as their suggestions for colonization and for ending the practice of slavery. After all this, they include partial accounts from two of their fellow survivors and notes from supporters of their version of events. Despite how things bounce around, it was worth it to read a first-hand account of the wreck, which is a really interesting story.
In 1816, the French frigate Méduse carried 400 sailors, soldiers, and colonists to a port in Senegal. The ship's captain was an inept political appointee who, after taking navigation advice from a passenger rather than his officers, ran the Méduse aground.
A raft was built to carry all those who wouldn't fit in the ship's boats, but all of the boats towing the raft abandoned it after only half a day's travel. Some of the boats landed along the shore, their crews determined to walk to safety, while others sailed to their destination. It was a difficult journey that led to several deaths, but it wasn't nearly as bad as what happened on the raft they'd left behind.
There were 150 men on the small, hastily-constructed raft. It was so loaded down that much of the deck was underwater. They had one bag of wet food that they ate right away, and only a few casks of water and wine. They had no reliable way to steer or move the raft.
The fighting started that first night, mostly between the sailors and soldiers on one side and officers and expedition members on the other. Many people were killed during these fights, others were washed overboard, jumped off to drown, or sickened from starvation and exposure. Some ate from the bodies, and the last few survivors made their resources last by throwing their dying shipmates overboard. When they were found, by chance, thirteen days after the leaving the Méduse, there were only fifteen men left.
The book was written by two survivors of the raft, though they also reported what they'd heard about the groups that walked along the coast and remained behind with the Méduse. One of the authors was sick long after his rescue, and neglected by those who should have helped him get better. Both were treated badly on their return to France by officials who wanted to cover up the incident. I'd like to read a more thorough overview of the whole thing someday.(less)
Demon of the Waters is the second book I've read about the Globe mutiny led by Samuel Comstock in 1824. It's more recent than the one I read a few mon...moreDemon of the Waters is the second book I've read about the Globe mutiny led by Samuel Comstock in 1824. It's more recent than the one I read a few months ago, and the back cover promised information from a newly available source, which was also part of the attraction. Unfortunately, this book doesn't live up to its promise.
I knew I was going to have issues with the author's writing style when early chapters kept telling me what those associated with the Globe "may have" done and "probably" did. Heavy speculation in nonfiction is annoying. Explain common practices of the time, sure, but stick with the facts when it comes to the specific people you're writing about.
The book includes chapters about life in Nantucket, boat building, whaling practices, and the navy. Some of this background information was interesting, but it tended to veer off into unnecessary tangents. A lot of ship-related jargon was used and only occasionally explained, and for a general-audience type book, some of the technical aspects of sailing should have either been explained better or avoided. The short psychological analysis of Samuel Comstock seemed especially awkward.
The overall structure is jumpy and sometimes just strange. In one instance, a new chapter begins and then immediately skips us four days back in time for no obvious reason. There are also sections, seemingly placed at random, about the author's personal experiences as a book agent, his research on the new source of Globe information, and his trip to the island where the mutineers landed. I didn't find these parts especially interesting or relevant enough to justify the way they constantly broke the flow of the main story.
The much-touted new source was a private journal kept by a midshipman on the naval ship sent out after the mutineers, which probably explains why the book spends so many more pages on the rescue party than the other mutiny or shipwreck books I've read. I'm not sure how much truly new information this source contributed. The author quotes from the journal, but mocks the quality of the prose and compares it unfavorably to Melville more than once. It seems mean-spirited to keep pointing out that the young man's writing attempts are well beneath the efforts of one of America's best known literary figures.
My biggest problem with the book was that all the asides about the era, the author, and the rescue ship overshadowed the actual events of the mutiny at times. Some of the little details that I found really interesting from the earlier account that I read were either glossed over or entirely left out of this one.
If you're interested in reading only one book about the Globe, I'd recommend Mutiny on the Globe. Its style is a little more old-fashioned, but the simpler structure and clearer focus more than make up for that.(less)
Samuel Comstock was an unstable man who dreamed of mutiny long before he set off on the Globe, a whaling ship from Nantucket. In some ways, Comstock w...moreSamuel Comstock was an unstable man who dreamed of mutiny long before he set off on the Globe, a whaling ship from Nantucket. In some ways, Comstock was an unlikely mutineer. He was an educated man from a prosperous Quaker family with connections in the whaling business, and he was a favorite of the ship's easygoing captain. But Comstock also had a history of unruly behavior, a hatred of authority, and a fierce desire to set up his own island kingdom in the Pacific.
This book covers some background information, the voyage, the mutiny, and its aftermath in a basic, straightforward style. I wouldn't call it dry, because I thought it was an entertaining, easy read. My only real problem with the writing style what with what facts the author chose to (or in some cases not to) emphasize.
At the start of the book, we were told mostly about Comstock and Worth, the ship's captain. The other men who set out with the ship were introduced, but some played larger roles than others during later events and I found myself having to look back to make sense of who was who.
This mostly bothered me during the last chapters of the book, where the author made several references to things and people that I didn't always remember - probably because their earlier mentions were so cursory. As another example of odd levels of emphasis, it had been brought up again and again that Captain Worth married right before the ship left port, so I was surprised to see no mention of the fate of his wife.
After being unfairly sold into slavery, Peter Blood takes a desperate chance to save himself and some of his fellow countrymen. With few other options...moreAfter being unfairly sold into slavery, Peter Blood takes a desperate chance to save himself and some of his fellow countrymen. With few other options available, he turns to piracy, even though Blood knows that his choice will separate him forever from the woman he loves. Action, adventure, and occasional moments of wry humor make this a fun read.
The main downside to this story is that Blood's enemies are wildly outclassed and not much of a challenge. His most serious problems are all caused by his own manly attributes, such as not taking crap from anyone, being too gentlemanly, and not understanding the ladies.
In a boring, badly written book I might find that seriously annoying, but here it's kind of entertaining.(less)