Emily's Reviews > The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime

The Outlaw Sea by William Langewiesche
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's review
Nov 08, 2009

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bookshelves: 2008
Read in December, 2008

The Outlaw Sea is a book that I picked up last summer. At the time, it didn't seem strikingly relevant. Today, when the news is full of Somali pirates and terrorists infiltrating Mumbai from the sea, it seems very relevant indeed.

The book is a collection of Langewiesche's writings about "a world of freedom, chaos, and crime." The reader is reminded that a large portion of the world's surface is covered by the oceans and that the ocean is open and ungoverned in a way that land is not. Different chapters deal with flags of convenience and poor monitoring of ship safety, the difficulties of policing people and cargo on ships, shipwrecks, modern pirates, and shipbreaking. Some of the chapters originally appeared as articles in The Atlantic, and it's pretty easy to tell that some other chapters were whipped up to make this into a full book. The most absorbing section has to do with the sinking of the ferry Estonia, which ran between Tallinn and Stockholm, in 1994. Langewiesche tells a lengthy story about the failure of the vessel, the terrifying struggle on board (based on interviews), and the controversial investigation. It's a bit like a Titanic story, only with modern people you can identify with.

This book is a bit uneven, but it is an interesting reminder of the importance of the seas to world societies. How strange it is that I could count on the fingers of one hand my friends who know their way around that world.

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