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North by Northwestern: A Seafaring Family on Deadly Alaskan Waters

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In the tradition of Sebastian Junger and Linda Greenlaw comes Captain Sig Hansen’s rags-to-riches epic of his immigrant family’s struggle against deadly Alaskan seas, freezing shipwrecks, and dangerously brutal conditions to achieve the American Dream Sig Hansen has been a star of the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch from the pilot to the present. Seen in over 150 countries, the show attracts more than 49 million viewers per season, making it one of the most successful series in the history of cable TV. With its daredevil camera work, unpredictably dangerous weather, and a setting as unforgivable and unforgettable as the frigid Bering Sea, The Deadliest Catch is unlike anything else on television. But the weatherworn fishermen of the fishing vessel Northwestern have stories that don’t come through on TV. For Sig Hansen and his brothers, commercial fishing is as much a part of their Norwegian heritage as their names. Descendants of the Vikings who roamed and ruled the northern seas for centuries, the Hansens’ connection to the sea stretches from Alaska to Seattle and all the way to Norway. And after twenty years as a skipper on the commercial fishing vessel the Northwestern-- which was his father’s before him--Sig has lived to tell the tales.  To be a successful fisherman, you need to be a mechanic, navigator, welder, painter, carpenter, and sometimes, a firefighter. To be a successful fisherman year after year, you need to be a survivor. This is the story of a family of survivors; part memoir and part adventure tale, North by Northwestern brings readers on deck, into the dockside bars and into the history of a family with a common destiny. Built around a gripping tale of a deadly shipwreck like The Perfect Storm, North By Northwestern is the multi-generational tale of the Hansen family, a clan of tough Norwegian-American fishermen who, through the popularity of The Deadliest Catch, have become modern folk-heroes.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2010

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About the author

Sig Hansen

4 books1 follower
Sig Hansen is the captain of the commercial fishing vessel Northwestern. With Mark Sundeen, he is the author of North by Northwestern: A Seafaring Family on Deadly Alaskan Waters. Hansen has been featured on Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch from the pilot through every season of the show.


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5 stars
276 (27%)
4 stars
430 (42%)
3 stars
262 (25%)
2 stars
38 (3%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 133 reviews
Profile Image for Jenn.
1,025 reviews3 followers
October 9, 2010
I think I like Sig Hansen even more after reading this book. This was chalked full of history of his family and the history of the Norwegians. It also gave back round on how crab fishing works.

Even though it wasn't as quirky or entertaining as the Time Bandit book this book held it's own story. I have to admit some of the history parts did get a little boring but it's knowledge I would of have never even thought to look up had it not been for the Deadliest Catch.

Sig is quirky in his own right. What we see on tv is how he portrays himself in the book. It was nice to read a little more about Norman, (who is the quiestest Hansen brother). It didn't surprise me to hear some of Edgar's childhood. Some of the things Sig did as a child surprised me since it seems that Sig was a bit uptight.

Overall enjoyable read. I enjoyed learning more about this captain and this crew.
Profile Image for Susanne.
176 reviews5 followers
December 11, 2018
North by Northwestern ist die Geschichte der norwegischen Familie Hansen, die vor den Küsten Alaskas zu den Fischern gehört, die über "Deadliest Catch - Fang des Lebens" bekannt geworden sind.

Als grosse Fan der Serie war ich natürlich sehr an der Familiengeschichte der Brüder Sig, Edgar und Norman interessiert. Das Leben auf See ist kein Zuckerschlecken, das beweist uns die Serie immer aufs Neue. Interessant ist zu erfahren, wann die Familie zu den besten Fischern vor Alaska wurde, welche Familienmitglieder noch dazu gehören und wie sich über Jahrzehnte mit Großvater und Vater ein funktionierendes Unternehmen entwickelt, welches von Fangquoten und Wetter komplett abhängig ist.

Trotzdem aller Widrigkeiten sind die Hansens mit Leib und Seele Fischer und würden ihren Job gegen keinen anderen auf der Welt tauschen wollen.

Ich finde auch solche Biografien wichtig, auch wenn sie "nur" von einem Fischer handeln. Aber so wird uns vielleicht bewusst, dass es Menschen gibt, die tagtäglich ihr Leben riskieren, nur damit wir Delikatessen auf dem Teller liegen haben.

Ich hatte die Hörbuchversion von LEGIMI auf den Ohren, die sich via Tablett hören lässt. Der Sprecher war Axel Prahl und ich fühlte mich durch seine sonore Stimme sofort auf die Planken der Northwestern versetzt.

Profile Image for Stephan.
628 reviews
April 12, 2019
Are you a Deadlist Catch fan? Read this book. It details all things Sig Hansen and how his family has bled and continues to bleed all things crab fishing. The author (same guy who wrote The Man who quit Money) also allowed Sig to include Norwegian history lessons and the biology of various crab species. This isn't just a biography, you can learn something from it.

Great read.
218 reviews18 followers
October 2, 2017
Very few fishermen I've known have not seen at least a handful of episodes of The Deadliest Catch. Even if they insist they don't care about it, or that it's just a vehicle for the ego of skippers like Sig Hansen, The Deadliest Catch has been incredible good advertising for the industry, and unlike the movie The Perfect Storm, it stars people who actually work in the industry.
One of the things I enjoyed most about this book is how the ghost writer Mark Sundeen is able to capture the voice of Sig Hansen. The tone is authentic; very similar to the voices of the many fishermen I have myself recorded in various projects I've worked on. I also loved the history of crab fishing, which I don't think I've ever read anywhere else.
The heart of this book is the history of the Hansen family and their immigration from Karmoy, Norway, to Washington State. There's much to take in here too if you enjoy reading about adventures at sea and the immigrant success story, this will be a good place to start. At the same time there is too much of the hagliography in this work, a flaw common to many books that exalt the heroic individual.
I'm not saying the book is dishonest. It isn't. Just don't come into it expecting anything particularly introspective, which would have enriched the internal life of the characters, though occasionally he hits the spot as when his brother Edgar would hug their father Sverre before Edgar went fishing. Sverre tells a friend he enjoys it despite being paralysed by this physical closeness that was so much a part of the culture in the United States rather than the Norwegian culture he had come from. It is an example I've heard before in the oral histories and it helps us better understand the differences in generations.
Having spent several years working in Petersburg, Alaska (also referred to as little Norway), and knowing that there are probably more people of Norwegian descent working in the Alaskan fisheries than any other ethnic group, I grew tired of hearing about the boys from Karmoy. Well, the book is honest about its clannishness but it's tiring. If I need a football team to root for I'll stick with the Seahawks. I also found the nostalgia for old Ballard wearying. Old Ballard died of its own success; most of the Scandinavians moved on to greener pastures, though I'll confess to some sadness when I recently heard the fabled Smoke Shop is to close.
Fishermen on the whole can be proud, stubborn and independent. Rich or poor these are traits that follow the profession. North by Northwestern is the best book I've read on the Alaskan crab fishery. Finally someone has documented how the industry was founded and came about. The family story, too, is compelling, but how many more up-by-the-bootstraps hagliographies do we need? Sig Hansen mentions crewmen buying expensive watches double the normal price from a local crab processor. Having tons of money made them do it, but what about a little more about the difficult adjustment many fishermen have when they come back to dry land? He waxes rhapsodic on the successful crewmen and never speaks of the crew that died of alcoholism. More about what the sea can do to men's minds would have been nice.
Profile Image for Patti.
335 reviews9 followers
June 24, 2022
It might surprise some people that I’m a *huge* fan of the reality television series Deadliest Catch. Sure, I know there’s a lot of drama played up for the cameras, and I know a lot is edited for good viewing, but I really admire the men (and some women) who go out there on ships to catch food for the rest of us. I think it’s pretty sobering to realize that people lose their lives for our privilege of eating Alaskan crab. At the same time, it’s obvious they love what they do for various reasons.

Sig Hansen is the Captain and owner of the Northwestern, a fishing vessel that’s been featured on the show since it began. He and his two brothers inherited the ship from their father, who was a Norwegian fisherman who emigrated to Ballard, Washington. The book he’s written is not only a look at his history as the Captain of a crab boat but also back to the history of crab fishing in Alaska and his father’s part in it.

Sig tells a lot of the history, going back to Norway and the reason so many fishermen left there to find a life elsewhere back in the 1950s and 1960s. This part is the story of Sig’s father, Sverre, coming to the U.S. with little money and relying on others who had arrived before him to help him out. That’s not to say he didn’t work hard. Sverre was a very hard worker and took advantage of every chance he found to get himself ahead. He even served in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany to help speed up his attempts to become a citizen so he could be a boat Captain, rather than just a deckhand.

To read my full review, please go to: https://thoughtsfromthemountaintop.co...
Profile Image for Sarah Ensor.
125 reviews10 followers
March 5, 2023
This is an endearing family history of Norwegian fishers who came to Seattle in the 1950’s. There they could earn from salmon and other species, seven times what they made at home from herring. Some of them went on to pioneer Alaskan crab fishing from America. It’s a story of migrant workers who couldn’t necessarily find work even with fishing relatives but sometimes got lucky. They married women from fishing families in Norway who didn't have an easy start in America with their men away working. Sigurd Hansen remembers the first note sent home to his mother when he was in first grade said, “Teach him English, stop speaking Norwegian.”  This to a young woman who spoke little English and had even less chance to learn. 

There's historical detail of fishing seasons, the developing Norwegian neighbourhood of Ballard in Seattle, the fishing gear innovations, the industry strikes in the 1960’s and later, the camaraderie and tales of bar owners creating spaces for fishers who needed someone to look out for them. 

Captains and crew experimented with new ways to catch unfamiliar species. The hunting of king crab made some of them rich and killed many more of them in horrendously dangerous conditions.

There is a magnificence to going out to fish, surviving the weather, the sea and your own boat to come back in one piece and manage to make a living. It’s also traumatic and terrifying which explains some of the drinking and drug taking.

This is a great book to understand some of the reality of deep sea fishing, how it has changes and what it means to the people who do it.
Profile Image for Samantha.
198 reviews1 follower
December 31, 2019
My dad used to watch Deadliest Catch all the time. When I was working on my undergrad, I used to work on homework in their living room and ended up seeing the show playing in the background. I became taken with the lifestyle of these men and went back to watch earlier seasons. I got the opportunity to meet Jonathan Hillstrand, Phil Harris (shortly before he passed) and his two sons. I put this book on my TBR a long time ago, but it kept getting set aside for other things. I enjoyed the stories about the lives, adventures, and tragedies of the fishermen. Some stories were more interesting than others, and the book is outdated now that nearly 10 years has passed. This could use a revamp and new, updated edition release or a sequel.
Profile Image for Kathryn Holden.
192 reviews
March 7, 2019
A fast read and enjoyable. It was a great account of the industry through the years and the Hansen family was a part of that, as well as their personal culture and history. What I found difficult was the choppy, jump around telling of all these parts. While it is likely what kept the book moving along quickly, it seemed to jump back and forth on various timelines and was inconsistent in the use of dates vs ages, so I had a difficult time trying to piece together the order of events with respect to a year or age of the Hansen’s. If that had been flushed out a bit more clearly, this would’ve been a 4star book.
Profile Image for Ron.
891 reviews11 followers
July 7, 2022
Autobiography of Captain Sig Hansen of Discovery Channel's DEADLIEST CATCH. Really more of a family history, going back to Sig's father and relatives in Norway. A lot of history of Norwegian immigrants to the US, the Pacific Northwest specifically. One thing I liked particularly was the step-by-step details of setting and retrieving pots--viewers of the show see this all the time but it was nice having the process explained. Also covers the evolution of crab fishing from the '50s onward and the construction of crab boats. Probably longer than it has to be, but a good supplement to the TV show.
53 reviews
February 15, 2022
A must read for fans of the Deadliest Catch, a good read for anyone else. The book does not cover just Captain Sig and the Deadliest Catch, but has a lot of information about his Norwegian heritage, his family heritage, the history of fishing in the Seattle area and of course fishing and crabbing in Alaska. One of the things I liked about the book was the way that the above topics were interspersed through out the book which helped to keep things moving. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.
975 reviews2 followers
February 9, 2023
Excellent memoire/autobio.
I have only watched "Deadliest Catch" a few times when it was first aired. I did not realize this book was about the people on that program. I am interested in people who have interesting, adventurous professions. This was as exciting as any well-written adventure novel. It makes me wish I could go to Alaska and fish for crab.
I may binge watch "Deadliest Catch" in the near future.
Profile Image for Apriel.
551 reviews1 follower
June 15, 2021
This was way better than I thought it would be! I’m on a Deadliest Catch binge right now and happened to stumble upon Sig’s book so I thought I would give it a try. It’s not just about the Hansen clan but includes the history of Norwegian immigration and the fishing/crabbing industry in Alaska. Very interesting and I learned a few things which is always good.
Profile Image for John.
36 reviews
December 8, 2018
The narrator for the audiobook was pretty monotone and boring, but the content of the book itself was great. If you have any interest in Deadliest Catch or crab fishing in general, you will probably like this book.
9 reviews
December 22, 2019
Interesting inside look at Alaskan Crab Fishing. Background on Norwegian family devoted to fishing, relationship to New Bedford, Seattle and Alaska. Problems of boat ownership, maintainance, keeping crews, locating crabs and battling weather.
Profile Image for Ria F.
202 reviews25 followers
February 4, 2017
A lot of what's in this book was covered when DC did the ship by ship retrospective. Definitely written in Sig's "voice" I enjoyed it
Profile Image for Gina Tavish.
32 reviews1 follower
May 23, 2017
Loved reading this. The Northwestern is one of my favorite 2 crab boats on tbe Deadliest Catch. it was great seeing the saga unfold from the beginning. Well written and kept my interest.
Profile Image for Paul Ingrey.
93 reviews1 follower
January 3, 2018
Not what I expected at all, full of Viking history and Norse mythology tied with the exploits of his owns family and colleagues makes this a great read.
468 reviews18 followers
June 29, 2020
I enjoyed reading this book & learning about the Hansen family/fishing history.
Profile Image for Alex Telander.
Author 16 books152 followers
August 23, 2010
From the very first episodes of the premiere season of Deadliest Catch, viewers knew they’d been invited into a world that they’d had little idea existed. To call it the deadliest job in the world is a large claim to make, but anyone who has watched the show – as excited and thrilled they might be at the fantasy of riding the rough seas and risking their lives – knows it’s a feat that these guys make it back to Dutch Harbor at the end of each season. But how did these people become the incredible fisherman and brave human beings that they are?

Captain Sig Hansen, and his brothers Edgar and Norman, are part of the crew of the F/V Northwestern, and after six seasons have become international celebrities, with a website, attending conventions, fish products, and a videogame. But regardless of their celebrity status, for a number of months out of the year they risk their lives in unbelievable weather, working nonstop, all for fresh crab to be served on dinner plates around the world. In North by Northwestern, Sig Hansen, along with Mark Sundeen (who has written for Outside Magazine and New York Times Magazine), tells the incredible story of how he and his brothers became crab fishermen. Hansen lets readers know throughout the book that he wouldn’t be where he is, and the crabbing industry wouldn’t be where it is, if it weren’t for his father and his generation of fishermen working with inferior technology and tools and coming up with new, efficient, and improved ways to fish. Hansen tells the story of his Norwegian childhood, growing up in Ballard near Seattle, but he also tells the story of how the tough Norwegian who began fishing the Nordic seas came over to Washington with hopes of making more money and becoming a great fisherman.

The Alaskan King Crab gold rush began in the seventies and lasted through the nineties. It was during this period that the Hansen brothers grew up and learned the tools of their trade under the wise guise and learned hands of their father and his brilliant fishermen friends. North by Northwestern is the truly incredible story of a generation of fishermen about which little is known, as well as about how three Norwegian brothers went from simple fisherman to international celebrities.

Originally written on October 1 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

For over 500 book reviews, and over 40 exclusive author interviews (both audio and written), visit BookBanter.
Profile Image for Aymee.
608 reviews17 followers
July 25, 2014
I'm not sure how I became a fan of Deadliest Catch, but somehow I got sucked into the show and really fell in love with these fishermen that I'd never met. I think a good part of it is that they do what they do despite - or maybe even because of - the danger involved. So, when I found Captain Sig's book at the library, I had to get it.

I'm really glad that I did pick it up. North by Northwestern tells the story of not just the Hansen family, but also the story of the fishing industry in the Pacific Northwest. Fascinating, heartbreaking, and always interesting, Sig made me laugh and even cry. He speaks little of the show and the other fishing vessels shown on the show, but he talks an awful lot about the men who built the industry they're currently working in and honestly, that's more interesting by far.

On the downside, there were a few editing errors I caught, but not enough to actually complain about. Also, the way the narrative switches from his dad's story, to the boys' past, to the future can leave you feeling a bit disjointed at times, but he does a good job of letting you know whose past they're in.

Overall, I found it to be a good read that gave me a lot of information on things that I'd never thought to look into before. Even though I've since stopped watching the show - it was just too hard after Catpain Phil Harris passed - Sig always had and always will be my favorite.
Profile Image for Travis Smith.
66 reviews14 followers
March 13, 2010
I was lucky enough to win this book through the Goodreads giveaway and was so happy it was the one I won; ever since I heard about it I wanted get it. I’ve seen all the seasons of the Deadliest Catch and feel like I have come to a good understanding of how the crab industry works but this book really explains things in great detail. It’s the story of Sig Hansen and his family all the way back to his great-grandfather. Further if you count him telling of the Vikings and discoving North America first. In the book his talks about how his uncle and dad first came to america and how he and his two brothers first became invovled in crabbing. I would say a good majority of the book isn’t even about the Deadliest Catch show so if that’s why you want to read it, I wouldn’t really recommend it. However if you find the crab industry intriguing like I do and like to read about other peoples life and the things that they have had to over come, then it is a good read. He tells the history of the industry and all the Norwegians in it. The only thing I didn’t like about this book was that it jumps around quite a lot from the dad’s story to his brother’s to his and so own. It is a great book and I happy that I read it.
3 reviews
September 18, 2014
In the autobiography, North By Northwestern, by Sig Hanson, the cool waters of the Bering Sea swirl you in to a inspirational story about three brothers, a family, and a dream. I selected this book after being intrigued by watching the popular TV show, Deadliest Catch on Discovery Channel. The F/ V (stands for fishing vessel) Northwestern is one one of my favorite boats on the show and always seems to dominate the market with crab. The main character of the book is Sig, the captain, and of course the Northwestern. The book starts off with the family growing up in Norway, and going to Seattle, WA to fish the Bering Sea. The book also shares struggles and interesting stories of the boat and there adventures I n their career. Towards the end of the book, they share stories of the present day Northwestern and how the three brothers have been very successful. The theme of this book would have to be, hard work pays off. These brothers and father have worked hard their whole life and have been very successful. I recommend this to anyone who wants a great family story and anyone interested in fishing. This a great book and should read by anyone.
Profile Image for Fiona Finding Fifth.
72 reviews3 followers
April 11, 2013
The nail biting tale of Sverre Hansen and the sinking of the Foremost punctuates this book from the beginning to the end. Sverre was the Norwegian father of Sig Hansen captain of The Northwestern (featured on Deadliest Catch and Cars 3). Sig and co author Mark Sundeen have put together a book that chronicles the inception and history of the Alaskan crab fishing industry. I found it fascinating to read about the history of the Aleutians, Dutch Harbour, boat building, Norwegian immigration and culture and then the great tales of the Bering Sea fishing fleet. I have always liked Sig but now I understand a lot more about what makes him tick. He is not haughty or conceited. Fame has not really changed his values or approach. On the show, I do wish he would give young deckhand Jake a break sometimes but now I have come to realise that Sig had the same treatment from Sverre. So although there is not much room for sentimentality, in the Norse crab fishery community, there IS a lot to be proud of.
Profile Image for Carrie.
242 reviews7 followers
May 2, 2010
I won this on first-reads and was very excited since Captain Sig and his crew were my favorites on the Discovery Channel’s ‘Deadliest Catch’. This book was a great insight to the life of a fisherman. It was full of interesting facts that hooked me in and carried me through the end. What I really liked was the fact that Sig is a normal everyday guy that happens to have a very dangerous job for a living. I loved his writing style, it was raw and real. If this was done any other way I think it would have lost its true-to-life flare.

This book is full of facts about Sig and those he knew. Tragedies and joys included. I can close this book feeling a little more educated and more appreciative to those that risk their lives so I can enjoy crab on my dinner plate.

A must read for anyone who complains about their job…warning…make sure you drink a big mug of hot chocolate while reading it.
172 reviews19 followers
June 10, 2013
I'm a fan of Discovery's Deadliest Catch. The Hansen family runs the boat F/V Northwestern and this is their story.

This really is the Hansen family story. Captain Sig relates how his family came to be in America and talks about the Norwegian area of Ballard where they settled.. This is his dad's story, how the Northwestern came to be and how Sig came to captain it. He also tells about the history of crab fishing and the changes in the industry and fleet throughout the years. He talks about close calls on the Northwestern and other vessels and about the rowdy 'wild west' atmosphere of Dutch Harbor- back in the day.

A very interesting and enlightening read. I did chuckle though because Sig talks about how his brother Edgar has no interest in running the boat. But a couple years now after the book was written, and Catch fans know that's not the case. The book is a nice tribute to his father and his family's heritage.
Profile Image for Drew Gagnon.
3 reviews1 follower
September 13, 2014
The book, North By Northwestern, was a great book to read. Its a true story about a family legacy of fishermen that brave the vast, unpredictable Bering Sea for Alaskan crab.

I personally enjoyed reading this piece of nonfiction due to the amount of detail the author put in the text. Another reason is because the second generation of fishing in the Hansen Family was a Norwegian immigrant, Sverre Hansen, that went to Alaska to follow his fathers footsteps and that was to fish. With that dream he was able to create a 1.2 million dollar family operation, the fishing vessel, Northwestern.

I recommend this book to anyone one that like fishing, likes the show Deadliest Catch, or to anyone one that has a dream, because the only way this book was able to written was because of a dream that was made without giving up.

I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.

Profile Image for Gina.
175 reviews11 followers
June 26, 2013
As a fan of Discovery's "Deadliest Catch" TV show I have been wanting to read "North by Northwestern" for quite sometime. A couple of years ago I read the book written by the Hillstrand brothers and enjoyed it but I feel that "North by Northwestern" surpassed their book.

Each chapter is basically split in three parts. In the first we follow the sinking of the steel Foremost who was captained by the Hansens' father. In the second third you follow the history of the Hansens' migration into Alaska and their beginnings as crab fisherman and in the final third of each chapter is the individual histories and stories from Sig, Edgar & Norman.

Each chapter initially seems to jump around but the format works. Part ancient Norwegian history, part family history, part fishing history and all family legacy. It truly was a great read!
Profile Image for Corey.
309 reviews53 followers
August 11, 2015
I picked up this book because I love Deadliest Catch and the Northwestern is one of my favorites to follow on the show. I really enjoyed learning about their father and their backstories before Deadliest Catch. You can tell the book is a bit outdated now but it's still a good read if you're a fan of the show.

The timeline does bounce around a bit and can be a bit maddening at times. I wish it'd been cleaned up a bit and presented in a chronological fashion around the story that's weaved through the book (the fire that took place on a ship Sig's father was on).

You do get to hear more about Matt, Norm and Edgar which was nice but outside of fishing you don't get much of a backstory on Sig beyond his wife.

It's a good read and I hope they maybe revise it now that some years have passed since it's release.
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