The 101 Best Sea Books
1 The Odyssey (ca. 700 BC) Homer. The battle for Troy won, Odysseus and
his men sail for Ithaca, aided by Athena and opposed by Hyperion (god of
the sun) and Poseidon (god the sea). The obstacles they face—the
Cyclops, the Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis—are now archetypes, the tale's
structure and themes woven into the fabric of Western civilization.
Odysseus is a hero for the ages, but no matter how fearlessly he strives
to reach his destination, the Ithaca he left has changed forever. This
story perpetually reminds us of the irony of the voyager: often the
greatest challenge he faces is returning home again.
2 Moby-Dick (1851) Herman Melville. The opening sentence, "Call me
Ishmael"; the ship name Pequod; the maniacal Ahab; the tattooed
Queequeg; and the search for the great white whale—these are the
touchstones of Melville's masterpiece. But half of Moby-Dick documents
the whaling practices of the time, what life was like aboard a New
England whaler, and the details of the whaler's prey. (Remember what
ambergris is?) Melville wove these facts with the mythic quest to create
a tale that is the Leviathan of sea literature.
3 A Conrad Argosy (1942) Joseph Conrad. A Polish-born émigré and sailor
in the French and British merchant marines, Conrad used the crucible of
the sea—and nature in extremis—to explore morality, courage, honor,
duty, fear. He excelled in the short fiction collected here half a
century after he wrote it. In "The Nigger of the Narcissus," "Typhoon,"
"Youth," and "The End of the Tether," men respond to ferocious storms
and other calamities, baring their souls and revealing the lengths they
will go to (and often the depths they will sink to) for survival. Though
this book is out of print, Conrad's short fiction of the sea is
collected in a number of volumes.
4 Master and Commander and the Aubrey-Maturin series (1967?2004) Patrick
O'Brian. Hailed as the best historical novels ever written, this
?20-volume series follows the lives and careers of Captain Jack Aubrey
and his surgeon and particular friend Stephen Maturin (who is also a
natural philosopher, intelligence agent, and sometime laudanum addict).
The two sail, fight, explore, play music, and pursue amours—everywhere
from the Baltic to the East Indies and the South Seas. O'Brian's
descriptions of sailing and fighting a square-rigger are textbook, and
his erudition and humor are legendary. He captures the culture of
Nelson's Royal Navy like no other writer. The second novel, Post
Captain,is the seminal one of the series. The third, H.M.S. Surprise, is
the best. Norton.
5 Kon-Tiki (1950) Thor Heyerdahl. With a crew of five, the Norwegian
biologist builds and rigs a primitive raft à la pre-Columbian Indians
and sets off into the deep to prove his theory that the Pacific islands
were peopled from the east. Storms wash over and through the motley
assembly of logs; a curious whale considers the possibilities. Sharks
teem so densely that the crew fights back: they hand-feed the voracious
beasts, and when the sharks turn to dive back under, momentarily
suspending their tails in the air, the sailors grab them and haul them
on board to be clubbed to death. Don't believe it? Then rent Heyerdahl's
1952 Academy Award-winning documentary and see it with your own eyes.
The 101-day ride is pure Indiana Jones at sea. Adventure Library,
6 Two Years Before the Mast (1840) Richard Henry Dana. At age 21, to
cure his ailing eyes, Dana leaves Harvard on a two-year voyage to the
American Pacific coast and back. He sails around the Horn, works in icy
rigging in rolling seas, packs the ship's hold with furs beside Kanaka
(Hawaiian) sailors, and sees California in its primordial state. In no
other sea book will you find a more clear-eyed description of the life
of the common sailor in the age of sail. Penguin, 2000.
7 Das Boot: The Boat (1973) Lothar-Günther Buchheim. Life in the
Atlantic theater during World War II was as harrowing for German U-boats
as it was for the Allied convoys they stalked. Buchheim's account of one
great captain and his crew is as funny, sweaty, gritty, and frightening
as any in the annals of sea literature. You'll empathize with the
Germans (the captain has no love for Hitler) as the hunters become the
prey, lurking on the bottom of the Strait of Gibraltar, afraid to lower
a toilet seat for fear of being heard, unable to keep a cigarette lit as
the oxygen wanes... Cassell, 2003.
8 The Journals of Captain Cook (1768-1779) James Cook. On three voyages,
Cook explores the Pacific from Antarctica to Alaska. Much of his tale is
well known: from his interactions with the likes of the famous botanist
Joseph Banks, the notorious navigator William Bligh, and the explorer
George Vancouver, to Cook's unpleasant demise in the Sandwich Islands.
In three hefty tomes—perhaps the richest trove in the annals of
discovery—Cook regales us on astronomy, wind patterns, native diplomacy,
unknown flora, and the topography of new lands. Dip into these pages and
return to a time when undiscovered worlds and peoples were still eagerly
sought out by brave sailors. This abridgement of the definitive
four-volume edition published by the Hakluyt Society (J. C. Beaglehole,
editor) weighs in at a mere 672 pages. Penguin, 2000.
9 Mr. Midshipman Hornblower and the Hornblower series (1937-1967) C. S.
Forester. Contrary to popular belief, Horatio Hornblower is not a real
person but the fictional embodiment of Thomas Cochrane and Horatio
Nelson, and perhaps sea fiction's most beloved character. The hero of
schoolboys across Britain, Hornblower rises from midshipman to admiral
during the Napoleonic wars (1793-1815) with just the right touch of
ingenuity, courage, introspection, and zeal. He is a self-conscious and
stiff-lipped Everyman whose heroics sometimes go awry and who sometimes
stumbles into heroism. Forester's dozen novels and short-story
collections are the heir to Marryat's oeuvre and the inspiration for
O'Brian's. Back Bay Books.
10 South: The Last Antarctic Expedition of Shackleton and the Endurance
(1919) Ernest Shackleton. Shackleton's 1914 attempt to be the first to
cross the Antarctic? continent overland west to east achieved much more
than that—by failing. Had he and his crew of 27 men and lots of sled
dogs succeeded, they would have merely adorned the record books.
Instead, their story of survival, first in a ship being crushed by the
ice pack, then on ice floes, and finally in boats and on a godforsaken
patch of Antarctic tundra, became one of the greatest and most enduring
songs of community and heroism that we possess. Shackleton's open-boat
voyage and crossing of South Georgia Island will stir something deep
inside you. Lyons Press, 1998.
11 Mutiny on the Bounty Trilogy (1932-1934) Charles Nordhoff and James
Norman Hall. Bligh's disastrous mission to transport breadfruit from
Tahiti to the West Indies makes for a whopper of a sea tale. The
authors, best friends and Word War II aces, went to the records and to
the islands to research the legend of Fletcher Christian's mutiny
against the foul-mouthed commander of HMS Bounty. Did life among the
alluring Tahitians corrupt the sailors' hearts? Was Bligh's cruelty to
his men insufferable? What forces compel men to rebel against their
leader? These questions endure. When Christian lets the captain and 18
men take the ship's longboat, Bligh makes one of the great open-boat
voyages of all time. The trilogy also covers the life of the mutineers
in the islands. Available in one volume. Little, Brown.
12 The Old Man and the Sea (1952) Ernest Hemingway. The classic parable
of Man versus Fish, but it's really Man against? the Sea. For the humble
and appealing Cuban fisherman Santiago, who is inspired by "the great
DiMaggio," the sea instructs us, in matters great and small, on how to
live. This novel helped Hemingway reel in the Nobel Prize in 1954.
13 The Voyage of the Beagle (1839) Charles Darwin. There's a reason you
can navigate Tierra del Fuego via Beagle Channel and anchor in Darwin
Sound. Embarking at age 22, history's most famous naturalist spent five
years circling the globe on board the Beagle, collecting the data from
which he would produce The Origin of the Species. If you can't get
enough of Stephen Maturin, what would be better than to spend 500 pages
with Darwin investigating exotic terrain and cataloging the unknown
species of the globe? National Geographic, 2004.
14 Robinson Crusoe (1719) Daniel Defoe. The only survivor of a shipwreck
on what Defoe calls "the island of despair," Crusoe must master the
uninhabited landscape around him as well as his inner demons during a
24-year stretch. His resourcefulness in building a life and preparing
for potential hostile visitors never ceases to fascinate. Crusoe is
partly relieved from his loneliness by the stranded Pacific native
Friday, who becomes a devoted servant. Based on a true story complete
with pirates, hurricanes, and cannibals, this survival tale constitutes
one of the first great English novels.
15 Lord Jim (1900) Joseph Conrad. After his ship Patina, loaded with
pilgrims to Mecca, collides with an unseen object, Jim, the first mate,
joins the captain and crew in abandoning the ship's Muslim passengers.
Trying to come to terms with this cowardly act, he wanders the East and
ends up the protector of a Malaysian tribe, their "Lord." But his demons
drive him to self-destructive behavior. This is a classic tale of
cowardice and redemption played out at sea, and in the heart and the
16 Sailing Alone Around the World (1900) Joshua Slocum. The book that
launched a thousand boats. Slocum was the first sailor to circle the
globe solo—46,000 miles in three years—in his 42-foot Spray. He inspired
a century of single-handed sailors and their accounts of lonely voyages.
The best part: his trip through the Strait of Magellan, battling
Fuegians all the way (he even leaves tacks on deck at night to keep them
away); after he gets through once, the wind blows him off course, and he
has to cross the Strait all over again.
17 Treasure Island (1883) Robert Louis Stevenson. The granddaddy of
pirate tales, Treasure Island has charmed, frightened, and inspired
youth for over a century. It's rich with unforgettable moments—the
"blind" beggar Black Dog tipping the Black Spot at the Admiral Benbow
Inn; Jim Hawkins eavesdropping on the pirates from an apple barrel; and
marooned Ben Gunn's cries for "Cheese!" And then there's the richest,
most ambivalent yet empathetic villain in the genre—Long John Silver. Do
you trust him or not? Through the length of the adventure, young Jim
Hawkins wrestles with this enduring question.
18 Endurance: An Epic of Polar Adventure (1931) Frank A. Worsley.
Shackleton's South Pole expedition is told in the slightly more-at-ease
voice of the captain, who, after all, had the boss's large shoulders to
rest on and more time to reflect. During their 800-mile voyage through
furious seas to save the day, Worsley sees the sun only four times but
still manages to make the landing. His description of the explorers'
descent from the frozen peaks of the island is—there's no other word for
it—chilling. Norton, 2000.
19 In Hazard (1938) Richard Hughes. In the Caribbean, the 9,000-ton
British merchant steamer Archimedes, manned by a crew of Chinese
sailors, encounters the mother of all storms, a relentless, blinding
hurricane that behaves against science and with almost human
vindictiveness. Lean and spare, Hughes's novel excels in crystallizing
truths about the sea, sailors, and humanity. Capstan Press,
20 Journal of a Cruise (1815) Captain David Porter. No other work gives
a truer picture of life at sea in the U.S. Navy during the War of 1812.
Porter sails the frigate Essex around the Horn, the first U.S. Naval
warship to enter the Pacific. There he disrupts the British whaling
industry to such a degree that the Royal Navy dispatches a force to hunt
him down, setting up a showdown at Valparaiso. Porter is so fair-minded
and plainspoken, so diligent in his duty, so gentlemanly to his captive
enemy, and so attentive to his crew's welfare that when the British
captain (a former friend no less) fights unfairly, the result is
heartbreaking. Out of print.
21 Captains Courageous (1896) Rudyard Kipling. Spoiled young Harvey
Cheyne receives an involuntary education aboard a Grand Banks fishing
schooner. He soon learns the ways of the seamen—from how to bait a hook
to how to swear at rival fishermen. He is thus able to appreciate the
unforgettable scene at Virgin Rock, where hundreds of fishing vessels
converge after completing their runs, and where Kipling revels in the
camaraderie and patois of the sea.
22 The Last Grain Race (1956) Eric Newby. Revered for his book on the
central Asian wilds, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush,Newby got his start
as a travel writer at sea. At age 18, he boarded the four-masted Finnish
barque Moshulu and sailed to Australia and back to pick up grain. A
first-rate writer, whose wry humor will make you guffaw, he proves to be
a skilled and fearless topman in the most harrowing of seas. He's also a
brawler who shows the Nordic fo'c'sle bullies the mettle of an English
jack. Lonely Planet, 2006.
23 The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea (1997)
Sebastian Junger. A sensation when it was published and now a classic,
Junger's work delivers the storm of the ages: mountainous seas,
hurricane gusts, desperate wives waiting on shore. While he dishes out
copious details of storm formation and the minutiae of deep-sea fishing,
the pace never flags as we chart the course of the doomed trawler Andrea
Gale. Junger deftly connects the fate of six Gloucester longline
swordfishermen with the New England sailors who came before them—the
ones you'll find in Captains Courageous and In the Heart of the Sea.
24 Percival Keene (1842) Frederick Marryat. A sea captain who served
under the great frigate commander Cochrane, Marryat wielded a pen the
way a boarder wields a cutlass. Though a bit dated, the novel still
offers a rollicking voyage. Keene survives a stint on the ship of a
black pirate, wages war at sea, fights a duel for his father, survives a
shotgun blast from his uncle, loses his frigate on a lee shore, and
barely dodges execution by Napoleon's cavalry. "I have been chuckling,
and grinning, and clenching my fists, and becoming warlike," Dickens
wrote Marryat after reading the book. Out of print.
25 Before the Wind: The Memoir of an American Sea Captain, 1808-1833
(1999) Charles Tyng. Found in an attic over a century later, this
account of a U.S. merchant captain's cruises between 1808 and 1833 is
admirably spare, like the captain himself. Fortunately, Tyng's sentences
pack as much wallop as the belaying pin he wields when reminding his
surly crew of their duty. Tyng is one tough but loveably frank Yankee
sailor, whether describing the necessity of kissing a native king's
wives "lying on a mat, like three brown hogs, naked, their skins oiled"
or discouraging a challenge to his command. Penguin, 2000.
26 Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea (1998) Gary Kinder. In 1857, the
steamship Central America went down with 400 passengers—and 21 tons of
gold. We follow the fate of the steamer and then the exploits of
treasure hunter Tommy Thompson 130 years later. Thompson locates the
wreck through historical detective work, weathers the labyrinthine rules
of international salvage law, and develops new submersible technology to
enable deepwater recovery (the ship lies 8,000 feet down). This true
story culminates in a series of seaborne ruses as the treasure hunters
try to evade piratical competitors. Vintage, 1999.
27 Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus (1942)
Samuel Eliot Morison. A renowned Harvard historian and devout sailor,
Morison retraced Columbus's route for this 1950 Pulitzer Prize-winning
biography. The attention he devotes to explaining navigation is
invaluable in showing Columbus's genius. If you can't get enough of the
wiles of dead reckoning, seek out the original two-volume edition.
Little, Brown, 1970.
28 The Saga of the Cimba (1939) Richard Maury. It's just a
New York to Fiji (via the Panama Canal). But Maury's bittersweet telling
is so enthusiastic and lyrically beautiful that it takes your breath
away. Jonathan Raban calls it "the most eloquent prose hymn ever written
to the exhilaration, the beauty, and the sheer joy of being at sea." The
voyage's abrupt end will wring tears from your eyes, but as Maury notes,
"We cannot hold the same poetry throughout life." McGraw-Hill, 2001.
29 Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings (1999) Jonathan Raban. An
incomparable literary companion with whom to share a boat, Raban
explores the Inside Passage from Seattle to Juneau and encounters
Indians and all manner of serendipitous acquaintances. His reflections
upon Captain George Vancouver and other predecessors are rich for being
informed but never effete. How did the Polynesians navigate? With their
testicles, of course, sensing variations in the sea swell through their
most sensitive parts. Vintage, 2000.
30 The Principall Navigation, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of
the English Nation (1589-1600) Richard Hakluyt. At a time when maps
still had lacunae labeled "here be dragons," Hakluyt published 12
volumes of the accounts of English explorations around the globe. His
intent was to spread English might Elizabethan-style, to curry
enthusiasm for settlement and expansion, and—oh yes—to make good on his
own investments. But the accounts became an end in themselves as he
recorded the tales of Portuguese and Spanish explorers, too. Some say he
invented travel literature. An abridged edition, Voyages and Discoveries
(1972), is available from Penguin.
31 Typee (1846) Herman Melville. Before he was a great novelist,
Melville was a ship jumper. At age 22, he and a friend left a whaler in
the Marquesas Islands and lived among the natives for four months. This,
his first novel, was based on that experience and is a classic of the
sailor-in-a-strange-land genre. There is much to admire in the land of
Typees, many sensual pleasures, and much, it turns out, to fear.
32 The Sea Around Us (1951) Rachel Carson. This is the centerpiece of a
trilogy that ?Carson, a trained zoologist, wrote describing the origins,
evolution, and characteristics of the sea, from topography to waves and
currents to ocean minerals. It's all here and charmingly readable. Why
do penguins thrive on the Galapagos Islands near the equator? Because
the Humboldt Current brings icy waters and marine life from Antarctica.
Oxford University Press, 1991.
33 To the Ends of the Earth: A Sea Trilogy (1980-89) William Golding. In
1813 a decrepit man-of-war sails from England to Sydney with a load of
"pilgrims" and a tyrannical captain—the perfect hothouse setting for a
Nobel laureate to explore the British class system. A homosexual
chaplain lusts for sailors. A passenger is beaten in a pagan
equator-crossing ritual. A young aristocrat wrestles with the nature of
justice at sea and his desire for a young woman of dubious repute. The
trilogy is chock-full of literary and operatic allusions and stunning
descriptions of ship squalor. The mood is dark and the plot as
cross-grained as the sea. Faber and Faber, 1991.
34 Mutiny on the Bounty (1790) William Bligh. Known for expert
seamanship and colorful epithets, Bligh nevertheless recounts his
ill-fated voyage to transport breadfruit from Tahiti to the West Indies
in unadorned words. His equanimity certainly helped him succeed in one
of the most appalling open-boat voyages ever—3,600 miles on limited grog
from the not-so Friendly Islands to Timor. Whatever else one might say
about Bligh, he delivered 17 of his 18 faithful crew to safety, a better
fate than that of the mutineers. This is Bligh in his element, before
the spin. Available as The Bounty Mutiny from Penguin Classics.
35 Middle Passage (1990) Charles Johnson. In a story as old as Jonah,
Rutherford Calhoun runs to sea to escape debts and a woman. But Calhoun
is a ?free black, the year is 1830, and the ship is an illegal slaver.
In a tale rich in symbolism (the ship is called the Republic) and
sometimes in the grotesque (the captain is a literate, pedophile dwarf),
the erstwhile confidence man somehow manages to earn the trust of the
captain, the mutinous crew, and the defiant cargo. Johnson's writing is
elegant and informed. Scribner, 1998.
36 By Way of Cape Horn (1930) A. J. Villiers. "Out from Wallroo, by way
of Cape Horn," the steel-sided clipper Grace Harwar, one of the last of
her breed, sails to England in ballast to pick up a cargo of grain. It's
everything you would expect: the hazards of the Horn, dissension among
the crew, life in the rigging, and death overboard. Author of 25 books
on his sea experiences, Villiers makes it all seem fresh on this
towering 20th-century square-rigger. Out of print.
37 The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor (1970) Gabriel García Márquez. Talk
about luck. Washed off a Colombian destroyer, ?Luis Alejandro Velasco
survives for 10 days on a cork raft with no provisions. The sun blisters
him and sharks snap around him. A spectral friend keeps him sane while
the current washes the raft to his native shores. And then comes the
luck. Not that he is anointed a national hero—a fact that mystifies the
humble sailor—but that a Bogotá newspaper assigns a future Nobel
laureate to the story. The result: a lyrical rendering that captivates a
nation, shuts down the paper, and immortalizes Velasco. Vintage, 1989.
38 Godforsaken Sea: Racing the World's Most Dangerous Waters (1999)
Derek Lundy. The Vendeé Globe Race—from France around Antarctica
(weathering all three great Capes) and back (single-handed, stopping
nowhere)—is the most grueling race in the world. In 1996-97, 16 entrants
sailed their 60-foot boats into the heart of the fierce Southern Ocean,
surfing seas the size of apartment buildings at 28 knots in Force 10
gales. Pete Goss's attempt to rescue a capsized competitor, turning his
boat around to sail upwind and find him two days away, is unforgettable.
Anchor Books, 2000.
39 The Safe Guard of the Sea (1998) and The Command of the Ocean (2004)
N. A. M. Rodger. The first two volumes of a planned three-volume history
of the Royal Navy are sweeping and authoritative as they chart the rise
of Britain's supremacy on the sea between 660 and 1815. Rodger, a
renowned naval scholar, writes with the congenial ease of a don
instructing his eager class. Volume 3 is now in progress. Norton.
40 In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (2000)
Nathaniel Philbrick. An up-to-date version of the sinking of the
whaleship Essex by a rogue whale in 1820. The story inspired authors
from Melville to Edgar Allan Poe. Philbrick fills in the
gaps—instructing us on the ways, mores, and economics of Nantucket
whaling—and ends up with a hoary tale of men trying to survive alone in
an open boat. Viking.
41 The Cruel Sea (1966) Nicholas Monsarrat. This saga of one crew's
68-month experience chronicles Great Britain's war in the Atlantic in
microcosm—from the early days of World War II when Germany's U-boats
were as inexperienced as the Allies' convoys to 1942, when the chance of
being torpedoed exceeded 50 percent, to the turning of the tide, when
the Allies' more sophisticated convoy techniques finally brought the
German subs to the surface. Monsarrat deliberately reveals the shock and
horror Britain's naval shepherds experienced in the Atlantic. Burford
42 The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783 (1890) Alfred
Thayer Mahan. Mahan is regarded as the Clausewitz of the Sea, and this
is the book on naval power. It instructed two generations of leaders,
from Theodore Roosevelt (it's why he sent the new American fleet around
the world) and Kaiser Wilhelm to Winston Churchill. Mahan explains how a
nation's defense depends on protecting its maritime trade and why the
principles of strategy are so timeless they are "an Order of Nature."
Not beach reading. Barnes & Noble, 2004.
43 The Pursuit of Victory: The Life and Achievement of Horatio Nelson
(2005) Roger Knight. He lost an eye and an arm for his country. He had a
torrid extramarital love affair and otherwise behaved scandalously. He
won the sea battle that ended Napoleon's aspirations on the waves—and
died while winning it. Nelson is a biographer's dream come true. With
vision and stamina, Knight, a renowned Nelson scholar, emerges from the
pack with a showstopper, untangling Nelson the extraordinary man from
Nelson the myth. This is the new definitive statement about one of
history's great figures. Perseus.
44 The Long Way (1971) Bernard Moitessier. The most romantic of the
single-handed chroniclers, Moitessier, a Frenchman who learned to sail
in Indochina, is the heir not to Slocum but to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,
whom he reads on board and quotes from. Moitessier inspired a generation
of French sailors by abandoning the 1968 race and sailing on to the east
(doubling the Indian Ocean) in pursuit of his sea muse. He also
pioneered a new technique for small craft to take on the big waves of
the high latitudes, which has been used by racers ever since. Sheridan
45 The Pilot (1823) James Fenimore Cooper. Though his laurels rest on
The Leather-Stocking Tales, Cooper, who was both a merchant and a naval
sailor, wrote ten sea novels and a highly regarded history of the U.S.
Navy. The Pilot was his first serious sea novel. Modeled on John Paul
Jones, the story's mysterious hero leads American ships in perilous
raids on the English coast. Two young lieutenants complicate matters by
trying to steal away their lovers and carry them home.
46 Long John Silver: The True and Eventful History of My Life of Liberty
and Adventure as a Gentleman of Fortune and Enemy of Mankind (1995)
Björn Larsson. From his refuge in Madagascar, the fugitive Silver tells
his tale of smuggling, slaving, and pirating with the infamous rummy
Captain Flint. In this celebration of swashbuckling and paean to
mythmaking, the Swedish author imbues Stevenson's most fascinating
character with wit, flash, and insight. Silver even smugly recounts
watching the hanging of pirates at London's Execution Dock with Daniel
Defoe. Harvill Press, 1999.
47 Gipsy Moth Circles the World (1967) Francis Chichester. The greatest
single-hander since Slocum, Chichester, at age 64, sets out to round the
globe in a 52-foot ketch and beat the clipper ships' speed record.
Irascible, undaunted, meticulous, he recounts everything in such
detail—huge seas, capsizing and injury, mold on the garlic, and his
boat's many failings—that you feel you are right there with him, solving
problems one at a time, day by lonely day. McGraw-Hill, 2001.
48 John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography (1959) Samuel Eliot Morison.
Named a rear admiral in the U.S. Naval Reserves for his massive history
of U.S. actions in World War II, Morison bagged a Pulitzer (his second)
for this biography of the great American commodore. An eccentric,
swaggering Scot, Jones earned the fear and scorn of the British, who
denounced him as a pirate, and the reverence of American sailors, who
admired his fierceness. Morison's account of the glorious Battle off
Flamborough Head—two ships locked in a death struggle—is staggering. The
author also deftly chronicles the fitful birth of the U.S. Navy. Naval
Institute Press, 1999.
49 Captain Blood: His Odyssey (1922) Rafael Sabatini. Sabatini is
synonymous with "swashbuckling." This tale of Peter Blood, an Irish-born
doctor and adventurer with principles, is a melodrama with shades of
Lemony Snicket's sardonic humor, flashes of George MacDonald Fraser's
wit, and historical fidelity à la Patrick O'Brian. The prolific Sabatini
writes with the flourish suitable to his 17th-century setting as Blood
is swept away in England's political maelstrom, landing on the Spanish
Main to pursue his own brand of justice. Sabatini also wrote the sequel
story collections Captain Blood Returns (1931) and The Fortunes of
Captain Blood (1936).
50 Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea (1986) Stephen Callahan. In
1986, during a solo crossing of the Atlantic, Callahan's 21-foot
sailboat sank in a blink of the eye some 600 miles off the Canary
Islands. As his survival raft drifted 1,800 miles toward Bermuda, the
naked American sailor battled thirst and starvation, sharks, and tears,
plus the agonizing sight of nine passing ships. His story is a model of
survival against the odds. Random House, 1996.
51 Decision at Trafalgar: The Story of the Greatest British Naval Battle
of the Age of Nelson (1959) Dudley Pope. Pope is better known as a
writer of sea novels, but his best work might have been gripping naval
histories. In this account of Admiral Nelson's crowning (and last)
achievement, Pope paints a full portrait of the Royal Navy's greatest
victory—from the politicians in London and Paris to the gallant officers
and foremast jacks who fought their battles. C. S. Forester called the
book "a remarkable achievement." Owl Books, 1999.
52 Tom Cringle's Log (1829) Michael Scott. Teddy Roosevelt referred to
it as "that delightful book" and Coleridge called it "excellent." The
action comes fast and furious as Cringle serves in the West Indies,
fights smugglers, survives as a captive of pirates, and battles yellow
fever. Though occasionally overwrought, Scott's powerful and original
descriptions of all things nautical make this novel a classic. Out of
53 The Toilers of the Sea (1866) Victor Hugo. After a languid start,
this epic tale of the Channel Islands erupts in a thrilling battle
against the sea. As the illiterate fisherman Gilliat struggles to free a
ship run aground and win the hand of his would-be love, he battles wind,
wave, and sea monster, not to mention social injustice and prejudice, in
an exhilarating test of will and resourcefulness. The humble Gilliat
emerges as an inspiring hero. The new unabridged edition from the Modern
Library, 2002, is a must.
54 Looking for a Ship (1990) John McPhee. In this exploration of the
atrophying U.S. merchant marine, the author catches a lift on a South
America-bound freighter,delivering and picking up such "said-to-contain"
cargos as spare tires, toilet pedestals, fertilizer, and fruit. Teasing
out the reluctant tales of a veteran captain and crew, McPhee turns the
tedium of the sea into riveting prose. "All through a voyage while
nothing happens," the supreme stylist notes, "sailors tell stories about
things that happen": storms, strife, wrecks, and piracy (the last of
which occurs twice on the voyage). Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
55 White Jacket (1850) Herman Melville. If you don't yet know your way
around the ships of the Age of Sail, who is a better tour guide than
Herman Melville?In this novel set on board the U.S. naval frigate
Neversink in 1850, decks and sails, spars and yards, warrant and petty
officers are all clearly explained. Melville elucidates the unique
nature of life in the navy. His depiction of its cruel discipline is
said to have influenced Congress to ban flogging. Naval Institute Press,
56 The Riddle of the Sands (1903) Erskine Childers. Smugglers and small
craft nearly always command the intricate byways and inlets of coastal
waters. In this novel published on before World War I, two gentlemen of
the British Foreign Office pursue a hunch that something is amiss in the
sandbars and fjords of Germany's tiny coastline, between Denmark and
Holland. Sure enough, the Kaiser has secretly assembled a small-craft
armada in the protected waters of the Frisian Islands. Childer's novel
anticipated Hitler's planned invasion decades later and helped England
prepare for it. Penguin, 2000.
57 The Caine Mutiny (1951) Herman Wouk. In this Pulitzer Prize-winning
novel, the inexperienced officers in the wardroom of the Caine, a
decrepit World War II minesweeper, struggle with the psychological
challenges of service under the paranoid, cowardly Captain Queeg.
Queeg's arbitrary enforcement of naval discipline leads the ship's
officers reluctantly down the path of conspiracy. The Pacific typhoon
that triggers the mutiny is a doozy.
58 The Sea-Hawk (1915) Rafael Sabatini. Oliver Tressilian, a Cornish
gent who helped defeat the Spanish Armada, is betrayed by his half
brother and finds himself a galley slave. Eventually, Tressilian is
freed by Barbary corsairs and adopts Islam and a roving way of life.
When he returns to England, he is a wanted man wanting revenge. Norton.
59 The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty (2003)
Caroline Alexander. Decide for yourself. Did Bligh get his just
desserts? Or has history done him wrong? This recounting of the historic
mutiny is the most thorough and comprehensive yet. Exploring firsthand
accounts, court records, and correspondence, Alexander reopens the cases
for and against Bligh, Christian, and all the other principals. Penguin.
60 A Night to Remember (1955) Walter Lord. Lord turned his boyhood
obsession with the sinking of the Titanic,a disaster that forever
changed passenger sea travel, into this classic account. On April 14,
1912, the "unsinkable" luxury cruise ship struck an iceberg and went
down within hours. Because of a lack of lifeboats, John Jacob Astor and
more than a thousand others remained on board. Lord interviewed the
survivors—the rich, the crew, and the lucky—who escaped in boats, and
while he could not completely escape his awe of the aristocrats, he
records both the highs and lows of men under extreme stress. His
understated prose is just right for this real-life melodrama. Owl Books,
61 Doctor Dogbody's Leg (1940) James Norman Hall. In this send-up of the
naval tall tale, Hall creates one of the most hilarious characters to
sail the seas. The year is 1817. Egged on by his straight-faced,
ale-quaffing friends at the Cheerful Tortoise pub in Portsmouth, Dr. F.
Dogbody earnestly tells each new stranger a different and increasingly
outrageous tale explaining the loss of his "larboard" leg. First it's a
cutlass-wielding Indian, later a French guillotine, and then amputation
after being shot by a poisoned arrow while clinging to a runaway
ostrich. . . . Owl Books, 1998.
62 The Pedro Gorino: The Adventures of a Negro Sea-Captain in Africa and
on the Seven Seas in His Attempts to Found an Ethiopian Empire, An
Autobiographical Narrative (1929) Captain Harry Dean. On his first
voyage, a three-year world tour with his merchant uncle in 1877, Dean
parties with a king in Honolulu and sees a man fight a shark with a
knife. In Africa, haunted by tales of the slave trade, he decides to
build a fleet for the Ethiopian race, because "a race without ships is
like a man stricken and blind." In time, he buys the schooner Pedro
Gorino and pursues his extraordinary dream for as long as he can hang on
to her. Out of print.
63 The Real McCoy (1931) Frederic F. Van de Water. During Prohibition,
the colorful bootlegger Bill McCoy runs spirits up the East Coast,
jockeying with mobsters and the feds. All are out for easy profits;
McCoy, however, proves to be an outlaw with principles and a soft spot.
Most of all he loves his schooner Arethusa, "an aristocrat, a
thoroughbred from her keel to her trucks." In this charming as-told-to
memoir, there are no good guys, but mobster McCoy steals our hearts.
Flat Hammock Press, 2006.
64 Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked
Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II (2004)
Robert Kurson. When an experienced charter captain discovers a submerged
German U-boat off the coast of New Jersey, two American divers spend six
years trying to identify it. Kurson, a journalist, recounts the
dangerous dives (others die while exploring the wreck), the competition,
and the jealousies, and recreates the lives of the German sailors aboard
the mystery ship. The sleuths dive and dive again, research in national
archives, and consult U-boat experts in Germany. In their quest for
communion with the past, they honor the entombed sailors and uphold the
German submariners' creed—Schicksengemeinschaft ("a community bound by
fate"). Random House.
65 The Cruise of the Falcon (1884) Edward F. Knight. As eccentric an
English voyage as was ever conceived. On an enticingly sunny day, two
free-spirited pals walk away from their jobs in the City and imagine an
endless summer at sea. They acquire a yacht and assemble a haphazard
crew: two nomadic gentlemen, a 15-year-old homeless boy, and a kitten.
Armed with a swivel cannon (and grapeshot) and an "ample" cask of rum,
the Falcon promptly sets sail for South America. This jauntily told true
story of a two-year voyage of adventure gone awry is an armchair
traveler's summer dream. Out of print.
66 Two Years on the Alabama: A Firsthand Account of the Daring Exploits
of the Infamous Confederate Raider (1895) Arthur Sinclair. The fifth
lieutenant tells the story of the Confederate cruiser, which plied the
whole of the Atlantic (from the Cape of Good Hope to the English
Channel) and sank 60 Union merchant vessels. One measure of her success:
she started with 15 shipboard chronometers and ended with 75 (at some
point they stopped winding them all). Sinclair's account is filled with
equal parts whimsical anecdote and misty pathos (you'll weep with
merchant captains as they watch their ships go down) before the Alabama
meets her end outside Cherbourg.
67 Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage (1959) Alfred Lansing. The
story of the great failed expedition to the South Pole in 1914 is so
moving that it merits an additional perspective. Lansing interviews
members of the crew and examines their smoke and blubber-smeared
diaries, broadening the take on events already so well described by
Worsley (#18) and Shackleton (#10). This is not just the story of the
captain or the expedition leader but of the men before the mast,
battling tedium, loneliness, close quarters, and short rations before
taking to the ice. Carroll & Graf, 1999.
68 The Golden Ocean (1956) and The Unknown Shore (1959) Patrick O'Brian.
Loosely speaking, these are prequels to the vaunted Aubrey-Maturin
series. Set during Commodore Anson's famed voyage of 1740, in which he
circumnavigated the globe and captured a fortune in Spanish gold while
losing four of his five ships, these two books show flashes of O'Brian's
greatness and are thrilling reads in their own right. In the latter
novel, the protagonists, Midshipman Jack Byron and Surgeon's Mate Tobias
Barrow, survive the wreck of the Wager, sunk off Chile, and struggle to
return home. Norton.
69 Spartina (1989) John Casey. In this 1989 National Book Award winner,
an embittered Rhode Islander trying to muddle through his life decides
to build his own boat to maintain his self-respect. He navigates Block
Island's corner bars, where he cuts deals to realize his dream, and even
makes a harrowing drug-smuggling run in the salt marshes. But he's
really just like you and me—after the local girl. Vintage, 1998.
70 The Cruise of the Nona (1925) Hilaire Belloc. A prolific essayist and
poet, Belloc loved to sail. In 1924, he cruised England's coastal
waters—from Holyhead (in St. George's Channel) to The Wash (in the North
Sea)—in a small yacht, allowing the sea to rejuvenate and inspire him.
"The sea has taken me to itself whenever I sought it and has given me
relief from men," he writes. "The sea provides visions, darknesses,
revelations." Belloc muses profoundly about his affinity for the sea and
digresses pleasingly on history, politics, and religion. Out of print.
71 The Silent World (1953) Jacques Cousteau. The TV shows made it all
look so easy. Read today, this book reminds us that Cousteau, a French
naval officer, and his fellow early scuba divers really were exploring
an unknown world in experimental gear. Under the watchful eyes of German
occupiers, their spirit remained indomitable as they tested the
"aqualung" and expanded our universe in miraculous ways. National
72 Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) Jules Verne. In the age
of the lowly Hunley, the visionary French author conceived of the
Nautilus, a deluxe, narwhal-horned, sci-fi cruiser of the ocean floor.
Captain Nemo takes his misbegotten guests—the scientist Pierre Aronnax,
his man Conseil, and harpooner Ned Land—on a zany voyage around the
world. They battle a giant squid, joust with a pod of sperm whales, fend
off crushing ice pack at the South Pole, and endure hellish seas. Along
the way, they discover Atlantis and their captain's eccentricities.
Restored and annotated edition, Naval Institute Press, 1993.
73 Caught Inside: A Surfer's Year on the California Coast (1996) Daniel
Duane. In Duane's words, a surfboard provides "a way of seeing not just
the shapes and moods of the waves but the very life" of the sea. Duane
takes a year off from college to surf the waters of Monterey Bay, but he
is no slacker. He quotes from Cook and Dana, discourses on wave
formation and sharks, and reveals the joys of surfing via locals. From
his board, Duane sees California afresh and paints a sublime portrait of
Santa Cruz's sea and coastal life. North Point Press.
74 Mr. Midshipman Easy (1836) Frederick Marryat. In the grips of his
father's over-the-top egalitarian philosophy, the naive young gentleman
Jack Easy enters the midshipmen's berth in his Majesty's sloop Harpy.
This is the Captain's most popular novel, and as always, the action
comes fast and furious—gales, broadsides, ruses de guerre, and French
prisons. The adventures are thick with social satire, naval-reform
politics, and the pursuit of love and friendship.
75 Sufferings in Africa: The Astonishing Account of a New England Sea
Captain Enslaved by North African Arabs (1817) Captain James Riley. The
true story of the wreck of a Connecticut merchant brig off the west
coast of Africa. The crew of 12 is captured and enslaved by desert
nomads. Half the crew perishes, but Captain Riley convinces Arab trader
Sidi Hamet to escort him 800 miles across the Sahara to the port of
Essaouira, where he can be ransomed. The crew's ordeal is a brutal tale
of death, suffering, and slavery on the burning sands. Riley ultimately
saves himself and some of the men through the bond he forges with Hamet.
Abraham Lincoln named this memoir a favorite of his youth. Lyons Press,
76 The Venturesome Voyages of Captain Voss (1913) John Claus Voss. After
a Canadian journalist asks Voss if he can round the globe in a vessel
smaller than Slocum's Spray, the captain converts a 38-foot, cedar
dugout into a three-masted sailboat. He takes the journalist with him.
Short and tough—and a masterful sailor—Voss cruises the South Pacific
islands, Australia, and New Zealand, where he proves to be part showman,
part huckster, an expert witness, a semi-reliable mailman, and one hell
of a raconteur. The ride on the Tilikum ("Friend")is so rough that every
new mate becomes violently seasick. One disappears overboard, a stigma
that Voss never fully recovers from on his otherwise triumphant
1901-1904 voyage. Available as 40,000 Miles in a Canoe, from
77 The Pyrates: A Swashbuckling Comic Novel by the Creator of Flashman
(1983) George MacDonald Fraser. The author of the inimitable überarch
Flashman series sends up the pirate genre, as the all-too-dashing and
circumspect Royal Navy Captain Ben Avery, bound for Madagascar with a
priceless crown, falls into the hands of pirates. Avery is marooned on a
sandbar, while the voluptuous Vanity, an admiral's daughter and
passenger with whom he has fallen in love, is sold into slavery. Avery
must return to save the day and the damsel against a cast of scurvy
characters. All quite silly and hilarious. Lyons Press, 2003.
78 The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst (1970) Nicholas Tomalin
and Ron Hall. In 1968, nine sailors leave Europe on the first nonstop,
single-handed, round-the-world boat race. While Bernard Moitessier sails
off into the great yonder in pursuit of his muse and Robert
Knox-Johnston claims the crown, a third sailor steals the show. Found
calmly adrift, the trimaran Teignmouth Electron seems normal, except for
one thing: she is unoccupied. Gone without a trace is her skipper,
Donald Crowhurst, an eccentric who after 240 days at sea had appeared to
be the frontrunner. Two journalists discover a failed journey and a wake
of deceit—but no body. As with the Mary Celeste, this ghost story will
haunt sailors forever. McGraw-Hill, 1995.
79 The Sand Pebbles (1962) Richard McKenna. In this anomalous story, the
Sand Pebbles are actually the crew of the San Pablo, an antiquated U.S.
Navy gunboat stationed up the Yangtze River in tumultuous 1920s China.
The isolated crew has adapted to its surroundings in undisciplined ways.
When newcomer Engineer Jack Holman, whose only friends seem to be the
engines he nurses, joins the crew, he faces crises in a foreign land.
Like The Heart of Darkness, this novel reminds us just how strange it is
to be an unwanted guest an ocean away from home. Naval Institute Press,
80 The Mirror of the Sea (1906) Joseph Conrad. Fifteen essays that
amount to a metaphorical meditation and manifesto on the life of the
sailor. How does man fare against the sea? Writes Conrad: "All the
tempestuous passions of mankind's young days, the love of loot and the
love of glory, the love of adventure and the love of danger, with the
great love of the unknown and vast dreams of dominion and power, have
passed like images reflected from a mirror, leaving no record upon the
mysterious face of the sea." Various publishers.
81 The Long Ships: A Saga of the Viking Age (1954) Frans G. Bengtsson.
Still the king of books about Vikings, The Long Ships,translated from
the Swedish, chronicles the Viking conquests from 980 to 1010 through
the fictional Red Orme (Snake), who is kidnapped by his own kind, ends
up a galley slave in the Mediterranean, a mercenary, and a raider. He
attempts to settle down but then heads off again on a quest for gold. As
everybody knows, the Vikings liked to row and sail and fight. That's
what they do in this action-packed epic, deftly done—for a book about
Vikings. HarperCollins, 1984.
82 Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery, the U.S. Exploring
Expedition, 1838-1842 (2003) Nathaniel Philbrick. Struggling to bear a
mercurial captain is one of the enduring themes of sea literature (think
Bligh and Queeg). Add to that list Charles Wilkes, a self-described
martinet who commanded six ships and 346 men on an 1838 U.S. expedition
to chart the Southern Ocean and the Pacific Northwest. The struggles of
his officers form the psychological backdrop to this tale of physical
endurance. Along the way, the Exploring Expedition does manage to chart
1,500 miles of Antarctic coast and return with the collection that would
trigger the founding of the Smithsonian Institution. Penguin, 2004.
83 The Lightship (1960) Siegfried Lenz. Translated from the German, this
taut novel follows a two-day standoff in the Baltic between the crew of
a stationary lightship and three heavily armed criminals whom they
rescue at sea. The mysterious Dr. Caspary, leader of a trio that
includes a psychopath and his dim, giant brother, engages Captain
Freytag, a man haunted by his World War II past, in a test of wills.
Gamesmanship deteriorates into violence. Lenz's dark and disturbing
story was made into a film in 1986, starring Robert Duvall and Klaus
Maria Brandauer. Out of print.
84 Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History
(2000) Erik Larson. The hurricane that struck Galveston, Texas, in 1900
was one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. Through the
reports of meteorologist Isaac Cline, Larson tells the story of what
happens when the sea suddenly envelops a city. The tidal surge of four
feet turns the low-lying town into a bay and causes horrific suffering.
Larson augments the account with modern hurricane science and vividly
reconstructs an American tragedy that claimed more than 6,000 lives.
85 Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the
Pirates (1995) David Cordingly. Want the last word on pirates?
Cordingly's exhaustive compendium recounts the exploits of the most
famous buccaneers, such as Captain Morgan and Blackbeard; explores the
sources for Treasure Island; and dispels commonly held myths about the
pirates' code. If you want the first word, find Cordingly's new edition
of Captain Charles Johnson's A General History of the Robberies and
Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates (1724), the fount of tales of
Captain Kidd, Mary Read, and Anne Bonny. Harvest Books, 1997.
86 Mr. Roberts (1948) Thomas Heggen. Best known as the comic movie
starring Henry Fonda, James Cagney, and Jack Lemon, this novel (also a
play) is both hilarious and poignant. Set in the South Pacific late in
World War II on board the cargo ship USS Reluctant, the story captures
the tedium, the petty politics, and the absurdities of shipboard life,
where often a fine line exists between hijinks and felonies. Naval
Institute Press, 1992.
87 The Hunt for Red October (1984) Tom Clancy. Clancy's first novel
isn't just an impeccably plotted Cold War submarine thriller; it also
established the genre of the military techno-thriller. (Why do you think
it was published by the Naval Institute Press?) Never has learning about
the minutiae of SONAR and two dozen other arcane subjects been so
compelling—or so much fun. Berkley, 1999.
88 The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838) Edgar Allan
Poe. The master of the macabre seems to cram all he can into his first
full-length work—about a sea voyage that includes mutiny, shipwreck,
cannibalism, and natives in Antarctica. Throughout the novel, Poe revels
in the gruesome—from men eating barnacles on an overturned hull to a
seagull pecking flesh from a corpse navigating a ghost ship. So popular
was the book in its day that it inspired a sequel from Jules Verne, The
Sphinx of the Ice Fields. Penguin, 1999.
89 The Black Ship (1963) Dudley Pope. A veteran of the Battle of the
Atlantic and a merchant mariner, Pope tells the events of the 1797
mutiny of the Hermione under the despotic captain Hugh Pigot, the
bloodiest mutiny in Royal Navy history. After this hellish episode in
the Caribbean, a daring recapture of the frigate by HMS Surprise,also
rendered here by Pope, partially redeems the navy's honor. British
morale hinges on these highly emotional events. Pen and Sword, 2003.
90 The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower: A Biography of C. S.
Forester's Famous Naval Hero (1970) C. Northcote Parkinson. So authentic
is this pseudobiography of C. S. Forester's fictional naval captain and
so straight-faced the author—a British economics professor who,
incidentally, invented Murphy's Law—that one reviewer, a naval officer
no less, thought it was the biography of a historical figure. Whether
you've read the Hornblower series or not, this is an entertaining
wrinkle in the annals of seafaring tales. McBooks, 2005.
91 Run Silent, Run Deep (1955) Edward L. Beach. Written by a captain in
the U.S. Navy, this is the first famous submarine novel. Set during
World War II, an American sub chases her Japanese counterpart, a cruiser
under a wily Japanese commander. It turns out he is using his destroyer
in tandem with a Japanese U-boat and Q-ship (an armed ship disguised as
a merchant or fishing vessel and sometimes used as bait). The first of a
trilogy, Beach's novel set the bar for Bucheim and Clancy. Cassell,
92 Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of
the Globe (2003) Laurence Bergreen. In 1519, Magellan leaves Spain to
seek out a western route to the Spice Islands. He quells a high-level
mutiny, then brilliantly navigates the glacial Tierra del Fuego strait
that now bears his name. (How? By tasting the seawater—fresh water
leading inland, salty water to the Pacific.) He comes to grief in the
Philippines after violating two cardinal sins of first contact: he takes
a side in an interisland quarrel and converts the natives to his
religion. In the end, only one of five ships and 18 of 260 men straggle
back to Spain. Still, they circumnavigated the globe, a feat not
repeated for half a century. Harper Perennial.
93 Lord Cochrane: Seaman, Radical, Liberator (1947) Christopher Lloyd.
Cochrane was to the single-ship action what Nelson was to fleet
battle—courageous, daring, ingenious. Marryat served under Cochrane, and
O'Brian's Aubrey was in part inspired by him. A Royal Naval College don,
Lloyd paints a concise and engaging portrait that suits Cochrane, a
master of the ruse de guerre who never backed down from a fight. Out of
94 Fastnet, Force 10: The Deadliest Storm in the History of Modern
Sailing (1979) John Rousmaniere. The first racing book to chronicle the
tragedy that ensues when dozens of racers are caught unawares in
hurricane gales. In 1978, 303 boats sail from the Isle of Wight to
Fastnet Lighthouse and back. Fifteen racers die. Rousmaniere is at his
best when he humanely weighs and balances the blame that is tossed
around all too easily, speaking ultimately to the noble spirit of all
sailors. Norton, 2000.
95 In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the
Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors (2003) Doug Stanton. Using
firsthand accounts, Stanton tells the true story of one of the worst
disasters in U.S. naval history. After delivering the uranium that would
end World War II to Guam, the USS Indianapolis sails to Leyte. Despite
assurances of safe waters, she takes a Japanese torpedo and sinks so
fast that she can transmit only one SOS. Tragically, because the enemy
habitually sends out false SOSs, naval operators ignore unconfirmed
signals. The loss of the Indianapolis goes unnoticed for days, and
sharks and the elements whittle the number of survivors from 1,200 to
300 men. Owl Books.
96 Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before
(2002) Tony Horwitz. Don't feel like wading through the hundreds of
pages of Cook's journals yourself? Grab a beer and do it with journalist
Tony Horwitz. He's the perfect guide, briskly sharing all the important
and juicy bits of Cook's adventures while following in his wake (and
footsteps) from Alaska to Australia. The ultimate in armchair traveling.
97 Delilah: A Novel about a U.S. Navy Destroyer and the Epic Struggles
of Her Crew (1941) Marcus Goodrich. By the author of the original
treatment of It's a Wonderful Life,a navy veteran of World Wars I and
II, and—if that's not enough—the husband (briefly) of Olivia De
Havilland, this novel chronicles the life of the eponymous U.S. Navy
destroyer in the Philippines just prior to World War I. This complex
work, sometimes dark, sometimes humorous, driven by the relationships of
the crew, builds to a riveting finale. It was meant to have a sequel,
but the nearly completed manuscript seems to have been lost. Lyons
98 The Sea Wolf (1904) Jack London. Sealer captain Wolf Larsen is a bold
vision of man's true nature run amok. When Humphrey von Weydon finds his
way on board Larson's sealer Ghost, bound for the Bering Strait, the two
men become entangled in a struggle for von Weydon's soul. Eventually,
stranded on an Alaskan rookery, they battle for command of the Ghost and
control of their fates.
99 All Brave Sailors: The Sinking of the Anglo Saxon, 1940 (2004) J.
Revell Carr. Carr chronicles the abrupt sinking of the 426-foot British
merchant vessel Anglo-Saxon by the German raider Widder, a converted
merchant ship, in 1940. Only seven men make it into a jolly boat, where
two survive 70 days at sea. The Widder's captain, Hellmuth von
Ruckteshell, was charged with war crimes during both world wars for
ignoring survivors at sea. Simon & Schuster.
100 Island of the Blue Dolphins (1964) Scott O'Dell. This award-winning
children's book tells the true story of an Indian girl marooned on an
island off California. At the mercy of the elements and the sea that
surrounds her, Karana battles wild dogs, hunts sea elephants, explores a
cave of her ancestors in a canoe, and weathers a tsunami. Succumb to the
spare beauty of O'Dell's prose and take heed of the patience and
perseverance Karana musters to survive.
101 Jaws (1974) Peter Benchley. The book that sparked Steven Spielberg's
filmmaking career is still a terrific read. Essentially a retelling of
Melville's Moby-Dick, Benchley's novel pits the town of Amity against a
great white shark, and the 5,000-pound shark steals the show. Benchley's
in-depth research on the fish that never sleeps is as terrifying as it