Category Archives: Maritime
For a reason that I don’t quite understand my agnostic, science loving, computer geek of a father really loved the “Aubrey-Maturin” series of novels. It seemed quite out of character for him. He liked history, but more from a reasoned approach, as a way to understand how past solutions could be applied to modern problems. Reading a rip-roaring historical yarn really just never seemed like his style. Anyway, before he passed away three years ago, knowing of my love of history, he passed along his collection to me. I just finished reading the first of this 20 book series, Master and Commander.
The “Aubrey-Maturin” series is a sequence of twenty novels that take place during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) and centers on the friendship between Captain Jack Aubrey of the British Royal Navy and his ship’s surgeon Stephen Maturin, an Irish born doctor and naturalist. This is the series the excellent Russell Crowe movie, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, is based on. The first book in the series Master and Commander introduces us to the two characters, goes through their initial meeting and how they came to serve aboard Captain Aubrey’s first command the HMS Sophie, and fleshes out their back stories and personalities. And then…high adventure!!
‘Nuff said on the plot…as usual I don’t want to ruin it for anyone that hasn’t read the book.
After getting through about 20% of the book I began to understand what my Dad saw in them. The level of detail is incredible, especially the minutiae of running a naval ship in the early 19th century including extremely detailed descriptions of every part of the ship, its rigging and sails, its configuration and how it propelled itself. My Dad had the kind of mind that could take in this information and retain it which I am sure enhanced his enjoyment of these books. For me however it was kind of tedious. There is no way I can keep up with that much new information without either constantly looking it up to refresh my memory or just letting it flow by assuming the momentum of the story would carry me through. I chose the latter option which worked well in this case, as in the second half of the novel, having gotten through all of the preliminary description of the characters and naval jargon, it finally transformed into the adventure I had anticipated. So, by the end I had really gotten into it.
The reputation of the these novels as literature is quite high, with many comparing the author, Patrick O’Brian, to Jane Austen and C.S. Forrester. I can see why. The writing is superb, character descriptions are very vivid, and the arc of the story really compelling. I will definitely be reading more of these as time goes on!! Highly recommended!
More great beach reading from Nathaniel Philbrick. This time he tackles a now mostly forgotten expedition known as the United States Exploring Expedition (or US. Ex. Ex.) which took place between 1838 and 1842. Led by Lieutenant Charles Wilkes the expedition consisted of six ships whose charge was to explore and survey the Pacific Ocean. Consisting of Navy officers and seaman, and a corps of scientists, the expedition was one of the most successful in terms of discovery, in American history. Included among its many accomplishments are the charting of the coastline of Antarctica for the first time, becoming the first expedition to reach and map the Fiji islands, charting the area surrounding the Columbia River in Oregon whose ownership was a matter of dispute between Great Britain and the United States, climbing both the Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanoes in Hawaii, and by providing the first accurate explanations for the formation of the coral atolls that dot the South Pacific. They encountered numerous indigenous peoples throughout their journey, and cataloged and took samples of enough flora and fauna to fill a museum, and indeed it was one of the first collections added to the new Smithsonian Institution. Despite this enviable record of success however the expedition is all but forgotten now.
Philbrick’s purpose for the book is twofold; first to bring the accomplishments of this expedition back into the U.S. canon of human exploration, and second, to provide a narrative that explains why it’s accomplishments have been so overlooked. The expedition itself had adventures worthy of anything one might find in a Jules Verne, Rudyard Kipling or Daniel Defoe novel – including angry cannibals. All of this is expertly dealt with by Philbrick whose writing is always clear and compelling. He brings something else to this work though, something that I thought was a bit lacking in his other books, and that is a real talent for illuminating the personalities of those involved in the events he describes. This is fortuitous as it was these personalities that were at the root of the expeditions later obscurity. I’m not going to go further than that because I don’t want to accidentally reveal any spoilers, for while this is primarily a book of history, it reads like a great adventure!
Really excellent beach reading. A story that I had never heard of before, but which was a sensation at the time. It is the story of the Arctic Polar Expedition launched in 1879 aboard the U.S.S. Jeanette commanded by George DeLong (who the DeLong archipelago in the arctic sea is named after). The expedition was launched at a time when theories about what the North Pole contained were varied and usually ill informed. The predominant theory was that the pole was surrounded by a girdle of ice, but itself was open water, and may even be warm…by some theories tropically warm.
Previous attempts at reaching the pole had failed. All had tried to reach it by creeping up the coast of Greenland. Ice inevitably stopped these expeditions. This new attempt would try to reach it via the Bering Strait based on a theory that a warm current of water known as the Kuro-Siwa drove far enough north to weaken the ice pack and provide an open water route to the pole. What happened to the crew of the USS Jeanette is extraordinary – and I am not going to relate it here because I do not want to ruin it.
It reads like a Jack London novel on steroids!
If you are off to the beach this year and looking for something to wile away your time…bring this book. And no doubt, Hollywood will want to get in on the act as I cannot imagine a better story for the big screen!
Listened to the unabridged version of this using my new audible.com membership.
True story of the incident on which Herman Melville based Moby Dick. The story of the Essex which was rammed and sunk by a Sperm Whale in the south Pacific, and how the survivors attempted to make their way back to civilization. Unbelievable what human beings are capable of in extreme necessity.
I won’t give away the details for those that aren’t familiar with the story.
Philbrick is an excellent writer, and he has done his research here, filling in a lot more detail than a less attentive writer might have.
I understand Ron Howard is making a movie of this which I look forward to now that I have read/listened to the book!