Dean King

41The 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 Books, 2000.

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.

43The 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.

44The 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 House, 2003.

James Fenimore Cooper by John Wesley Jarvis

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.

49Captain 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.

The Battle of Trafalgar by J.M.W. Turner

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.

52Tom 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 print.

  "A round shot came through the head of the mainsail, grazing the mast, and the very next instant a bushel of grape, from one of the bow guns, a 32-pound carronade, was crashed in on us a-midships. I flung down the glass, and dived through the companion into the cabin—I am not ashamed to own it; and any man who would undervalue my courage in consequence, can never, taking into consideration the peculiarities of my situation, have known the appalling sound, or infernal effect of a discharge of grape. Round shot in broadsides is a joke to it; musketry is a joke to it; but only conjure up in your imagination, a shower of iron bullets, of the size of well-grown plums, to the number of from sixty to one hundred and twenty, taking effect within a circle, not above ten feet in diameter, and that all this time there was neither honour nor glory in the case, for I was a miserable captive, and I fancy I may save myself the trouble of farther enlargement."
—Michael Scott, Tom Cringle’s Log

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, 1999.

56The 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.

59The 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, 2005.


Crackerjack Sea Books: Intro & 1-20 | 21-40 | 41-60 | 61-80 | 81-101