Dean King

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.

Charles Wilkes

82Sea 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.

84Isaac’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. Vintage.

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.

87The 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.

90The 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.

91Run 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, 2003.

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 print.

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.

96Blue 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. Picador.

97Delilah: 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 Press, 2000.

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.

A photograph of San Nicolas Island, where Juana Maria spent 18 years alone before she was discovered in 1853. Her storys is the basis of Island of the Blue Dolphins.

100Island 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.

101Jaws (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 is captivating.


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