Take to the Seas!

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Take to the Seas!

Nautical Novels & Nonfiction

They say that the sea is a cruel mistress, harsh and fickle. But she is also alluring, holding a beautiful, spellbinding power over many of us that can define entire lives, communities and even empires. Whether you like to keep a respectful distance from the shore or dive headfirst under the waves, it’s hard to deny the power of a good sea song. Below are a few titles that capture the mystery, danger, and grandeur of the ocean, from heart-wrenching to historical, fact to fantasy.
 
On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers
 Aboard the Vociferous Carmichael, puppeteer John Chandagnac is sailing toward Jamaica to claim his stolen birthright from an unscrupulous uncle when the vessel is seized by pirates. Offered a choice by Captain Phil Davies to join their seafaring band or die, Chandagnac assumes the name John Shandy and a new life as a brigand. But more than swashbuckling sea battles and fabulous plunder await the novice buccaneer on the rolling Caribbean waters. Treachery and powerful vodun sorcery are coins of the realm in this dark new world. And for the love of beautiful, magically imperiled Beth Hurwood, Shandy will set sail on even stranger tides, following the savage, ghost-infested pirate king Blackbeard and a motley crew of the living and the dead to the cursed nightmare banks of the fabled Fountain of Youth. Drawing on Caribbean lore and complete with well-rendered action scenes, clever twists, and surprising musings on matters like European colonialism and what it means to be an outcast, On Stranger Tides, the inspiration for the fourth film in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, is perfect for adventure and fantasy fans, or anyone who knows, deep down, that it can be dangerous to ask the sea to give up all her secrets…
 
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
In the Heart of the Sea brings to new life the incredible true story of the wreck of the whaleship Essex - an event as mythic in its own century as the Titanic disaster, and the inspiration for the climax of Moby-Dick. In 1820, the 240-ton Essex set sail from Nantucket on a routine voyage for whales. Fifteen months later, in the farthest reaches of the South Pacific, it was repeatedly rammed and sunk by an eighty-ton bull sperm whale. Its twenty-man crew, fearing cannibals on the islands to the west, made for the 3,000-mile-distant coast of South America in three tiny boats. During 90 days at sea under horrendous conditions, the survivors clung to life as one by one, they succumbed to hunger, thirst, disease and fear. At once a literary companion and a page-turner that speaks to the issues of class, race, and man's relationship to nature that permeate the works of Melville, In the Heart of the Sea tells is an account of ordinary men undergoing an extraordinary ordeal, and a detailed portrait of the lost, unique community of Nantucket whalers. Impeccably researched and beautifully told, the book delivers the ultimate portrait of man against nature, drawing on a remarkable range of archival and modern sources, including a long-lost account by the ship's cabin boy.
 
Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
It is the 1800s. Admiral Nelson leads the British Navy against Napoleon Bonaparte's France. Captain Jack Aubrey, newly promoted to command the old, slow HMS Sophie, is a brave and gifted seaman, his thirst for adventure and victory immense. Aided by friend and skilled ship surgeon and intelligence agent Stephen Maturin, Aubrey and his crew win clashes and speed towards danger with equal parts bravery and stupidity. Rendered in great detail, O’Brian’s novel is the first in a series following the duo of Aubrey and Maturin as they navigate life in Nelson’s Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Everything is vivid, precise, and engaging, from the difference in conversational idiom between the officers and the crew to the roar of the broadsides as great ships clash with one another in battle. This and two other novels in the series were adapted into the 2003 Oscar-winning Peter Weir film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World starring Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany.
 
Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans by James Stavridis
From one of the most admired admirals of his generation--and the only admiral to serve as Supreme Allied Commander at NATO--comes a remarkable voyage through all of the world's most important bodies of water, providing the story of naval power as a driver of human history and a crucial element in our current geopolitical path. From the time of the Greeks and the Persians clashing in the Mediterranean, sea power has determined world power. To an extent that is often underappreciated, it still does. Sea Power is both marvelous naval history, providing fresh insight into great naval engagements from the battle of Salamis through to the submarine conflicts of the Cold War, and a keen-eyed reckoning with the likely sites of our next major naval conflicts, particularly the Arctic Ocean, Eastern Mediterranean, and the South China Sea. Stavridis takes us with him on a tour of the world's oceans from the admiral's chair, showing us how the geography of the oceans has shaped the destiny of nations, and how naval power has in a real sense made the world we live in today, and will shape the world we live in tomorrow.
 
The Rathbones by Janice Clark
Moses, the revered patriarch of the Rathbone family, possessed an otherworldly instinct for spotting the whale. But years of bad decisions by the heirs to his fortune have whittled his formerly robust family down to just one surviving member: Mercy, a girl of fifteen, left to live in the broken-down ancestral mansion that at one time had glowed golden with the spoils of the hunt. Her father, the last in the dynasty of New England whalers, has been lost at sea for seven years-ever since the last sperm whale was seen off the coast of Naiwayonk, Connecticut. Mercy's memories of her father and of the time before he left grow dimmer each day, and she spends most of her time in the attic hideaway of her reclusive Uncle Mordecai, who teaches her the secrets of Greek history and navigation through his collection of moldering books. But when a strange, violent visitor turns up one night on the widow's walk, Mercy and Mordecai are forced to flee the house and set sail on a journey that will bring them deep into the haunted history of the Rathbone family. A literary adventure set in New England, The Rathbones chronicles one hundred years of a once prosperous seafaring dynasty with beautifully detailed descriptions of the realities of coastal and ship life that will make even the staunchest landlubbers yearn for salty sea air.
 
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner sailed out of New York bound for Liverpool carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship - the fastest then in service - could outrun any threat. Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit covertly tracked German U-boats. As the Germans and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small - hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more--all converged to produce one of the greatest disasters of history. It is a story that many of us think we know but don't, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour, mystery, and real-life suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters and captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a catastrophe that helped place America on the road to war.