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Lifeboatby John R. Stilgoe
Synopses & Reviews
Lifeboat is a fascinating and meticulously researched work to be enjoyed by seafarers and history buffs alike. — Linda Greenlaw, author of The Lobster Chronicles and T he Hungry Ocean
Stilgoe has written a book that examines situations of such fear, despair, physical danger, and mental torment as most healthy minds cannot imagine. In so doing he shows us our reflection in a cruel sea; the image seldom flatters. — International Journal of Maritime History
Lifeboat is a majestic, prodigious, mighty book. — John Casey, National Book Award--winning author of Spartina
The author takes his readers (whether couch-anchored or ready to strain at the oar) on a magnificent voyage of discovery.... Stilgoe presents a virtual encyclopedia of incidents and actors skillfully integrated into the hows, whys, and responsibilities of disaster, rescue, or loss. Stirring tales crowd the pages; writers from Conrad, R. L. Stevenson, Nordhoff and Hall, Tomlinson, and Villiers through to the moderns are appositely quoted, while Stilgoe's deft introduction of forgotten classics — some feeding the morbid reader's taste for cannibalism (passengers are eaten first) — is of lasting value. Previously neglected historical and geographical information abounds; arcana such as U-boat etiquette for ship-sinking and survivor-treatment are also presented. — ForeWord
John Stilgoe has taken one of his passions and transformed it into a solid piece of scholarship that is bound to enlighten and engage readers.... Through his copious references and brief tellings of many stories, he] has not only whetted our appetites but has also given us the information we need to satisfy thoseappetites. — J. Revell Carr, WoodenBoat Review
Woven through Lifeboat are good old-fashioned yarns, thrilling tales of adventure that will quicken the pulse of readers who have enjoyed the novels of Patrick O'Brian, Crabwalk by Gnter Grass, or works of nonfiction such as The Perfect Storm and In the Heart of the Sea. But Stilgoe, whose other works have plumbed suburban culture, locomotives, and the shore, is ultimately after bigger fish. Through the humble, much-ignored lifeboat, its design and navigation and the stories of its ultimate purpose, he has found a peculiar lens on roughly the past two centuries of human history, particularly the war-tossed, technology-driven history of man and the sea.
John R. Stilgoe, Robert and Lois Orchard Professor in the History of Landscape at Harvard University, is the author of numerous books, including Outside Lies Magic, Alongshore, and Landscapes and Images (Virginia). He lives on the coast of Massachusetts, where he sails a ship's lifeboat from Newfoundland, built in 1935.
The fire extinguisher; the airline safety card; the lifeboat. Until September 11, 2001, most Americans paid homage to these appurtenances of disaster with a sidelong glance, if at all. But John Stilgoe has been thinking about lifeboats ever since he listened with his father as the kitchen radio announced that the liner Lakonia had caught fire and sunk in the Atlantic. It was Christmas 1963, and airline travel and Cold War paranoia had made the images of an ocean liner's distress--the air force dropping supplies in the dark, a freighter collecting survivors from lifeboats--seem like echoes of a bygone era.
But Stilgoe, already a passionate reader and an aficionado of small-boat navigation, began to delve into accounts of other disasters at sea. What he found was a trunkful of hair-raising stories--of shipwreck, salvation, seamanship brilliant and inept, noble sacrifice, insanity, cannibalism, courage and cravenness, even scandal. In nonfiction accounts and in the works of Conrad, Melville, and Tomlinson, fear and survival animate and degrade human nature, in the microcosm of an open boat as in society at large.
How lifeboats are made, rigged, and captained, Stilgoe discovered, and how accounts of their use or misuse are put down, says much about the culture and circumstances from which they are launched. In the hands of a skillful historian such as Stilgoe, the lifeboat becomes a symbol of human optimism, of engineering ingenuity, of bureaucratic regulation, of fear and frailty. Woven through Lifeboat are good old-fashioned yarns, thrilling tales of adventure that will quicken the pulse of readers who have enjoyed the novels of Patrick O'Brian, Crabwalk by Gunter Grass, or works of nonfiction such as The Perfect Storm and In the Heart of the Sea. But Stilgoe, whose other works have plumbed suburban culture, locomotives, and the shore, is ultimately after bigger fish. Through the humble, much-ignored lifeboat, its design and navigation and the stories of its ultimate purpose, he has found a peculiar lens on roughly the past two centuries of human history, particularly the war-tossed, technology-driven history of man and the sea.
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