Synopses & Reviews
A masterful biographer now offers a thrilling, definitive portrait of one of history's most legendary icons of adventure.
In 1860, sixteen-year-old Joshua Slocum escaped a hardscrabble childhood in Nova Scotia by signing on as an ordinary seaman to a merchant ship bound for Dublin. Despite having only a third-grade education, Slocum rose through the nautical ranks at a mercurial pace; just a decade later he was commander of his own ship. His subsequent journeys took him nearly everywhere: Liverpool, China, Japan, Cape Horn, the Dutch East Indies, Manila, Hong Kong, Saigon, Singapore, San Francisco, and Australia — where he met and married his first wife, Virginia, who would sail along with him for the rest of her life, bearing and raising their children at sea. He commanded eight vessels and owned four, enduring hurricanes, shipwrecks, pirate attacks, cholera, smallpox, a mutiny, and the death of his wife and three of his children. Yet his ultimate adventure and crowning glory was still to come.
In 1895 Slocum set sail from Gloucester, Massachusetts — by himself — in the Spray, a small sloop of thirty-seven feet. More than three years and forty-six thousand miles later, he became the first man to circumnavigate the globe solo, a feat that wouldn't be replicated until 1925. His account of that voyage, Sailing Alone Around the World, soon made him internationally famous. He met President Theodore Roosevelt on several occasions and became a presence on the lecture circuit, selling his sea-saga books whenever and wherever he could. But scandal soon followed, and a decade later, with his finances failing, he set off alone once more — and was never seen again.
Geoffrey Wolff captures this singular life and its flamboyant times — from the Golden Age of Sail to a shockingly different new century — in vivid, fascinating detail.
"In Wolff's (Edge of Maine) biographical sketch of Joshua Slocum, a 19th-century mariner explorer and entrepreneur, accounts of Slocum's bold exploits abound, and abound, and abound. After a rigid and dreary childhood, Slocum applied his substantial engineering genius to a capricious, boat-dwelling lifestyle. 'Again and again, when Slocum found himself in a fix he would boat-build his escape.' According to Wolff, who all but deifies his subject, Slocum was a 'carpe-diem kind of fellow... remarkable even in such a carpe-diem period in our carpe-diem country's history.' He was a calculating gambling man with economic savoir faire, an awareness of the world, and a lucky-streak as wide as his wake. Ultimately, however, despite his resourcefulness, courage, and cunning, it's difficult to ignore his personal shortcomings; Wolff cannot write around Slocum's arrogance and general unpleasantness as a man. Nor can Wolff write himself out of a dull portrayal of his subject, and his biography often reads more like a reference book for turn-of-the-century folly. While Wolff may succeed in inspiring a spirit of adventure in some, it's hard to imagine him not alienating others.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved." Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"Exhilarating...A rewarding tale of life on the high seas." Kirkus Reviews
"Hugely entertaining and informative. In an era of teenage sailors routinely circumnavigating the world within a safety net of satellite phones, GPS navigation, emergency call beacons and corporate sponsorship, Wolff skillfully illuminates, celebrates and further burnishes the eccentric life and legacy of Joshua Slocum -- master of tall ships and The North Star of solo travelers." Eric Hansen
"As one would expect from Geoffrey Wolff, The Hard Way Around is an engrossing and energetically written life of a very tricky and complex character. Slocum has at last met, in the author of The Duke of Deception, the biographer he has long deserved." Jonathan Raban
Joshua Slocum escaped a Dickensian childhood in Nova Scotia in 1860 by becoming, at the age of 16, an ordinary seaman. In 1895 he set sail — by himself — in the small sloop Spray, becoming the first man to circumnavigate the globe solo.
A masterful biographer now gives us a thrilling, definitive portrait of the most legendary icon of adventure.
Joshua Slocum escaped a Dickensian childhood in Nova Scotia in 1860, at the age of sixteen, as an ordinary seaman. Despite his third-grade education, Slocum’s rise through the ranks was mercurial: just a decade later he was commander of his own ship, the first of many. His journey had already taken him nearly everywhere — Asia, South America, Australia — and through hurricanes, shipwrecks, pirate attacks, cholera, two marriages, and seven children.
But his crowning glory was yet to come. In 1895 he set sail — by himself — in the small sloop Spray. More than three years and forty-six thousand miles later, he became the first man to circumnavigate the globe solo, a feat that wouldn’t be replicated for another quarter century. His account of that voyage, Sailing Alone Around the World, soon made him famous. A decade later, he set off alone once more — and was lost at sea.
Wolff captures this singular life and its flamboyant times so vividly that readers with any historical imagination are sure to be swept away.
About the Author
An acclaimed novelist, essayist, biographer, and critic, Geoffrey Wolff is a prominent voice in contemporary American literature. Educated at Cambridge and at Princeton, from which he graduated summa cum laude, he is Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine, where he was the Director of the Graduate Fiction Program from 1995 to 2006. Previously, he served on the faculties of Istanbul University and Princeton University and has been a book editor at the Washington Post and Newsweek. He is the author of six novels, including The Age of Consent, set in a close-knit utopian community in upstate New York, and The Final Club, about secretive social networks at Princeton. His nonfiction books include Black Sun, on the short-lived avant-garde poet Harry Crosby; The Art of Burning Bridges: A Life of John O'Hara, a literary biography of the American fiction writer; The Duke of Deception, a memoir that was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize; The Edge of Maine, a rich portrayal of the salty, sea-pounded, and seasonally gentrified Maine coast; and The Hard Way Around: The Passages of Joshua Slocum, a biography of the legendary icon of adventure. He received the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1994 and his honors also include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. During 2007, he was a Fellow of the American Academy in Berlin. He lives in Bath, Maine with his family.