An engrossing, detailed read about a working life at sea.



Debut memoirist O’Neill went off to sea, did not look back and has a footlocker full of tales to tell.

O’Neill signed on as a cabin boy on a general purpose fishing boat in 1950 at the age of 13. For well over a half century as a merchant mariner, he worked on more than 80 different ships, from fishing boats to huge oil tankers, sailing the world and rising through the ranks. “Hither and yon” hardly covers it, as he would be ordered from a North Sea port to the Arabian Gulf, to India, to Taiwan and then to Brazil, New Orleans, Hong Kong and elsewhere, a shuttling described with a casual aplomb that may leave landlubbers agape. And the itinerary could always change since ships chase cargo. He was forever changing jobs, signing on with this or that company to keep out of a rut and learn new skills. Some of the companies were good, others shady corner-cutters. Sometimes, he found himself stranded in some god-awful corner of the world when the company went under. He describes: the technique used to break a few whisky bottles as they are being loaded and let the contents leak into one’s billycan; what it was like to have jellyfish parts rain down on you, an experience much worse than poison ivy; delivering jet fuel to Saigon in a jumbo tanker during the Vietnam War, “accompanied by warships and fast armed launches while helicopters kept watch overhead”;  and a disastrous attempt, in his own sailboat, to navigate the Grand Canal from Dublin to the River Shannon. His next jaunt, he surmises, will be “a comparatively quieter trip, to the upper reaches of the Amazon.” O’Neill is a competent writer, though no stylist. Almost every chapter begins “Then I signed on with...” and all but drowns us in detail—the ship’s registry, tonnage, engines and so forth. At times, he seems to see his audience as other merchant mariners, so a glossary of unfamiliar terms (“ro-ro,” “coamings,” “fidley”) would be welcome.

An engrossing, detailed read about a working life at sea.

Pub Date: March 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-1491895955

Page Count: 230

Publisher: AuthorHouseUK

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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