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A tale skillfully teased out of the vaults and made vivid by an artful narrative.

An archival deep dive into the last days of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Polymath Rooks, a two-time Jeopardy! champion who has degrees in theater, law, and library science, turns her prodigious research skills to what amounts to a historical footnote to hundreds of years of human misery—though this footnote is well worth a close look. Toward the end of Britain’s involvement in the slave trade, during which the nation “shipped approximately 3.1 million enslaved Africans to ports scattered throughout the Americas,” the Admiralty allowed British seafarers to seize slave ships and return their human cargo to Freetown, in Sierra Leone. If the captain of the slave ship were convicted, the ships became booty, and the enslaved people aboard would be freed. Rooks looks closely at one ship, the Henriqueta, which had brought thousands of enslaved people to Brazil. Seized in midjourney, the fast-running ship became the Black Joke, with a taunt in its very name, which went on to seize another dozen slave ships in its time. This was perilous work, as Rooks shows, involving dangerous weapons and disease, and freedom in Sierra Leone wasn’t really freedom at all. “The newly liberated Africans became British,” she writes, “whether they wanted to or not, and the adults were given three options—they could become ‘free apprentices in the West Indies,’ join a segregated regiment of troops, or settle on one of the estates bordering Freetown.” In any instance, the people were still in servitude, whether fighting Britain’s wars or harvesting sugar cane in the Caribbean. Rooks lauds the anti-slavery sentiments of the British sailors, albeit driven by self-interest, for exhibiting the “political will to do the right, hard thing,” though it took decades for Britain to take full account and make restitution.

A tale skillfully teased out of the vaults and made vivid by an artful narrative.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-982128-26-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2022

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Gibbins combines historical knowledge with a sense of adventure, making this book a highly enjoyable package.

A popular novelist turns his hand to historical writing, focusing on what shipwrecks can tell us.

There’s something inherently romantic about shipwrecks: the mystery, the drama of disaster, the prospect of lost treasure. Gibbins, who’s found acclaim as an author of historical fiction, has long been fascinated with them, and his expertise in both archaeology and diving provides a tone of solid authority to his latest book. The author has personally dived on more than half the wrecks discussed in the book; for the other cases, he draws on historical records and accounts. “Wrecks offer special access to history at all…levels,” he writes. “Unlike many archaeological sites, a wreck represents a single event in which most of the objects were in use at that time and can often be closely dated. What might seem hazy in other evidence can be sharply defined, pointing the way to fresh insights.” Gibbins covers a wide variety of cases, including wrecks dating from classical times; a ship torpedoed during World War II; a Viking longship; a ship of Arab origin that foundered in Indonesian waters in the ninth century; the Mary Rose, the flagship of the navy of Henry VIII; and an Arctic exploring vessel, the Terror (for more on that ship, read Paul Watson’s Ice Ghost). Underwater excavation often produces valuable artifacts, but Gibbins is equally interested in the material that reveals the society of the time. He does an excellent job of placing each wreck within a broader context, as well as examining the human elements of the story. The result is a book that will appeal to readers with an interest in maritime history and who would enjoy a different, and enlightening, perspective.

Gibbins combines historical knowledge with a sense of adventure, making this book a highly enjoyable package.

Pub Date: April 2, 2024

ISBN: 9781250325372

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2024

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A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

A harrowing expedition to Antarctica, recounted by Departures senior features editor Sancton, who has reported from every continent on the planet.

On Aug. 16, 1897, the steam whaler Belgica set off from Belgium with young  Adrien de Gerlache as commandant. Thus begins Sancton’s riveting history of exploration, ingenuity, and survival. The commandant’s inexperienced, often unruly crew, half non-Belgian, included scientists, a rookie engineer, and first mate Roald Amundsen, who would later become a celebrated polar explorer. After loading a half ton of explosive tonite, the ship set sail with 23 crew members and two cats. In Rio de Janeiro, they were joined by Dr. Frederick Cook, a young, shameless huckster who had accompanied Robert Peary as a surgeon and ethnologist on an expedition to northern Greenland. In Punta Arenas, four seamen were removed for insubordination, and rats snuck onboard. In Tierra del Fuego, the ship ran aground for a while. Sancton evokes a calm anxiety as he chronicles the ship’s journey south. On Jan. 19, 1898, near the South Shetland Islands, the crew spotted the first icebergs. Rough waves swept someone overboard. Days later, they saw Antarctica in the distance. Glory was “finally within reach.” The author describes the discovery and naming of new lands and the work of the scientists gathering specimens. The ship continued through a perilous, ice-littered sea, as the commandant was anxious to reach a record-setting latitude. On March 6, the Belgica became icebound. The crew did everything they could to prepare for a dark, below-freezing winter, but they were wracked with despair, suffering headaches, insomnia, dizziness, and later, madness—all vividly capture by Sancton. The sun returned on July 22, and by March 1899, they were able to escape the ice. With a cast of intriguing characters and drama galore, this history reads like fiction and will thrill fans of Endurance and In the Kingdom of Ice.

A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984824-33-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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