While the disaster makes for some spellbinding reading, Knecht’s treatment of what prompted the sailors to take to the seas...



An account of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race debacle, this one focusing on three of the participants, from Wall Street Journal correspondent Knecht.

Anyone who sails across the Bass Strait from Sydney, Australia, to Hobart, Tasmania, will come up against some of the nastiest blue water on the globe. The annual race that has run this course for the last half-century is famously plagued by particularly cruel weather that comes in intervals of seven years—and 1998 lived up to its seventh-year billing by throwing the worst storm ever upon the contestants. Severe storm warnings were posted before and during the early hours of the event, but no one expected the 100-foot waves brought about by a handful of mad and convergent weather systems. Knecht concentrates the first half of his account on three of the participants (all of great wealth) who flew in the face of danger: Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle), Rob Kothe (a manufacturer of lifeline-throwing guns), and retailer Richard Winning. Although the author suggests that the men were variously “motivated by a kind of deeply rooted ambition that would never be satisfied,” possessed of an “abiding hunger for the kind of glory that winning the Hobart could bring,” or gnawed by a “sense that he was part of a generation that has never faced the kind of challenges that men should,” none of the reasons adequately explains why they would tempt such horrid fate (since the Bass Strait’s reputation was notorious). More commanding is Knecht’s handling of the storm-lashed hours at sea, as the crews of the three boats were pounded mercilessly—sailors were lost on both the Kothe and the Winning boats—while the heroic search-and-rescue squads pulled the lucky ones to safety.

While the disaster makes for some spellbinding reading, Knecht’s treatment of what prompted the sailors to take to the seas not only falls short, it falls prey to their macho swagger: “Such is love,” he quips of their mortally reckless behavior. (8 pp. b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: June 6, 2001

ISBN: 0-316-49955-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2001

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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.


A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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