A fascinating and engrossing nose dive into the underreported depths of nautical insanity.




How and why the sea has historically plagued those who work and play in its waves.

British journalist and avid sailor Compton’s (The Shipping Forecast: A Miscellany, 2016) affinity for the sea is evident throughout his engrossing exploration of the hypnotic and mentally altering effects of the world’s oceans. In 1941, his father, a Royal Navy lieutenant commander, was thrown from a torpedoed boat, and his fight for survival would psychologically haunt him for decades. It is this very terror and the “distorting lens of the sea” that fuels Compton’s passionate maritime scrutiny. He escorts readers along a globe-trotting tour of some of history’s most menacing bodies of water and the men and women who found themselves at the mercy of a host of bizarre illusions. The author scours the nautical histories of the Strait of Magellan at the dawn of the British Empire; a ship’s log notes disorientation, scurvy, suicide, and madness. Compton also looks at the phenomena of calenture first observed by Spanish sailors in the 17th century, and he explores the suppressed bipolar symptoms of Christopher Columbus and William Bligh in chapters that plumb the depths of psychosis at sea. Other true tales describe shipwreck survivors adrift on the open sea who desperately succumb to cannibalism to survive, as well as the physical effects of seawater ingestion, which virtually guarantees delirium, dehydration, and certain death. Elsewhere, solitary sailors fall prey not to storms or disease but “isolation and loneliness.” These historical incidents also carried with them the enduring social stigma of mental illness, and Compton intermittently addresses this issue while speculating on the true root causes of these “sea-induced frenzies.” Though relaxation and thalassotherapy are just a few of the touted benefits of oceanic waters, the author captures their unsavory capacity to haunt and perplex: “the sea has a lobsterpot full of tricks and illusions to confuse and beguile even the most rational 21st-century sailor.”

A fascinating and engrossing nose dive into the underreported depths of nautical insanity.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4729-4112-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Adlard Coles Nautical/Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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