An engrossing tale for anyone familiar with sailing jargon—as well as tolerant of adolescent introspection from an author...

Memoir combining travelogue, adventure, and soul-searching, from the oldest American woman to circumnavigate the globe under single-handed sail.

Why did she do it? If you've failed dismally in business and in relationships with a father, two husbands, and two daughters, what's left but to buy a 31-foot sailboat and set off all by yourself across the Pacific? Henry was 48 years old when she raised sail in Acapulco in 1989. On the voyage’s first leg, she made it to Tahiti through squalls, a failing battery, and close encounters with ocean liners, arriving with three dollars in her pocket. She replenished her purse with checks in the mail from friends and family and by selling miniature paintings of ships and ports-of-call to fellow boaters and locals. Next, she survived huge storms that nearly swamped the boat to anchor in New Zealand, again down to her last few dollars. Months running an art gallery replenished her purse, although hoped-for romance foundered on a vacation sail with a newfound Kiwi boyfriend. This pattern continued for the next seven years: confounded romance, desperate money problems from port to port, and uncomfortable proximity to reefs, rocks, and storms overcome through hard work, nautical skills, and a great deal of luck. Her course took her to Australia, Bali, Singapore, through the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, across the Atlantic and through the Panama Canal before she returned to her Mexican port of origin eight years later. As she describes her adventures, with no help given to those who don’t know the difference between a “spinnaker” and a “headstay,” Henry beats herself up for her faults and failures, while the reader can only marvel at the courage, stamina, and occasional foolhardiness that brought her home again.

An engrossing tale for anyone familiar with sailing jargon—as well as tolerant of adolescent introspection from an author well over 50.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-07-135527-8

Page Count: 376

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2002


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. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020



A quirky wonder of a book.

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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