The experience of being caught at sea in the maw of a "perfect'' storm (that is, one formed of an almost unique combination of factors), a monstrous tempest that couldn't get any worse, is spellbindingly captured by Junger, a journalist. It's late October 1991, and the Andrea Gail, a fishing boat out of Gloucester, Mass., is making its way home from the Grand Banks with a crew of six, 40,000 pounds of swordfish, and a short market promising big returns. Coming to meet the boat is a hurricane off Bermuda, a cold front coming down from the Canadian Shield, and a storm brewing over the Great Lakes. Things get ugly quickly, unexpectedly. The Andrea Gail is never seen again, lost to 100-foot waves and winds topping 120 miles per hour. Junger builds his story around the vessel; he starts with biographies of the deckhands and the captain, and gives as complete an account of the boat's time at sea as he can dredge up, so readers feel an immediate stake in its fate. Since it is unknown exactly how the Andrea Gail sank, and because Junger wanted to know what it was like for the men during their last hours, he details the horrific tribulations of a sailboat caught in the storm, the rescue of the three aboard it by the Coast Guard, and the ditching of an Air National Guard helicopter after it ran out of fuel during another rescue operation. Junger's fine dramatic style is complemented by a wealth of details that flesh out the story: wave physics and water thermoclines; what it means if you see whitewater outside your porthole; where the terms mayday, ill-wind, and down East came from. Reading this gripping book is likely to make the would-be sailor feel both awed and a little frightened by nature's remorseless power.