Samuel Cunard, Isambard Brunel, and the Great Atlantic Steamships
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A lively, well-researched history of the race, technological and commercial, to send steam-powered vessels across the pond.

Canadian entrepreneur Samuel Cunard and British engineer Isambard Brunel independently recognized how difficult achieving such a goal would be, writes Fox (Big Leagues, 1994): the technology of steam-driven engines, introduced a generation before, was certainly perfectible and adaptable to the task, but the Atlantic Ocean posed its own challenges in the form of huge storms and swift currents; “the Atlantic to America,” Cunard remarked, “is the worst navigation in the world. The westerly winds prevail very much, and you have ice and fog to contend with.” Still, with the sweeping successes of the railroad and the fortunes it promised, both men labored endlessly, though with different approaches, to find the investors and equipment to make the passage possible. Brunel, who suffered from seasickness and never undertook an ocean voyage until the last year of his long life, introduced brute-force designs, with alloy hulls and screws to do Archimedes proud, that seem intended to cow the sea into submission, and his huge steam vessel, the Great Western, was the first to cross the waters in 1838; Cunard, more concerned with creature comforts and elegance, settled for second place in the race, but built a great fleet of ships that were the finest of their time. One fan of Cunard’s fleet was Mark Twain, who luxuriated aboard ships such as the Batavia on his world tours, but who was quick to shift loyalties when a competitor, the Inman Line, launched the still more elegant City of Chester in 1873. Though synonymous with ocean crossing, the Cunard Line fell into neglect with the death of Samuel and transfer of ownership to his uninterested sons. The company would make a memorable comeback, however, in the early 1900s with two magnificent ships—the Mauretania and her ill-fated sister, Lusitania.

Fine reading for an ocean cruise.

Pub Date: July 4th, 2003
ISBN: 0-06-019595-9
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2003


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