Adventures into the unknown: recommendations for books about oceanic and land-based exploration

I enjoyed the following non-fiction accounts of travel to remote places and recommend them to anyone looking for a good read. These books are ideal for long sea voyages! I have provided easy links to Amazon.com. Purchase via these links means a few pennies for OW and helps off-set my growing serve access costs. Any support is appreciated!

Cheers, Angus Wilson for Oceanwanderers.com



Captain Cook: A Legacy Under Fire by Vanessa Collingridge. (2002) 376 pages, Published by The Lyons Press (ISBN: 1585747254). Written by a British journalist, geographer and news anchor, this scholarly book presents a new take on the life of Captain James Cook. There is a fascinating description of the beginnings of his career, when he mapped the Gulf of St Lawrence and Newfoundland amid the war with France. I had not appreciated how much of a challenge this turned out to be and from it, one can understand why Cook (then a ship's master) came to the attention of the top ranks of the Admiralty. Doubtless it was his astonishing successes in Canada that led him to command the first voyage of discovery. The book tries to mesh a straightforward but well written biography of Cook with that of the author's distant cousin George Collingridge, who in the late 1880's claimed that the Portuguese had reached Australia first. It is clear that many parallel discoveries were made but masked by navigational inaccuracy and secrecy between ambitious and often warring European nations.

Overall the book could have done with better editing. The two parallel stories are intertwined in an awkward struggle and Collingridge's overly flowery prose tends to gets in the way of the narrative. Still the book is full of important insights and seems well researched. It provides a useful contrast to Horwitz's Blue Latitudes (see below) which was written around same time.



The Water in Between: A Journey at Sea by Kevin Patterson (2000) Published by Doubleday (ISBN: 0385498837; 0385498845). Broken hearted after a brief but doomed love affair, the young Patterson acts on a whim and buys a small sailing boat called the Sea Mouse. With almost no experience whatsoever, this bored and thoroughly miserable army doctor decides to sail from his home in Vancouver British Columbia to remote Tahiti in the south Pacific. He teams up with an equally depressed companion who is a much more experienced sailor and they set off! The writing is surprisingly good and there are some really beautiful passages. They survive storms and the squalor of modern Hawaii. A dedicated student of classic travel literature, the text is full of wonderful passages from other explorers including Slocum and Chatwin. This is more about self exploration and the art of great travel writing than matters of geography or natural history.



Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum First published in 1900, many reprints since. (ISBN: 0140437363; 3895084557; 0760719861). In 1895, Joshua Slocum set sail on his 36 foot sloop, Spray, from Boston on a voyage that was to take three years and earn him a place in history as the first man to navigate the globe single-handedly. He returned to Newport Rhode Island in 1898. Aged fifty-one, Slocum first crossed the Atlantic to Gibraltar before going across the Atlantic again to South America and through the Strait of Magellan. He crossed the Pacific to Australia and then rounded the Cape of Good Hope into the Atlantic for a third time. Finally in June of 1898 Slocum returned to New England. His personal account was first published in 1900 and is a very rich story, full of excitement and interesting people and places. For an 'old sea salt' he writes well. A true classic of sailing literature!



Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz. Published in October 2002 416 pages; Publisher: Henry Holt & Company, Inc. (ISBN: 0805065415).

In UK sold under the title, Into the Blue: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before Bloomsbury Press (ISBN: 0747560471).

I really enjoyed this one and to my mind it is the best travel/historical account by Tony Horwitz so far. The book describes his own personal journey to discover the real Captain James Cook. Who was the mysterious navigator? What impact did his arrival have on the native people he 'discovered'? Horwitz travels to many of the locations visited by Cook during his three amazing voyages of discovery and uses his skills as a savvy investigative journalist to discover the lasting effects of Cook's tours. The chapters on the central Pacific islands of Niue and Tahiti were superb.

Horwitz has a deep felt and genuine admiration for Cook and his views evolve and mature during the course of the book. Sometimes the writing is side-splittingly funny, and at other times reflective even melancholic. The pace is excellent and is without the feeling of inevitability that I had reading his earlier One for the Road.  I found it impossible to guess where the next page was going to go and this mirrors the profound uncertainty that Cook must have felt as he sailed where no [European] man had gone before. As with Redmond O'Hanlon, Horwitz brings along a companion Roger Williamson to provide a comic foil. Like Cook, Williamson hails from Yorkshire, England but is transplanted to Australia.  His gritty irreverence, bawdy humor and skill as a yachtsman is ideal for task. A great read!!



One for the Road: An Outback Adventure by Tony Horwitz. Published October 1999 Vintage Books (ISBN: 0375706135). A hitch-hiking tour around Australia. Plenty of interesting tidbits and plenty of humor. Well worth reading if you are headed 'downunder'. Somehow, lacks the twists and turns of "Baghdad without a map" and "Blue Latitudes".



Where the Sea Breaks Its Back: The Epic Story of Early Naturalist Georg Steller and the Russian Exploration of Alaska by Corey Ford, Lois Darling (Illustrator). Reprinted May 1992 Alaska Northwest Books; (ISBN: 088240394X).

A vivid account of the Russian exploration of the Aleutian Islands and coastal Alaska. We follow Commander Vitus Bering and naturalist Georg Stellar on their 1741 voyage from Russia to the essentially unknown land of present day Alaska. The expedition was ship wrecked on the Commander Islands where the crew struggled to survive under punishing conditions. Bering perished and the main island bears his name. There is an excellent account of the now extinct Stellar's Sea Cow that was endemic to the Commander Islands but disappeared as the region opened up to trade.



Baghdad Without a Map: And Other Misadventures in Arabia (1991) by Tony Horwitz.

Entertaining and thought provoking account of several years spent as a journalist covering the Middle East. Eye-opening glimpses into the lives of people living in Egypt, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Sudan. Plenty of tips for travelers hoping to visit this fascinating, but at times difficult, part of the world. Highly topical given recent events in the region!



Barrow's Boys: A Stirring Story of Daring, Fortitude, and Outright Lunacy by Fergus Fleming. (2001) 512 pages, Grove Press; (ISBN: 0802137946).

A colorful and highly readable account of daring (and sometimes foolhardy) expeditions during the turn of the Century to the Arctic (to seek the Northwest Passage), Antarctic (Is it really there and can be exploited?) and Central Africa (Where does the River Niger meet the sea?). The role of John Barrow (Point Barrow Alaska is named after him) is the common thread but in reality the book is about the many famous explorers (Sir James Clark Ross, Sir John Franklin and others) who commanded the expeditions organized by Barrow on behalf of the British Admiralty. These were really tough people! Few modern-day expeditions need to boil and eat their shoes............



Eastern Approaches. By Fitzroy MacLean (1999) Puffin; (ISBN: 0140132716); Reprint edition.

Amazing exploits of a true adventurer. The young MacLean explores central asia in the 1930s then recounts his heroic role in the desert war in Libya (he was a founding member of the British SAS regiment), followed by his defining role in covert operations with the partisan guerillas in Yugoslavia.



Into the Heart of Borneo. By Redmond O'Hanlon (1987) 191 pages; Vintage Books; (ISBN: 0394755405).

Classic travel literature! You can't help laughing out aloud at O'Hanlon's antics. He has the spirit of a true adventurer and writes extremely well. O'Hanlon's ability to select a totally inappropriate companion for each journey is a literary masterstroke!



In Trouble Again: A Journey Between the Orinoco and the Amazon. By Redmond O'Hanlon (1990) Vintage Books; (ISBN: 0679727140)

More wonderful exploits with O'Hanlon. Plenty of real adventure and laughs on very page.



No Mercy: A Journey to the Heart of the Congo. By Redmond O'Hanlon (1998) 462 pages; Vintage Books; (ISBN: 0679737324).

The latest O'Hanlon epic and the most harrowing. I think he was quite shaken by this trip.



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