Sea of Glory: The Epic South Seas Expedition 1838?42

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9780007121151: Sea of Glory: The Epic South Seas Expedition 1838?42

The dramatic story of the largest voyage of discovery in the history of the world – and the last such all-sail convoy.

Headed by the controversial Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, and consisting of six sailing vessels and 346 men, the ‘Ex. Ex.’ (the United States Exploring Expedition of 1838–42) represented the largest voyage of discovery in the history of the world. Four years later, after losing two ships and seventy-one men, the expedition had logged 87,000 miles, surveyed 280 Pacific islands, and created 180 charts – some of which were still being used as late as World War II.

The Expedition’s scientists collected 4000 zoological specimens, including 2000 new species, and thousands of ethnographic artifacts that would become the basis of the Smithsonian Institution. The Expedition also mapped 800 miles of coastline in the Pacific Northwest, providing the federal government with the information it needed to stake its claim on the Oregon Territory. The Expedition’s crowning achievement was the discovery of a new southern continent that Wilkes would name Antarctica. The Expedition ended in a dramatic series of court martials, with Wilkes and his crew levelling accusations of misconduct against each other.

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Review:

The sheer sweep and ambition of Nathaniel Philbrick's Sea of Glory rather takes the breath away, but shouldn't come as any kind of surprise--his earlier book, In the Heart of the Sea, displayed a similar mastery of matters nautical. But the new book is something special: Philbrick's source has been little-known 19th century journals and letters, detailing the astonishing story of a nautical odyssey that traversed the Pacific Ocean and opened up the new continent of Antarctica.

In 1838, US Ex Ex (actually the United States South Seas Exploring Expedition) set out to explore every inch of the Pacific. The two ships that comprised the expedition covered nearly 300 islands and encountered an amazing range of human savagery (notably the Fijian islanders' taste for human flesh). At the head of this hardy body of men was the formidable figure of Lt Charles Wilkes, a man whose internal conflicts often made life hell for those about him. His driven personality ultimately precipitated catastrophe, and the resulting court martials became the talk of New York.

The achievement of Philbrick in this massive saga is considerable: as well as detailing the voyages of discovery at the heart of the narrative (the US Ex Ex ships brought back more specimens in the natural history field than even Captain Cook's better-known expeditions), he's concerned with telling a human drama, with the controversial Charles Wilkes at its heart. We have the harrowing saga of a man said to have inspired Melville's tyrannical Captain Ahab, his epic voyages counterpointed by a passionately disputed court martial. --Barry Forshaw

Review:

An unprecedented voyage of discovery by the American Navy that would do for the Pacific Ocean what Lewis and Clark had done for the American West.

A perfect subject for a writer with Nat Philbrick’s feeling for 19th-century America, his rich prose style, and his abiding love for the sea and for the particular lives of men under sail.

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA was a Sunday Times Number One bestseller in hardback and was hugely praised by the critics.

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