Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - Nonfiction
At age fifteen, Charles signed aboard the 74-gun USS Columbus, under the command of Commodore James Biddle, as a “First-Class Boy.” The naval warship was bound for China on a diplomatic mission, and also to visit Japan in hopes of beginning a dialogue that would lead to formal relations with that country. Nordhoff’s journey to the Far East lasted from 1845 to 1847 and allowed him to circumnavigate the world. On his return, he resigned from the navy to become a merchant seaman, before he turned to whaling and fishing. When he left the sea in 1854, he became a journalist. He served as an editor for Harper’s Weekly and the New York Evening Post and as the Washington correspondent for the New York Herald before he died in 1894.
His wages amounted to $8 per month, and his account pulls no punches in detailing what life was like below decks on a naval ship in the nineteenth century. His description of the ship from stem to stern, from top to bottom is clear and concise, so much so that the lay reader will have no trouble understanding the layout of the vessel. When he writes of eating his first banana, the reader experiences those sensations. His depiction of a flogging makes the reader cringe while hearing the snap of the cat-o’-nine-tails as it strikes a seaman’s back.
Man-of-War Life was first published in 1855 and the first book Nordhoff wrote. This latest volume in the Seafarer’s Voice series is an abridged version of that edition. Some of his depictions of other peoples may grate on readers, but they are an unjaundiced view as seen through the eyes of a lad who has never been far from home until this voyage. The account is easy to read and highly informative, and readers will come away with a better understanding of life at sea. Readers will also be surprised to read his report about history’s Donner Party, which occurred during this time period, and which he learned about while the Columbus visited California.
Review Copyrighted ©2013 Cindy Vallar
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