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Sea of Glory:
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 [via]