Recommend me some books about old sailing ships
July 22, 2014 6:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm in a mood to read non-fiction history books dealing with sailing ships. Any suggestions?

For starters: I've read In the Heart of the Sea and Sailing Alone Around the World, so there's no need to suggest those.

Non-Fiction (There are great novels set on boats, but my mood is toward non-fiction right now)
Concerning sailing ships and/or boats (I'm sure there are great books about non-sailing ships; I'm not interested in those right now)

Naval history is great, but so are books about commercial shipping, the whaling/fishing industry, etc.
Books about the classic Age of Sail is ideal, but good non-fiction about modern sailing is also fine.
More recent books are preferred, but absolutely not a requirement.
posted by Bulgaroktonos to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
"Looking for a Ship" by John McPhee; NYT review.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:31 AM on July 22, 2014

I really enjoyed Two Years Before the Mast, by Richard Henry Dana, Jr.
posted by lmindful at 6:35 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Two Years Before The Mast
posted by bq at 6:37 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What you want is The Last Grain Race, by Eric Newby who wrote lots of other very entertaining travel books as well. It recounts his experience as a young man in 1939 when he joined the crew of one of the very last sail-powered cargo ships - very unromantic incredibly tough journey.
posted by runincircles at 6:49 AM on July 22, 2014

Best answer: Howard Chapelle was the maritime curator of the Smithsonian; he wrote the early classics of American sailing history. I would start with American Small Sailing Craft (his "small" is actually quite large) and then The Search For Speed Under Sail which is all about fishing schooners and early sailing ship design, up to the age of the clipper ships.
posted by gyusan at 7:02 AM on July 22, 2014

I may have gone though a Patarick O'Brian phase 10 years ago, and if so I might have eagerly consumed:
Life in Nelson's Navy
Every Man Will Do His Duty: An Anthology of Firsthand Accounts from the Age of Nelson
And even the "children's book" Stephen Biesty's Cross-Sections: Man-Of-War

In a slightly different vain, the excellent contra-Mahan work The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery
posted by shothotbot at 7:04 AM on July 22, 2014

Longitude is a fantastic look at how a way to measure longitude was finally discovered. It has a bit more to do with clocks than sailing, but includes lots of details of how the ocean journeys were made before east-west distance could be calculated with any certainty.
posted by Mchelly at 7:12 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: John F Guilmartin's "Galleons & Galleys" or "Gunpowder and Galleys" are both excellent. He has further written about ironclads in the American Civil War but I haven't read that since it's not my historical period of interest. "Tides in the Affairs of Men : Social History of English Seamen" by Cheryl Fury was pretty interesting to me when I was doing some research on the era and reading "The Three Voyages of Martin Frobisher" replete with it's Early Modern English spelling was jolly good fun as well (in a similar vein "Haykluyt's Voyage" is also good, if a bit of a hard slog).

That might be a bit too 16th Centuriffic for you but it's what I've read so it's what I know :)

"A History of Seafaring in the Classical World" by Fik Meijer is also on my to-read list and comes highly recommended (by Top. Men. I'll have you know ;) )
posted by longbaugh at 7:24 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ships of Oak, Guns of Iron may be of interest.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:28 AM on July 22, 2014

A search for "sailing ships" at turned up a few interesting results, including "Ancient and Modern Ships, Part 1: Wooden Sailing Ships by Holmes" and "The Old Merchant Marine: A Chronicle of American Ships and Sailors by Paine."
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:29 AM on July 22, 2014

Don't forget Bligh's account of The Bounty Mutiny.
posted by cgs06 at 7:45 AM on July 22, 2014

Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder is a wonderfully written account of both the sinking - and the recovery of the S.S Central America.

Charles Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle is an interesting read too.
posted by rongorongo at 7:49 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ooh - and "The Brendan Voyage" by Tim Severin. I have a random book I picked up in a used book store in York last year about the battle against piracy in 15th century Venice but for the life of me I can't recall the author's name. I'll have a shufty through my library when I get in tonight.
posted by longbaugh at 8:03 AM on July 22, 2014

I had an ask a while back for interesting Age of Sail books and got some great recommendations.
posted by elizardbits at 8:18 AM on July 22, 2014

Kon-Tiki - They do some sailing in a really old-style boat!
posted by Locobot at 8:47 AM on July 22, 2014

You might want to look into Conway Publishing's catalogue.
posted by Marauding Ennui at 9:09 AM on July 22, 2014

Best answer: The Way Of The Ship by Alan Villiers is the best on the way ships were actually sailed. Anything by Villiers is interesting.

The Wake Of The Coasters, John Leavitt,has all the information About schooners on the US east coast.

The Log Of Christopher Columbus (Fuson) is just what it sounds like.

Sailing Ships by yacht designer Colin Mudie describes his experiences designing replicas of historic ships. Tim Severing has written several books about sailing replica ships across oceans.

Don't forget Captains Courageous. The nautical is supposed to be spot on.

Tristan Jones wrote a lot of books about sailing adventures. Critics have suggested they are mostly fiction masquerading as fact. Heart Of Oak is the the best match to the OP's wish list.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:10 AM on July 22, 2014

Hah, I was going to come in here to recommend In the Heart of the Sea, but I have another one I can suggest instead. Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage is really great. If you liked In the Heart of the Sea, you'll definitely like this one.

In a little bit of a different direction, I'd recommend Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:21 AM on July 22, 2014

I know you are asking for books, but I remember a great video that I caught in the mid-90s, Around Cape Horn, that has actual footage of struggling to get around Cape Horn in 1929. It's been a while since I've seen it, but I remember it being really fascinating.
posted by foxhat10 at 9:31 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here is a review of three books about shipping containers:
posted by bdc34 at 10:39 AM on July 22, 2014

Anything concerning captain Cook is going to be fascinating. My favorite is Blue Latitudes.
posted by danapiper at 8:50 PM on July 22, 2014

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