Disaster Escapism?
August 23, 2007 2:19 PM   Subscribe

I read and loved “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” by Nathaniel Philbrick. What other books should I read?

What other great, disastrous (non-fiction) adventures should I be reading about? I much prefer “modern” books that take a variety of contemporary sources juxtaposed with historical data (as Philbrick did) to one-person narratives.

Also, I remember reading a brief summary about a lost crew of Spanish sailors in the 1600s that capsized off of modern Tampa Bay and hiked overland to Mexico City. Ring any bells for anyone? Is there a book about this?
posted by 2bucksplus to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
There are some books mentioned in this thread which you'll likely find of interest.
posted by ericb at 2:29 PM on August 23, 2007

National Geographic's The 100 Greatest Adventure Books of All Time.
posted by ericb at 2:31 PM on August 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

Outside's The 25 (Essential) Adventure/Explorer Books.
posted by ericb at 2:34 PM on August 23, 2007

BTW -- I came across this article this week: New adventure books hit shelves.
posted by ericb at 2:35 PM on August 23, 2007

Ernest Shackleton's little antarctic escapade?
posted by mbatch at 2:56 PM on August 23, 2007

Hard to beat that NG list. Here are two personal favorites that I can wholly recommend:

1. Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing. The true story of sir Ernest Shackleton's failed 1914 expedition to the Antartic. A very well written book, with extensive (and absolutely amazing) photos from the expedition. Shackelton's expedition gets trapped in ice off the coast of Antartica, and then must rescue itself. I don't want to spoil the adventure, but what follows can only be described as incredible -- as a movie plot, it would be dismissed out of hand as too fantastic to be believed.

2. Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea, by Gary Kinder. Two stories in one: first is the tragedy, the story of the last voyage of the SS Central America, a sidewheel steamer which sank in 1857 in deep water off the Carolina coast carrying a staggering 21 tons of gold from the California Gold Rush. The second story is less tragic but no less dramatic, and details how a mechanical genius/entrepreneur put together a team and not only found the ship's wreckage but also managed to recover the gold.

Each of these is a great read.
posted by mosk at 3:03 PM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Philbrick's new book Mayflower is a must read. Though it's not so disastrous (depending on your perspective.)
posted by Beckminster at 3:10 PM on August 23, 2007

Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival

From the Amazon.com page:
Some stories are so enthralling they deserve to be retold generation after generation. The wreck in 1815 of the Connecticut merchant ship, Commerce, and the subsequent ordeal of its crew in the Sahara Desert, is one such story. With Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival, Dean King refreshes the popular nineteenth-century narrative once read and admired by Henry David Thoreau, James Fenimore Cooper, and Abraham Lincoln.
posted by ShooBoo at 3:31 PM on August 23, 2007

I think you may be thinking of the story of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who was part of a Spanish expedition of 600 in 1527 that ran aground just north of modern-day Tampa Bay. By the time that de Vaca reached northern Mexico in 1536 only three other members of the original landing party survived.

There are many translations of de Vaca's narrative (just check on Amazon, bookfinder.com). If you're looking for a modern account of that trip, Paul Schneider's
Brutal Journey has gotten good reviews. And Andres Resendez's A Land So Strange is coming out in a few weeks and looks quite good.

Hope this helps.
posted by historybuff at 3:41 PM on August 23, 2007

I sometimes use LibraryThing for this sort of thing. You'll see on that tag list that your book is number two and if you go to that book's page you'll notice the reccomendation machine which is a slightly better version of "people who liked this book also liked these books"

This is another good thread on AskMe "True Tales of Adventure" I'd also recommend The Worst Journey in the World or anything about the Karluk (some Amazon options). My Dad used to have a scial place in his heart for stories of people sailing around the world alone and then slowly cracking up, and it became something of an art to find new books for him so I'll have to ask him what's on his bookshelf.
posted by jessamyn at 3:50 PM on August 23, 2007

oh! i love books like this. i started a trend of reading them after bringing one on a motorcycle trip from seattle to alaska in 2001 -- i figured no matter how wet and miserable i was, i could read about people who were doing worse.

i'd check out "In Harm's Way : The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis", "Adrift: Seventy Six Days Lost at Sea", "Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why", "A Voyage for Madmen", "Shadow Divers"[1], "Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology".

caveat: the prose is kind of overblown. but the story is fabulous. also, not specifically a disaster, but people die and everything.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:59 PM on August 23, 2007

There are a lot of good suggestions in this thread. The Asker of that thread was looking for memoirs, which you are specifically NOT looking for, but there are some good non-first-person accounts in there as well.

on preview: yeah, what jessamyn said.
posted by harkin banks at 4:36 PM on August 23, 2007

Caroline Alexander's The Bounty was quite terrific.
posted by shallowcenter at 6:07 PM on August 23, 2007

Seconding The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard: a classic, first-person account of an Antarctic expedition.

Now if you'll excuse me: I am just going outside and may be some time.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:21 PM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

You need to get yourself some Jon Krakauer.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:33 AM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

A little late to the party here:

Custom of the Sea (19th century shipwreck, cannibalism, ensuing trial) and The Raft, downed WWII flyers in the Pacific.
posted by marxchivist at 9:10 AM on August 24, 2007

Frozen in Time, about the failed Franklin Expedition in the arctic. I have only a passing interest in the arctic and anthropology, yet I found this book hard to put down!
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 10:54 AM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

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