Maritime book recommendations - what classics am I missing

The politics on board thread got a bit of topic on the subjects of ships libraries, I figured I’d start a new thread:

Which maritime themed books would you recommend? I’m thinking of novels and non fiction rather than study books.

To start myself;

Really enjoyed Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey-Maturin series, of “Master and Commander” fame (books are better of course :wink: ) reading the whole series will certainly keep you awake for way too long.

For a more recent setting, I reckon Nicholas Montserrat’s “the cruel sea” is a must read for everyone at sea. Certainly gave me the chills reading it on the North Atlantic.

For non fiction would recommend Nansen’s book about his voyage on Fram, “farthest north” for everyone with an interest in polar exploration. An amazingly easy and pleasant read for a century old book - search around for a download as the copyright has long expired and some e book shops are still asking serious money for some editions.

And to highlight how different the Norwegian approach to polar expeditions was compared to the Royal Navy the more recent “Erebus: The Story of a Ship” by Michael Palin was a good one too, he was lucky they found the wreck just in time!

Anyway I’d love to know which classics I’ve been missing, will be doing a 3-4 month trip soon ‘cause of COVID so need to load up the e-reader.

NB. For those that read Dutch the books of Jan Noordegraaf have been digitised and have been made available for free by his daughter: De boeken van Jan Noordegraaf

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This one left a deep impression when I read it as a child:

This one I found through this forum, when I googled what I believed to be a Kafka quote made by @W.T.Sherman :

…and finally an unmissable work on the final throes of the age of sail:

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Lincoln Paine

“The Sea and Civilization”

The Grey Seas Under by Farley Mowat


I like to have a couple books going at once. I read a little of a difficult one, sometimes just a paragraph or two and then switch to something easier.

So I recommend Moby Dick combined with a Zane Grey western or the like. Moby Dick is an amazing book but a tough read.

I skimmed through some of the “fishy parts”.

Stuff like this, if the mate say something like “what will the office say about that captain?” you can hit him with this:

Let the owners stand on Nantucket beach and outyell the Typhoons . What cares Ahab? Owners , owners ? Thou art always prating to me, Starbuck, about those miserly owners , as if the owners were my conscience.”

Probably need to shorten it to “What cares Ahab about the office?”


If you haven’t read them already, I recommend the two below. With so many other great books I wouldn’t necessarily read them twice in the same decade expect for Lord Jim in Conrad’s book of short stories. For some reason that’s a catchy one for me & I’ve read it 2 or 3 times.

For me. The best sea stories have more to do with the psychology of the mariner & peppered with the technicalities of the ships & job. From my observation, only mariners & former mariners can honestly capture the mindset of mariners. It’s easy to pick out the fakers. Both of these authors are long dead but it is obvious they both had shared experiences as us today.


“Outlaw Ocean” by Ian Urbina


The Sea is My Brother by Jack Kerouac… though very little of it takes place on the ship, it outlines their trip to get seamen’s papers and sit in the NMU hall back in 1942.

Also Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana was a great read…


Always enjoyed anything by Louis Lamour westerns. “To the far blue mountains” was one of the best. Read tons of his stuff.

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I was lucky enough to know the sailmaker onboard the Grace Harwar. When he came ashore he started a canvas cover business. The last grain race is recommended.


Finished the last grain race just last month, certainly recommended!

Amazing that there were still large ships sailing around the world without any form of radio on board so recently. Much more in common with a 18th century ship than with the ‘modern’ airconditioned cargo ship I worked on only 5 years ago that was built in 1962 - just 20 years after the last grain race.

Newby published a book with his photos and some background information on the ships. Amazing that he was able to take such good pictures with a folding camera without light meter - especially as an overworked apprentice in poor weather high up a mast.

Good picks, read 2 out of 3, the dead ship in its original German in high school (recommended by my grandfather over Kafka) which was a bit of a slog due to my limited German skills (which haven’t improved much since). But very impressive none the less, might read it again in a more accessible language.

Remember trying to read it in high school, don’t think I ever finished it, might give it another go.

As a ship master in the 21th century it is quite amazing how much freedom there used to be for the captains to do what they felt was best, hire crew, change destinations, arrange cargoes. The owner is far away and out of reach.

One of the few authors in this thread with a Twitter account.

Sort of the modern version of ‘the dead ship’, got it on my reading queue.

On my last ship the company granted me some funds to restock the ship library. I went used on Amazon and got a worthy cache; here are some that I purchased, Not all are classics, some are light reading, some history, and of course if it is a sea story-some BS. Most of these I have on my Kindle so I suppose most e readers should be able to score them,

Typee-Herman Melville (his first novel, based on him experience)
Moby Dick-Melville
Sea Wolf- Jack London
Youth & Typhoon-Short Stories by Joseph Conrad (usually in collection with Heart of Darkness)
Three Years Before the Mast-Richard Henry Dana
The Bounty Trilogy- Nordhoff & Hall
Endurance-Richard Shackleton & for a Coffee Table Pictoral -Endurane-Caroline Alexander
Longitude -Dava Sobel
Wandereer-Sterling Hayden
Voyage-Sterling Hayden
Steaming to Bamboola-Christopher Buckley
Looking for a Ship-John Mcphee
The Grey Seas Under-Farley Mowat
Ashley Book of Knots- Hardcover (Good to have around)
Commodore of Errors- John Jacobsen (Biscayne Bay Pilot)
Freighter Captain-Max Hardberger
The Shipping Man-Mathew McCleery
The Path Between the Seas- David McCoulogh
Nothing Can Go Wrong- John MacDonald


Great list. I’ve owned all but two.

i also; read all but maybe 5 of those. i generally prefer non-fiction and can add to this list but there is a thread for ‘‘books are you currently reading’’ or something close to that.
I just got ‘‘scorpion down’’ which is proving to be well written and the research goes on for apx. 25? years ( by ed offley ) (the russians sank her) also recently finished “aleutian freighter” but i only knew about 4 of the ships in there … so many others …

I forgot two others I really enjoyed

Ordinary Seaman-Francisco Goldman
(Doesnt actually take place at sea, but an interesting perspective about ships and destitude mariners)

The Outlaw Sea-William Langewiesche
(This is an interesting Trilogy, William is the son of Wolfgang who wrote the 1944 book, Stick and Rudder -An Explantion of Flying, which became a standard ref for aviators)

The Perfect Storm-Sebastian Junger-
This story is well known in film and book, and even put Cape Pond Ice on the map, but what I have always found noteworthy is Junger’s description of the formation and power of hurricanes. If I was teaching Meteorolgy at a Maritime Academy I would open with his passage on hurricanes. In layman terms he spells it out, I keep this passage in my sea going journal of Terse Facts. Junger may enjoy the sensational like any good writer but he researches his topics well,

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the better books i have kept in my library which is largely not accessible upstairs. one day i will get them together again. I got several references from my uncle and bought many books via amazon which created a ‘‘profile’’ of what i read and thru that I did acquire many books that were good stories. i kept the better ones and over the last years have accumulated a great many very good books which i hope to eventually share on this web site… stay tuned !!!

Mowatt’s Serpents’s Coil is the follow up to Grey Seas Under and its even better.