Maritime book recommendations - what classics am I missing

Back in the days before there was instant info on the Google line there were two books that were on most ships

The Guiness World Book of Facts
Farmers Almanac

More recently a couple of books that the crew took interest in:

The Mensa Book of Puzzles

The Secrets of Mental Math

Worthy mind fodder

I just ordered it, thanks for the tip.

I find the Matthew McCleery series of novels to be an interesting take on the maritime world. I have read three of his novels. The Shipping Man, Viking Raid (part of a three novel series). There is a third in the series, Exit Strategy, that I have, but not read yet. The author works in ship finance, so his perspective is quite different from mariners, but there is much to be learned from it. The other novel, his first, I believe, is more about intrigue, but also from a financial perspective, Death of a Shipowner.

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Along shipping economic lines: anything written by Martin Stopford.

“Utterly compulsive and unputdownable–the most exciting, authentic, and humanly moving of all the recent Storm books. Brilliantly paced and perfectly balanced. . . . Carrier is a marvelously trustworthy narrator. . . . A terrific book.”–Jonathan Raban, author of Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings

Not a classic, but a collection of sea stories.

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The Captain by Jan de Hartog: a novel set on Dutch Salvage tugs diring WW2 a must read


Seaspray and Whisky

Joshua Slocum - Spray


My partial list from recent trips starting with my all time favorite in the Classics catagory;
“We The Drowned” by Carsten Jensen - It’s long but worth the time
“A Voyage For Madmen” by Peter Nichols
"9 Years on the 7 Seas with S/Y Nor Siglar by Ann Brevig
"Wreck of the Whale Ship Essex
“Simple Courage” by Frank Delan
“Ninety Percent of Everything” by Rose George
“Into the Raging Sea” by Rachel Slade
“The Wave” by Susan Casey

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Jan de Hartog’s other books , mostly about salvage tugs during WW II, are good too. A Distant Shore, etc.

There is a movie (cannot think of the name) based on one of his books.

I read a lot of him when in high school; “de kapitein”, “Hollands Glorie “ (translated as “the captain and “captain Jan” according to Wikipedia). Tried to find an ebook edition but they doesn’t seem to exist.

“The Sea and Civilization” - Lincoln Paine
“Atlantic” - Simon Winchester
“Pacific” - Simon Winchester
“Sailing Alone Around the World” - Joshua Slocum
“Cape Horn: The Logical Route” - Bernard Moitessier
“The Long Way” - Bernard Moitessier
“Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe” - Bergreen
“A Voyage for Madmen” - Nichols
“Sea of Glory” - Philbrick
“Crossing the Bar: The Adventures of a San Francisco Bay Bar Pilot” - Paul Lobo

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Some folk might find this interesting: Evils and Abuses in the Naval and Merchant Marine Services, exposed; With Proposals for Their Remedy and Redress. By William McNally, formerly of the US Navy (1839)

I scrolled through the lists of replies and was surprised at the number of varied suggestions. Most I’ve heard of, many I have not. So much to consider reading in the years ahead.

But I was also stunned at the books that were NOT mentioned at all that I had always been advised to read in my early years.

#1 (Must read) ; TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST, Richard Henry Dana
This is a seafaring classic. A true account of young man at Harvard studying to be an attorney, who takes ill. In an effort to improve his health, he signs on to a small sailing ship and sails around the horn up to the California coast. After another year of hard labor, some spent ashore, he returns to Boston.
It is a factual account of a life most have no idea of … even us modern seafarers. It may seem like a long read to some folks. But his detailed description of actually working and living aboard a tall ship has been called “unparalleled”
Dana went on to become an attorney who championed the rights and many battles on behalf of American seafarers. He is little known about, but should be! He has done as much as Samuel Plimsoll for seafarers, but mostly unheard of.
Every one of us should read this book to best understand where our brothers came from, generations ago. You will better understand where our industry is today, when you see where we once were.

#2 TANKERS FULL OF TROUBLE, Eric Nalder, 1994
This is an interesting book that some may not appreciate, due to its added dramatic flair (as has been said to me by others who have also read the book). The writer goes aboard an American crude tanker and does the all too typical trip from loading in Valdez, Alaska through to a discharge port. His work is laid out with about every other chapter being a daily description of real time life onboard a typical crude tanker. The other chapters are filled with (somewhat expected) problems within the US energy sector and our part (maritime) of the transportation industry.
It is a “must read” for anyone starting out in this industry whether on deep-sea ships or the brown water fleet. Doesn’t matter if you are in a Maritime Academy or a Hawse-piper, it’s good to get a different perspective of “what others think we do” out here. I may not like what the author says throughout much of the book. But it’s a good read for future conversations you might have with family and friends not familiar with what you do.

#3 LOOKING FOR A SHIP, John McPhee, 1991
This is a great read for no other reason it’s full of great sea stories, many of them rather comical. It describes life aboard the STELLA LYKES (How many out there find that a familiar name?) as seen by a crew member onboard. The story unfolds as the ship sails the infamous South American coastal loop voyage. This took place in the waning days of great jobs on classic American flag cargo ships sailing through great itineraries.
It’s the stuff modern seafarers only dream about today, the classic “romance run”.

Rounding out some other picks would be books already mentioned, certainly one must include Moby Dick as a literary classic. But most have already been mentioned.
I genuinely believe that the three above listed books should be read by everyone at sea (or arm-chair seamen) for no other reason that you have some perspective today, on what our industry once used to be like …and in some case, still is.


I found Dana’s book fascinating with the description of San Francisco and the coast around modern day San Pedro and Los Angeles.The description of life aboard the ship of that period differed from life aboard a British ship of the same period in some detail but basically it was a hard life.


Great thread. I will definately look for some of these titles as activities permit…

I never saw the movie (heard it wasn’t good) but In The Heart Of The Sea which is based on the tragedy of the whaleship Essex was an awesome book. I rarely reread a book and i’ve read it twice.

Jack London was mentioned, and only about a year ago a shipmate recommended to me Mutiny On The Elsinore. This was a great book that i was baffled never discovered on my own at the time.

Harry Turtledove is an author of historical fiction and alternate history i’ve read from time to time. He has a series of books that are in the historial fiction arena that take place a decade or two after the reign of Alexander the Great, and the main characters are traders from Greece sailing around the eastern Mediterranean. Over The Wine Dark Sea, The Gryphon’s Skull, Owls to Athens and Salamis are the books in this series and are wonderful reads.


I’ve never run into this one, looks interesting. Got a used copy on the way.

Both Two years before the mast and Looking for a ship were mentioned on this thread.

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Regards Richard Henry Dana when I was much younger we would picnic at Dana Cove. A beautiful little sheltered beach that had a one way road in off the bluffs surrounding it. Dana described tossing dried hides off those bluffs down to the beach. My parents told us kids not to climb those same bluffs.
The present Dana Point Harbor is not the same of my youth.

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Good for entertainment.

Steaming to Bamboola: The World of a Tramp Freighter: Buckley, Christopher: 9780140099225: Books

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