Book Reviews of Two Years Before the Mast

Two Years Before the Mast
Two Years Before the Mast
Author: Richard Henry Dana, Jr.
ISBN-13: 9780451523693
ISBN-10: 0451523695
Publication Date: 5/1/1964
Pages: 384
  • Currently 4.3/5 Stars.

4.3 stars, based on 4 ratings
Publisher: Signet Classics
Book Type: Paperback
Reviews: Amazon | Write a Review

5 Book Reviews submitted by our Members...sorted by voted most helpful

reviewed Two Years Before the Mast on + 21 more book reviews
A powerful story of sailing's joys and hardships in the early 1800s.
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The book is fascinating, but very long. I had to read it in small sections, but for history buffs, it's a great read.
I'm a big Horatio Hornblower fan, so it was interesting to hear about merchant shipping it the same era. Plus the glossary is very helpful - actually more helpful than the Horatio Companion & biography.
reviewed Two Years Before the Mast on + 774 more book reviews
This was a really excellent book. It's a true story, written by a young man who took time off his studies at Harvard to ship as a common seaman on a merchant marine in 1834.

Upon his return, he wrote the book to, in part, counter the popular, romanticized ideas of life at sea. Dana said that most sea literature of the time was written from the perspective of an officer or captain, and wanted to point out that the view from the forecastle was quite different. He set out to show the reality of the day-to-day drudgery of a sailor's life, and also to advocate for justice and fair treatment for sailors.

Although to describe it as "an account of day-to-day drudgery" doesn't sound that exciting, it's an amazingly fascinating book, full of the details of a now-vanished way of life - both at sea, and on the coast of California, where his merchant ship spent long toil acquiring their cargo of steer hides to bring back at great risk, around Cape Horn and back to Boston.

My only complaint, from a reader's perspective, is that at times Dana is vague about the personal details of some of his shipmates and acquaintances - probably out of courtesy, as he was publishing while most of the men he speaks of were still alive. (Although not everyone is shown in the most flattering of lights). The book was an enormous best-seller (much more so than he expected) at the time, and it includes an Afterword written 24 years later - and it's rather amusing, how, in that section, he is much more careful to speak well of people!
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This book gives a good history of early California and sailing. It includes the work of the sailors and their hardships. It is an autobiography.
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Because it is a true autobiography about a voyage in 1834, it was fascinating to me about his accounts of places we know so well know now like San Francisco, San Diego, San Pedro, etc. and a true account of his impressions of the places, the people, their dress and customs...paints a very different picture than that which appears say in fiction books written today about that same period. His account is very detailed and was a very popular book back in 1840, but for pure nautical fiction and interest, I'd have to say the Horatio Hornblower series or the Aubrey Maturin series are more interesting to read by far, but then, they're fiction. This book is a 19 year old's experience of being a sailor in 1834. Just like when reading DeFoe's Robinson Crusoe it is so much more interesting to read a book in the language and nuances of their own time period, than ones written today of our impressions of what it was like back then.