Book Review: Sailing Alone Around the World

The cover of Sailing Alone Around the World.

The cover of Sailing Alone Around the World.


I found this book while I was travelling, so naturally I had to read it. The week of 12-18 May 2014, I was atop Kitt Peak Mountain in southern Arizona. I had travelled there to use one of the (many) telescopes at the summit. I’ve written about this place many times, no need to go into again here. In the cafeteria on the mountain there’s a small collection of books, left there over the years to (most likely) provide some sort of entertainment on long cloudy nights. My supervisor and I perused the used book collection (as I so love to do) and nothing really stood out to me, except for Sailing Alone Around the World by Captain Joshua Slocum. One glance at the cover and I knew I was going to read it. It’s funny how that works.

I’ve been travelling my whole life. Thanks to my parents, I’ve seen a large chunk of Canada and the United States (from the back seat of a minivan). I turned these experiences as a child into a passion as an adult. Now I try to travel as much as possible (though not nearly enough for my liking). In recent years, I’ve done two motorcycle trips alone (one Toronto > Halifax, the other San Diego > Flagstaff > Tucson). Further, I took sailing lessons as a kid! This book sounded perfect.

The premise: in 1895, Captain Joshua Slocum (having already had many years sailing experience) took up the challenge that ‘no one could sail around the world with a crew of one.’ At the time, this seemed impossible to many. Slocum, however, was surprised people thought it impossible and took the challenge to show that it certainly was possible (but also likely for his love of the ocean). The book, Sailing Alone Around the World, is his memoirs of the events which lasted from the building of his sloop the Spray, to his departure from Fairhaven, Massachusetts on April 25, 1895, to his arrival in Fairhaven again, on June 27, 1898. It took him 3 years, but Slocum circumnavigated the globe on his own. His tale is filled with pirates, outrageous storms, battling natives of South America, and even his meeting of the late Robert Louis Stevenson‘s wife Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne in Samoa. Here is an image from the book that plots his route around the world.

The route.

The route Slocum took from Massachusetts East around the world.

Also, since this book was published in 1900, it is now FREE as part of Project Gutenberg. You can get it here. I also found a youtube video wherein a gentlemen has plotted Slocum’s course on Google Earth, and provided markers/waypoints along the way. I embedded the video:

The book is a sailor’s view of the world, full of sailor talk, adventure, introspection, and pragmatism. His attitude throughout the whole is of a humble appreciation for his abilities and the Earth. Highly recommend.

Happy Reading!

Book Review: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

The Cover of An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

The Cover of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

I was actually given this book as a present by Harrison Ruess (who is the other half in Beyond the Sun); it was an extra special surprise because not only was it signed by the Colonel Chris Hadfield himself, but was also signed by Dave Hadfield the brother of Chris Hadfield. Harrison had spent a weekend with Dave Hadfield learning to fly old war planes in Ottawa, and so took the opportunity to get the book signed. Quite a great gift I must say.
I’m glad I received it as a gift, because I had been wanting to take a look at it. Clearly, Hadfield has become a Canadian icon (in more ways than one), and it felt pertinent to stay on top of the content he has been developing. However, I went into it with trepidation, almost to the point of aversion. It felt like the book was ‘riding the wave’ of his astronaut fame, and I feared it would be nothing more than a piece of superficial pop-culture writing. Turns out I don’t know Hadfield very well; when he does something, he doesn’t do it superficially.
The book is entitled An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, and walks a line somewhere between motivational and memoir. He describes his life, starting from when he was 9 years old walking outside near his cottage on the night of July 20, 1969 after Neil Armstrong had just set foot on the Moon; the moment Hadfield decided to be an astronaut. Using his road to becoming an astronaut (beginning on that night) as a tool, Hadfield describes the lessons he learned along the way, and, in encouraging spirit, describes how you can use his lessons to achieve your own goals. I was honestly motivated while reading. He makes some simple but strong connections between how he got to where he was, and how we can learn from it. I very much enjoyed that part of the book.
Somewhere about half way through the book, Hadfield begins describing is last trip into space, expedition 34/35; during the latter he was Commander of the International Space Station. This is where we as an interested public became much more aware of Hadfield; he was championed by the Canadian Space Agency, and he took to twitter like no astronaut had before. While I very much enjoyed this part of the book, it seemed to have switched gears a bit. Here Hadfield focused much more on describing in detail his preparedness and life aboard the ISS. It became a memoir more than anything. The lessons dried up a bit. Probably because it was the lessons that led him to those moments, and it was no longer time for lessons, it was time for living.
As a result, I feel it is two kinds of books in one: a memoir and a motivational guide. Both of which I appreciate.
My favourite part of the book was when Hadfield described his two space walks to install the CanadArm2 on the International Space Station back in 2001. His writing here was full of poetic wonder. Clearly, the experience had changed him, and it was palpable in his words. I enjoyed it very much.
A great read. If you’re interested in learning about the story of Chris Hadfield, definitely worth it.

Book Review: Night

The cover of Night by Elie Weizsel.

The cover of Night by Elie Wiesel.

In a word: wow.

Night is the memoir of Elie Wiezel, a Jewish-Hungarian who in the spring of 1944, at the age of 15, was put in a concentration camp with his mother, sisters, and father. Wiesel retells his experience starting in 1943 (when his small town starts hearing stories of what was happening to the Jewish people) to the day the American tanks rolled up to the gates of Buchenwald. This was the most heart breaking book I’ve ever read.
It’s hard to find the words that describe why this book is so impactful. The preface to the book (written by Robert McAfee Brown for the 25th Anniversary Edition) probably says it best:

Lean, taut, and spare in style, employing no tricks, but providing no avenues of escape for the readers…” -Brown

At 109 pages, the book is short but inescapable. Wiesel writes with candour, so much so that it is hard to believe he was actually able to put these words down on paper. His frankness is unapologetic. He does not dress it up, or create euphemisms. He retells the events.
I do not think I have fully digested this book yet; there is more to it than I can put my finger on. At the moment, the one thing that struck me bitterly was the utter, crushing, and total defeat of the people who were forced through this human tragedy. They were defeated. In every possible way. Yet some how found the strength to continue. I don’t know how they did.