America and the Sea: A Maritime History

Article excerpt

Labaree, Benjamin W., et al. America and the Sea: A Maritime History. Mystic, Conn.: Mystic Seaport, 1998. 686pp. $49.95

This is a gorgeous book-big, colorful, user friendly, and authoritative. The first thing you notice is its size: the 686 glossy pages are laid out in double or even triple-column format, so the book is packed with information. Indeed, one of the few disappointing things about this volume is that it is so big (and heavy) that it is difficult to read lying down or even while sitting in a chair; this book requires a table though not necessarily a coffee table! Second, it is a colorful book. There is full color on virtually every page, with hundreds of museum-quality reproductions of contemporary paintings and photographs to illustrate the text. Even the subheadings and captions are rendered in color. Third, in addition to the rich narrative, which is a chronological narrative of America's maritime history from the colonial era to the present, there are scores of stand-alone essays and sidebars on specific topics, which allow the reader to dip into the book like a Christmas pudding. Fourth, it is authoritative. The six principal authors are all respected scholars, and the editing has been accomplished with such skill that the text has a single "voice." Finally, when compared to similar books of this quality, the retail price is a bargain.

Though America and the Sea is a cohesive narrative, not a collection of essays, one of its most attractive and valuable features is the sprinkling of short pieces on specific aspects of America's maritime heritage throughout the text. These run the gamut from "The Slave Trade" to "John Paul Jones," from "Seaman's Morals" to "The Great White Fleet," and from "Navigational Instruments" to "The Boat People of Cuba and Haiti." There are even sections on "Recreational Boating and Racing in the Interwar Years," on "Hollywood and the Sea," and a discussion of how America's maritime heritage has been portrayed on the silver screen, from Moby Dick (1955) to The Hunt for Red October (1990). …