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Sea of glory : America's voyage of discovery : the U.S. Exploring Expedition, 18
Philbrick, Nathaniel.
Adult Nonfiction GN663 .P48 2003

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From Publishers' Weekly:

After chronicling the sinking of the whaleship Essex in In the Heart of the Sea, Philbrick attempts to rescue from obscurity the U.S. Exploring Expedition's 1838-1842 circumnavigation of the world and its cartographic and scientific accomplishments. With a strong narrative pull but an anticlimactic story arc, he chronicles the six-vessel squadron's Pacific escapades. Instead of a grisly page-turner, however, Philbrick follows his bestselling tragedy with a drawn-out success story. More than a tale of the Ex. Ex's journey, the book also profiles the expedition's egomaniacal commander, Lt. Charles Wilkes; the psychological warfare he waged against his officers; and the near-miraculous survival of the squadron despite Wilkes's perverse leadership and lack of nautical experience. Wilkes was, however, an accomplished surveyor, and the Ex. Ex. mapped hundreds of Pacific islands, 800 miles of the Oregon coast, 100 miles of the Columbia River and 1,500 miles of Antarctic coast. The expedition's scientists made groundbreaking contributions in ethnography, biology and geology (their collections formed the basis of the Smithsonian Institution). Particularly noteworthy among Philbrick's gripping passages are his descriptions of brash navigation in the Antarctic-but too much of the book bogs down in Wilkes's petty politicking, as he degraded talented men and promoted incompetent ones so as not to be outshone. After four years at sea, he had alienated nearly every officer and returned home to a court-martial. "Instead of a thrilling tale of discovery and incredible achievement, [America] heard more about the flawed personality of the Expedition's commander than anyone wanted to know," Philbrick writes of Wilkes's 1842 trial, in which he was acquitted. Unfortunately, this spoils the retelling, too. Maps not seen by PW. (On sale Nov. 10) Forecast: Despite a 12-city author tour, national ads and the success of Philbrick's previous National Book Award winner, it's hard to imagine Sea of Glory's subject matter luring as wide an audience as In the Heart of the Sea did. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

The National Book Award-winning author of In the Heart of the Sea returns with another excellent account of maritime history. In 1838, the United States launched a voyage of discovery, with Lt. Charles Wilkes commanding an expedition of six ships and 246 men. The United States South Seas Exploring Expedition (or Ex-Ex, for short) captured the world's attention with its collection of 2000 never-before-identified specimens as well as island surveys, navigational charts used as late as World War II, and the discovery that Antarctica was a continent. Instead of entering the pantheon of discoverers alongside Columbus and Magellan, however, Wilkes returned home, his reputation stained, amid a variety of accusations stemming from his pathological desire to control rather than command. He was court-martialed on a variety of charges, including improperly assuming the rank of commander, killing South Sea islanders, and flogging his men. Found guilty only of the lattermost charge and given a ceremonial slap on the wrist, Wilkes proceeded to press charges against many of his officers. Wilkes is a remarkably complex individual who inspired Melville to create the equally obsessive Captain Ahab. This fascinating tale is based largely on a heretofore undiscovered secret diary kept by one of his officers and other primary sources. Highly recommended for all collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/03.]-Daniel Liestman, Florida Gulf Coast Univ. Lib. Svcs., Ft. Myers (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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