The Hard Way Around
The Passages of Joshua Slocum
By Geoffrey Wolff
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9781400043422, 240pp.)
Publication Date: October 19, 2010
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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A masterful biographer now offers a thrilling, definitive portrait of one of history’s most legendary icons of adventure.
In 1860, sixteen-year-old Joshua Slocum escaped a hardscrabble childhood in Nova Scotia by signing on as an ordinary seaman to a merchant ship bound for Dublin. Despite having only a third-grade education, Slocum rose through the nautical ranks at a mercurial pace; just a decade later he was commander of his own ship. His subsequent journeys took him nearly everywhere: Liverpool, China, Japan, Cape Horn, the Dutch East Indies, Manila, Hong Kong, Saigon, Singapore, San Francisco, and Australia—where he met and married his first wife, Virginia, who would sail along with him for the rest of her life, bearing and raising their children at sea. He commanded eight vessels and owned four, enduring hurricanes, shipwrecks, pirate attacks, cholera, smallpox, a mutiny, and the death of his wife and three of his children. Yet his ultimate adventure and crowning glory was still to come.
In 1895 Slocum set sail from Gloucester, Massachusetts—by himself—in the Spray, a small sloop of thirty-seven feet. More than three years and forty-six thousand miles later, he became the first man to circumnavigate the globe solo, a feat that wouldn’t be replicated until 1925. His account of that voyage, Sailing Alone Around the World, soon made him internationally famous. He met President Theodore Roosevelt on several occasions and became a presence on the lecture circuit, selling his sea-saga books whenever and wherever he could. But scandal soon followed, and a decade later, with his finances failing, he set off alone once more—and was never seen again.
Geoffrey Wolff captures this singular life and its flamboyant times—from the Golden Age of Sail to a shockingly different new century—in vivid, fascinating detail.
Geoffrey Wolff is the author of five works of nonfiction and six novels. In 1994 he received the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in Bath, Maine.
“Wolff’s book, written in muscular, academic prose, fills in the gaps [and] focuses on the legend at the peak of his powers.” —Abe Streep, Outside Magazine
“A fascinating true story…and what a rich portrait [Wolff] assembles.” —Irene Wanner, The Seattle Times
“Adroitly and economically told, The Hard Way Around is the best of books: a literary biography that also happens to be an adventure story. After finishing this little book (which I did not want to end), I decided it was worthy of the admonition the British children’s writer Arthur Ransome directed toward prospective readers of Slocum’s narrative: those ‘who do not like this book ought to be drowned at once.’” —Nathaniel Philbrick, The New York Times Book Review
“On [Sailing Alone Around the World’s] last page Slocum boasted, ‘No king, no country, no treasury at all, was taxed for the voyage of the Spray, and she accomplished all that she undertook to do.’ Geoffrey Wolff has done the same….Read Sailing Alone. Then read The Hard Way Around. You’ll want to reread Sailing Alone. I can think of no greater praise for Geoffrey Wolff.” —Robert Messenger, Barnes & Noble
“Exhilarating…A rewarding tale of life on the high seas.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Hugely entertaining and informative. In an era of teenage sailors routinely circumnavigating the world within a safety net of satellite phones, GPS navigation, emergency call beacons and corporate sponsorship, Wolff skillfully illuminates, celebrates and further burnishes the eccentric life and legacy of Joshua Slocum—master of tall ships and The North Star of solo travelers.” —Eric Hansen
“As one would expect from Geoffrey Wolff, The Hard Way Around is an engrossing and energetically written life of a very tricky and complex character. Slocum has at last met, in the author of The Duke of Deception, the biographer he has long deserved.” —Jonathan Raban