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Reviews by A. B. Bonds

White Jacket

by Herman Melville

This is not your father's Herman Melville (to coin a phrase). It would seem that when Melville wrote Moby-Dick, he put on his literature hat. White-Jacket is almost the antithesis. It is casual, witty, adventuresome, self-deprecating and contemplative. It is in the main a memoir of a year spent on a U.S. man-of-war, the 54-gun frigate USS Neversink in a voyage from Chile to Norfolk during the 1840'5. While names are changed to protect the innocent, it provides candid (sometimes extreme) portraits of the personnel and behavior encountered in this experience. The language is precise and evocative, and some of the descriptions are hilarious. A goodly portion of the book focuses on the abuses of sailors' rights and such practices as flogging. This disrupts the continuity of the narrative but clearly Melville felt it necessary at the time, and one cannot argue with his positions. An altogether ripping yarn, highly recommended mariner's literature.

Reviewed on 2009.04.02

The Automobilist Abroad

by Milburg Francisco Mansfield

As an afficionado of automotive history, I was curious to see whether this book might provide insights into travel by automobile, in addition to facts (e.g., specific routes). Well, insights and opinion flow aplenty from this author, and little else. The book is a hotch-potch of casual observations and commentary, and not very well-organised. But sooner or later you get the idea that automotive travel is liberating, the hospitality and food in Britain is abominable, and the roads in Belgium are wretched. It is at least amusing to hear of the raw adventure gained whilst galloping along at the incendiary speed of 30 km/hr, which was the limit throughout France at the time of this book's writing (1907). There are a few amusing anecdotes, but overall not much substance, and one doubts that the recommendations for Bistros in provincial France are still reliable. Recommended for committed automotive historians.

Reviewed on 2009.03.23

Among the Tibetans

by Isabella L. Bird

This is a lyrical and descriptive journal of travels into what is described as "British" Tibet, via horse, yak, mule and foot. The writing, though dated, is evocative and engrossing. My impression is that the good Mrs. Bishop (or Bird) must have had a constitution of iron to deal with the challenges of the travel, which took several months and involved bitter cold and passes at upwards of 18,000 feet. The description of the people and Buddhist rituals is fascinating and evokes considerable regret for what has been lost during the upheavals of the past 50 years. A colorful yarn ideal for armchair adventurers.

Reviewed on 2009.03.23

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