Adrift by Brian Murphy

Along with an airplane crashing, a ship sinking is one of my greatest fears. Brian Murphy writes about the sole survivor of a ship going down in the Atlantic entitled Adrift: A True Story of Tragedy on the Icy Atlantic and the One Who Lived to Tell about It.

Murphy combines great storytelling with a detailed explanation of Nineteenth Century ocean travel. Murphy includes conversations in the story between those who initially survived the  sinking. These conversations are not direct quotes because it is unknown what was said, but by including them Murphy gives a good representation of how people would react. Their thoughts describe what it was like to be in a ship’s steerage section for days or weeks without seeing daylight and the panic and fear that settles in as everyone realizes the ship is going down.

Interspersed with the narrative of the fate of those who went in the life boats, Murphy writes about the officers and sailors who made a living on the ocean – either transporting people and products or hunting whales. Most officers and sailors had no illusions about the cruelties of the sea – shipwrecks, grievous injuries, starvation – but they chose their careers for the love of the sea and the freedom.

The best part of the book is the narrative about the survivors in the lifeboat. Nye took a leadership role when the boatswain shrunk from that responsibility. He tried to keep the peace among the 12 other survivors and keep them alive against the odds. Murphy captures the profound sadness of the situation as each person dies for various reasons. It also is a great look at how human’s behave under the most stressful situations – some withdraw, others become combative, and others think more clearly.

Murphy’s account is an excellent story of one of the many tragedies that befell many transatlantic travelers.


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