Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ghost Ships: Tales of Abandoned, Doomed, and Haunted Vessels by Angus Konstam

This slim volume explores various mysteries of the sea and maritime history--sailor's superstitions, sea monsters, the Bermuda Triangle, ghost ships, haunted ships, doomed ocean liners, like the Titanic and Lusitania, and unlucky ships, disasters, sinkings, and shipwrecks, vessels that have disappeared without a trace, or been found abandoned and adrift, deserted by their crew.

With such fascinating subject matter in which I have a longstanding interest, I really wanted to like this book much more than I did. It reads like a magazine article that has been stretched to book length, and only a few of the stories are explored in any depth. With a final page count of 144 pages, and that includes bibliography and index, double-spaced text, and numerous photographs and illustrations, surely the author could have expanded the book into a more satisfying read, although he does include several websites of interest and a bibliography that he urges readers to check out in order to learn more about nautical mysteries.

Mr. Konstam's aim in writing this book is most admirable; he explains that he wants to impartially present the evidence of these maritime mysteries that still perplex and puzzle us and have never been satisfactorily explained, and indeed he does just that. There are no wild theories of alien abductions or Atlantis propounded in these pages, and the Bermuda Triangle is revealed as the mostly manufactured mystery it most likely is, despite a few genuinely puzzling disappearances within its boundaries. He devotes full chapters to the Mary Celeste and her vanished crew, and a similar case almost a century later, the Joyita, which has often been called the modern-day Mary Celeste. The Waratah, a passenger liner, which inexplicably disappeared from a busy shipping lane, is also given a chapter of its own, as are the Erebus and the Terror of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition. And, of course, what would any book upon this subject be without The Flying Dutchman?

In closing, I would say, if you are new to the subject, or want to introduce someone to the fascinating world of maritime mysteries, this book just might make a nice beginner's guide, and it is put together quite attractively; but if you already have a familiarity and interest, I doubt you will discover anything new here.


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