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This is a splendid history of a famous place; a perfect set-off to "Latitude Zero: Tales of the Equator." Hough takes us on a historic tour of Tierra Del Fuego and Cape Horn, from Magellan through Drake to Anson and forward to the nineteenth-century cowboys who conquered the island (and whose conquest and diseases tragically killed the indigenous peoples). Hough is particularly interesting in describing the wholly different mindsets of Magellan, the Catholic, and Drake, the Protestant, as they battle the elements. Magellan saw adversity as a divine test; Drake blamed the devil. There are centuries worth of stories of shipwreck and discovery in this corner of the world, retold (and illustrated) spectacularly well.
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I liked the grueling portarit of life at sea, reading some first written observations of early California, a fine and admiring description of a very able-bodied seaman that Dana encountered and many other points.
I think to that this challenging adventure for Mr. Dana restulted in restored vision for his failing eyes after he removed himself from life perhaps largely behind a desk. Could the neccessity of challenge and needed to see have contributed?
There are many facets and admirable points in this book. I think you would enjoy it.
Richard Henry Dana must have been a most extraordinary man. While attending Harvard as a young man, his eyesight became weak and his health declined. He decided that the austere prescription of salt air and plain hard work would be the cure. Not many would give up comfort and privelege, but for two years, Dana served as a common sailor, given no special treatment as the gentleman he was, and lived in the forecastle of the Alert, eating the mess of salt beef and common hardtack, risking his life and serving under a captain crueler than most.
Dana was able to write in such a way as to re-create the life on board a sailing ship, down to the smallest details and that's what makes this book so real and touching. You can feel the cold of Tierra del Fuego, taste the salt beef, and feel the wind and damp. What's more amazing is that Dana's carefully-kept journal was lost along with his other mementos of his voyage when he landed back on shore in Boston, due to some tragic carelessness of someone he entrusted with his chest of belongings. Yet he was able to recreate his voyage in loving detail and in some very excellent writing.
Dana's later life as a lawyer was far from happy, though he made some critical contributions to maritime law. He died a poor and disappointed man, but left us the richer with his book. I just re-read it again for the tenth time, and it is fresher than ever. Read it along side of Moby Dick. It's American literature and American history and culture at its very best.
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