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A Voyage for Madmen Paperback – June 4, 2002

4.7 out of 5 stars 108 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the psychedelic summer of 1968, as Apollo 8 soared toward the moon and the Democratic Convention crashed in Chicago, nine men tried finally to accomplish the sailor's age-old ultimate goal: a solo, nonstop circumnavigation of the world. Nichols (Sea Change) deftly introduces myriad aspects of a voyage that promised "dubious, unquantifiable" rewards. He insightfully contextualizes the endeavor as an offshoot of Sir Francis Chichester's famous 1967 solo circumnavigation (with one stop), which represented to England a "longed-for" heroism. Detailing the British media's successful exploitation of the so-called race, he approaches the voyage as the remarkable result of nine men wishing to outdo Chichester. Nichols painstakingly describes the enormous difficulty of solo navigation in the pre-global positioning system of the 1960s. These "hardcase egomaniacs driven by complex desires and vainglory to attempt an extreme, life-threatening endeavor" used only rudimentary equipment and their wits. Nichols is at his liveliest when describing the only two participants who "were really happy aboard their boats": the French-Asian Bernard Moitessier, the most skilled sailor, whose mystical seamanship brings surprises, and the British Robin Knox-Johnson, who was energized during his journey by the memory of "the Elizabethan sea heroes of his youth." Nichols also delivers a compelling portrait of English Donald Crowhurst, an electronics engineer whose "supercharged personality" wreaked havoc on the entire race. While Nichols's pace is neither breakneck nor suspenseful, his careful details and psychological insight make for a riveting account of the triumphant human spirit. 16-page photo insert, 8 maps.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In 1968 there remained one major nautical challenge yet to be accomplished: sailing single-handedly nonstop around the world. Nine men set out to achieve it in one of the most widely publicized yacht races. What could possess nine otherwise sane and responsible men to risk their lives, careers, and the well-being of their families by undertaking such a reckless endeavor? Nichols introduces the reader to the contestants, giving a vivid portrayal of the men attempting the feat. He expertly tells their individual stories in great detail: why they entered the race, what they had staked on winning, and their struggles at sea. He weaves their story together to form a comprehensive account of the race that reads like a suspense novel. Readers will eagerly turn the pages to discover how some were defeated by the ocean or the race's harsh rules and the lengths to which one contestant went to be declared the winner. An interesting slice of history that makes for a worthy seagoing adventure story. Gavin Quinn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (June 4, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060957034
  • ISBN-13: 978-0732275921
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,261 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter Nichols is the author of the novel, "The Rocks," the international bestsellers "A Voyage for Madmen" and "Evolution's Captain," and three other books of fiction, memoir, and non-fiction. He spent ten years at sea working as a professional captain and has taught creative writing at Georgetown University. NYU in Paris, Bowdoin College. He currently teaches in the MFA program at Antioch University Los Angeles.

"Not an unswerving literary trajectory. I've wanted to write - and to be a writer - since childhood. In my 20s I worked at writerly jobs in advertising and journalism while I wrote two unpublished novels. Then I stepped aboard a friend's yacht and my life swung away toward boats and the sea for a decade. I became, in turn, a boat bum, a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed commercial captain, and a proficient navigator with sextant. Then the leaky 27-foot, engineless wooden sailboat that had been my home for 5 years, in which I'd twice crossed the Atlantic, sank near the end of my third crossing (I was alone). But I had found a subject.
I was rescued and crawled ashore in Los Angeles where, naturally, I began writing screenplays. I was fatally encouraged: I found agents and made a little money, but never saw my screenplays (they were full of leaky projects and rootless characters) turned into films. Unhappy with my screenwriting career (and my non-writing career of many jobs, including being a 'ship wrangler' in Borneo for a bad pirate movie), I fled LA to a shack in Northern California where I wrote what became a memoir of my years afloat and the twinned sinkings of my boat and first marriage ("Sea Change"). In the next ten years I published a novel and three more books of non-fiction - all about not so much the sea and sailors, but fringe characters who have retreated to the water's edge and have nowhere else to go.
Being published changed everything. I went fairly quickly from being a yachtie, shepherd, carpenter, ship wrangler with literary delusions to a visiting professor of creative writing at some good colleges. I've been fortunate to have wonderful students. I love teaching because I can tell young writers what it took me decades to learn - simply, that yes, you can, if you really believe in yourself and don't give up. I dreamed of becoming a writer and I became one. And if I did it, they can too.

My novel, "The Rocks," (2015) is not about boats and the sea but represents a new direction for me as a writer of fiction. I hope there will be more non-boaty novels."

PN, 2015

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
One day I heard a couple of book reviewers on the radio rattle off a list of good books, and I jotted this title down. When I got the book, I was uncertain as to whether I would enjoy it. The only sailing I had ever done was out in SF Bay as a passenger whose assigned job was to stay out of the way.
But after reading the book, my view of sailing has changed. This book utterly grabbed me. I couldn't put it down and I relished every word.
While the book is a true story, it isn't just a documentary. It is full of stories and portraits of people who are more fantastic than fiction. I think that not knowing anything about the Golden Globe race kept me in greater suspense. This was a page-turner 'til the very end.
I applaud Peter Nichols and his writing style. I read Perfect Storm and found it sterile and unemotional. This book was just the opposite. It was invigorating, enriching and human.
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Format: Hardcover
There have been an amazing number of books about sailing adventures released over the past several years. Peter Nichols's "A Voyage for Madmen" is one of the better ones. Given that solo sailing circumnavigations are a yearly ritual today, we tend to forget that as recently as a generation ago it was practically unheard of. In 1968, nine sailors, mostly independently of one another, decided to try and become the first to sail around the world alone without stopping. This was in an era before satelite weather radar or advanced communication equipment. Basically, for their whole voyage, the competitors faced the ravages of the sea alone. The feat became a contest to see who could finish first and who could finish the fastest. That seperate distinction became moot, when only one sailor was able to complete the journey.
Nichols expertly introduces each of the competetors and describes the unbelievable difficulties they faced. An ardent sailor himself, he writes with much authority, but with also much drama. The only drawback is that at times he is too technical for the non-sailor to follow, but thies hardly dulls the book's excitement. In fact if you go in unfamiliar (as I was) with the actual event, this book reads like a novel with surprise twists and turns along the way. And the eventual winner of the race is the type of hero, though we may question his sanity, that anyone can admire.
Overall, this a great book for sailing enthusiasts that can also be enjoyed by anyone else who like a good nautical story.
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Format: Hardcover
Hard to put down, but best savored with patience in smaller bites. Many nuggets of wisdom and a plethora of well turned prose. I've read several of the other great books about the 1968 Golden Globe, ie; The Long Way (Bernard Moitessier), A World of My Own (Robin Knox-Johnston) and The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst (Tomalin and Hall), but this book is different from any of them. Mr Nichol's insightful overview of the race brings all these other books together to deepen your picture of this historical event.
Having the perspective of these other books really heightened MY enjoyment, however I'm recommending this book to friends as a "first exposure" to this fascinating story. With the author's own seagoing background (his other non-fiction book, Sea Change, is also excellent) and unbridled love of the sea and things nautical, this story truly comes to life!
I can't say how a non-sailor will take this book, but if you enjoy a good story, and particularly a good sea yarn, you'll love this book! Kudos to Peter Nichols. I want more!!!
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By A Customer on June 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book after reading an excelent review in the New York Times. I was therefore fully expecting to find the story very interesting as I am an armchair adventurer (I have much enjoyed the recent non-fiction thrillers like "Into Thin Air" and "The Perfect Storm"). I was however, completely unprepared for how exciting a book this is. I've rarely been seriously unable to put a book down before now. I read "A Voyage For Madmen" from cover to cover, entirely enthralled to the last, heart-rending page. Not only does the book take you right on board the boat with these 'madmen' on their extraordinary voyage, but Nichols' insight into the soul of these men, and of the sea itself, makes this a profoundly moving book, and one which goes a long way towards answering the deep questions about the devils that drive such men. A wonderful book!
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Format: Hardcover
I read Peter Nichols first book, "Sea Change" with complete facination. He is a great storyteller and a wise soul. He told that true story, of a rocky marriage, of life on a beloved boat and the ultimate demise of both, with grace and candor.
The new book, "Voyage for Madmen" is, again, a beautifully and honestly told true story. His knowledge of the sea and boats gives him the proper foundation to tell the harrowing tale of the Golden Globe race, but it's his ability to get inside the people involved that makes this a great read.
Nichols has done it again. Keep up the great work.
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Format: Paperback
If you had written this same story in a fiction format, nobody would have stomached it. Nine men start a race around the world and no two finish it in quite the same way? One never stops, another goes insane, some drop out early, others are forced to ditch on the verge of finishing, and the winner is unlikely and likeable?
But it's a true story, and a well told one at that. Nichols tells enough to make the layman feel at home with the nautical ins and outs of his story, but doesn't dumb it down so much as to exclude experienced sailers.
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