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Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea Hardcover – June, 1998

4.6 out of 5 stars 390 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The facts speak for themselves. In 1857, the Central America, a sidewheel steamer ferrying passengers fresh from the gold rush of California to New York and laden with 21 tons of California gold, encountered a severe storm off the Carolina coast and sank, carrying more than 400 passengers and all her cargo down with her. She then sat for 132 years, 200 miles offshore and almost two miles below the ocean's surface--a depth at which she was assumed to be unrecoverable--until 1989, when a deep-water research vessel sailed into the harbor at Norfolk, Virginia, fat with salvaged gold coins and bullion estimated to be worth one billion dollars.

Author Gary Kinder wisely lets the story of the Columbus-America Discovery Group, led by maverick scientist and entrepreneur Tommy Thompson, unfold without hyperbole. Kinder interweaves the tale of the Central America and her passengers and crew with Thompson's own story of growing up landlocked in Ohio, an irrepressible tinkerer and explorer even in his childhood days, and his progress to adulthood as a young man who always had "7 to 14" projects on the table or spinning in his head at any given moment. One of those projects would become the preposterous recovery of the stricken steamer, and the resourcefulness and later urgency with which the project would proceed is contrasted poignantly with the Central America's doomed battle in 1857 to stay afloat.

Thompson, who spent nearly a decade planning and organizing his recovery effort, emerges as one of the great unsung adventurers of these times (the technical innovations alone required for such a task produced a windfall for the scientific community and defined a new state of the art for deep-sea explorers and treasure hunters), and the story of the steamer's sinking is compelling enough to make any reader wonder why the Central America sinking isn't synonymous with shipwreck in this Titanic-happy age. --Tjames Madison

From Publishers Weekly

Enormous publicity surrounded the 1989 recovery of an estimated billion dollars worth of gold?one of the greatest sunken treasures ever found?from the 1857 wreck of the SS Central America. Most of the publicity, however, came from media that, according to the author, "didn't have a clue what it was all about" and centered on the sensational aspects of the find off the Carolina coast. The story of the wreck itself, and the staggering effort it took to locate and recover the treasure, is the subject of Kinder's involving, fully realized history of the ship that amounts to a treasure in itself. He begins with a vivid account of the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in California, then seamlessly moves into discussions of everything from the ship's departure from San Francisco to nuclear submarine technology to the modern legal mechanics of securing offshore salvage projects. Along the way, Kinder (Victim) introduces the reader to a genuine American archetype?the eccentric Tommy Thompson. The inventor/scientist/adventurer, who led the decade-long "treasure hunt" (a term he despised) from start to finish, is constantly at the center of activity that involves not just finding a wreck 200 miles offshore but the juggling of investors, competitors, lawyers, scientists, a sea captain and an endless cast of cantankerous characters. The reader is thrilled by the thoroughness and intelligence of Thompson's planning and execution, as well as by Kinder's research and writing. This account of discovery, greed, technology and the elements makes for a splendid sea adventure.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 507 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Pr; 1st edition (June 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871134640
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871134646
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.8 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (390 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #99,783 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
One of the best nonfiction books I have ever read, and it's going to be hard to beat. It has many elements tied together into one highly readable volume, I'm surprised this wasn't nominated(as far as I know) for any awards. The book flips back and forth between a historical account of the SS Central America's final journey, and modern day efforts to recover the lost ship. Gary Kinder's extensive research and subsequent account of the SS Central America reads like a high-suspense thriller. The recovery process is a lesson in itself, demonstrating what persistence, determination and innovation can accomplish. Impossible? To Tommy Thompson that word was meaningless. "It can be done...Make it work...There is a way...You just haven't looked at all the possible perspectives." Where most, if not all, would have given up, he persisted and found and recovered a ship that was sitting on the ocean floor at "impossible" depths. The sub-ocean equivalent of putting people into space, this story is not to be missed.
Tommy Thompson has since published a coffee-table quality companion book, that shows numerous pictures and details of what he found. If anyone has read "Ship of Gold", this companion book is not to be missed! (can't think of the exact title offhand, but just search: Tommy Thompson)
This book would make a fine movie. I don't think a page went by without anything interesting going on. As a matter of fact I'm sure that by now a studio has bought the film rights.
And finally, this is the first book that comes to mind whenever anyone asks "Read any good books lately?" and is one that I wouldn't hesistate to give as a gift. Great, great stuff.
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Format: Paperback
Gary Kinder tells three spell-binding narratives as he describes the search for the SS Central America, a sidewheel steamer which left Panama in 1857 and went down in the Atlantic while carrying gold from California (then valued at over $2 million). First person accounts by some of the survivors tell of the ship's journey, the hurricane which suddenly arose in the Atlantic, and the frantic efforts of crew and passengers to keep the engines fired and the ship afloat. Touching love stories revealed in these accounts give human faces to the drama, as women and children were put into lifeboats while their husbands stayed with the ship.

These survivor accounts alternate with the narrative of the life of young Tommy Thompson, a phenomenally inventive child who grew up in Ohio, studied engineering, became fascinated by the challenges of underwater engineering, and eventually worked for famed treasure hunter Mel Fisher, learning what kind of underwater equipment was needed but not available. In the early 1980s, Thompson, more interested in research than in treasure, decided to search for the SS Central America, with the backing of a group he convinced to underwrite his expedition. As the ship was thought to be in eight thousand feet of water, deeper than had ever been explored, Thompson would succeed only if he could design the necessary equipment.

The third story describes the search for the ship itself, a search which had two false starts before the site was finally located. Kinder develops almost unbearable tension as he describes how Thompson has to fend off rivals who are "treasure hunters," rather than scientists.
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Format: Paperback
This well-research and generally well-written book tells two very different and equally fascinating tales, the sinking of the Steamship Central America in deep water off the Carolinas in 1857, and the efforts by Tommy Thompson to locate and salvage the vessel in 1989. Both stories are skillfully told, and for a book whose outcome is known by reading the book jacket, the suspense remains high.
First, the shipwreck. Anyone who, like myself, had ever visited the U.S. Naval Academy and watched plebes hopelessly trying to climb the impressive Herndon Monument will appreciate the true story of Capt. Herndon and his gallantry aboard the Central America, as he supervised rescue efforts to incredibly save the women and children in the deep Atlantic while valiantly remaining with his ship, laden with Gold Rush loot.
The other half of the story focuses on Thompson, a skilled engineer who managed to do something the United States Navy was unsuccessful doing, namely designing and building a workable, unmanned, deep sea salvage vessel. When one fully learns the difficulties presented in this task, and the monumental odds of even locating the Central America, the achievement becomes truly remarkable.
The book is not without its faults however. First, even though the salvage efforts struck gold in 1989, there were no photographs at all. I would've loved to have at least gotten a glimpse of the treasures brought from the ocean floor. ( I understand Thompson has now written a "coffee table" book which might be read as a companion to Kinder's book, complete with wonderful pictures).
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