43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2000
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.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
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. Thompson's experimentation with equipment, the comprehensive documentation of the site through photographs and film, the legal battles for the rights to the salvage, and the final recovery of "treasure" ranging from gold bars and coins to beautifully preserved suitcases of clothing are vividly portrayed.
A book with appeal to historians, engineers, marine scientists, adventurers, and all who pursue dreams, Kinder brings the entire recovery process to life, honoring the efforts and heroism of the Central America's Captain Herndon, the indomitable spirit of Thompson as he developed unique robots and equipment to explore the ocean at depths of over a mile, and the scientific commitment, rather than treasure-hunting, which inspired Thompson, his crew, and his backers, the Columbus-America Discovery Group. Gripping, and filled with the wonder of discovery, this is non-fiction at its most exciting best. Mary Whipple
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2000
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).
I also disliked the awkward order of the chapters, in which, in the midst of the shipwreck when you can't put the book down late at night, the action suddenly jumps to the 1980's and Thompson's meticulous efforts at building a salvage vessel, before returning to a conclusion of the Central America drama later. I would have preferred a more chronological approach. And while I'm griping, I think I might have preferred a little less of Thompson's life story. One needn't know about his odd jobs as a teenager to appreciate his accomplishments later.
All told this was a very entertaining ride, and I am looking forward to getting Thompson's book to fill in the pictoral blanks. If Amazon gave me the option I'd give it 3 and 1/2 stars.
24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2000
I feared that this would be yet another nonfiction book that starts out like gangbusters (California! Gold! Sunken treasure!), then fades into 400 pages that should have been a magazine article. I was mistaken -- this is a terrific book that (amazingly) maintains the reader's interest all the way through.
As I write this, there are >120 reader reviews for this book -- I assume that they are overwhelmingly positive (they should be, anyhow), and there's little I can add to the previous effusive commentaries. I will add the following critical comments, which (in my mind) forced a 4-star rather than a 5-star rating: (1) I found an excessive level of hero-worship here. Perhaps it was deserved, but I'd rather get there by myself, rather than have it force-fed ("he's a hero! "). (2) The really huge news in this book was the development of deep underwater techniques and tools. Yet, this is treated almost as an aside (e.g., over the next 2 months, the underwater robot (which nobody had ever built before due to technological deficiencies) was put together). This, it seems to me, was the big breakthrough, not guys poring over sonar charts. It would have been great to hear more about this story.
These are minor issues. It's a fine book. Go ahead.
And read it now, before they make a movie out of it.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2001
Gary Kinder chronicles the story of a young maverick, out-of-the-box thinking engineer in his efforts to use the recovery of a mid-nineteenth century shipwreck as a proving ground for his deep-ocean research ideas. Tommy Thompson is a tireless dreamer who never let an obstacle or the "conventional wisdom" stop him from focusing on his goal. Combined with this modern-day epic is the historical and human account of the original ship on its final voyage: who the passengers and crew were, why they were there, where they were from, where they were going, what the ship carried that made it such a significant event, and what happened in those final days and hours as the ship sank. Kinder has equaled Thompson's efforts with his diligence and attention to detail in writing this tale. He has taken the tedium of scientific research, investment capital and engineering physics and turned them into an edge-of-your-seat adventure! With every page I could not help but be in awe of the depth of research the author has put into this document. This book was given to me by my brother, who has a masters degree in English literature and who is a voracious reader. He described this as "the best book I have ever read." I have to agree. After 507 pages, I still didn't want it to end.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 1999
The prospective reader should understand that this it is not a novel but a well crafted and complete documentary of the historical background and recounting of an event that rivals the Apollo Mission to the moon. Those who fault the author for exhaustive detail should skip the pages they consider tedious. What is left is still an amazing and absorbing tail of high-seas drama, engineering genius and resolute dedication to the advancement of deep-sea exploration financed by the promise of rewards from a scientifically conducted treasure hunt.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 1999
I bought this book to take for a week's vacation to Hatteras Island on the Outer Banks. I couldn't put it down. I have always been a history buff, but rarely has a book so totally gripped me that I stayed up til all hours of the night reading, wanting to know if they made it. Kinder's book reads like a thriller, but it isn't. The photos in the inside cover of the paperback tantalize the reader. Yoy know that they found something, but was it the ship? Stay tuned, and keep reading. The individual passenger stories were well told. Since I live in the Norfolk area, I immediately went to the library in search of newspaper articles regarding the event and Thompson's search. The newspapers seemed to be a bit critical of Thompson, he definitely appears to be a treasure hunter. The book is very flattering of Thompson, he is very heroic. The truth I guess, must be somewhere in the middle. How can anybody's head not be turned by that much gold? The book is a superb read, and I highly recommend it to anybody looking for an engrossing read.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2001
Ship of Gold works on three different levels. It's the tense, terrifying story of the worst sea disaster in American history, until then. And its the suspenseful, nerve-wracking story of the recovery of its treasure. Finally, its a business case history that should be studied in every business school for the valuable lessons it teaches about managing a project.
Here are a few of the things it teaches: Get experience at someone else's expense. Analyze other people's mistakes. Analyze other people's successes. Become an expert. Know how to find other experts. Build a network of experts. Get information from other experts without tipping your hand. Plan carefully. Execute your plans daringly.
And a dozen other vitally important lessons. Have the fun of finishing this list. Buy this book.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I don't know which is more fascinating, the story of the steamship Central America sinking amid a violent storm; or the story of the engineer extraordinaire who resolved to recover it's California gold rush cargo that had remained undisturbed for almost 125 years under two miles of ocean. Fortunately, Gary Kinder chose to tell both tales and they are equally engrossing
Almost by definition, disasters at sea make for interesting reading, and the foundering of the Central America ranks among the worst maritime losses in American history. She went down in water over 10,000 feet deep, lost for over a century. Kinder relates her final voyage, illuminating the heroism of her captain, crew and passengers in a style that nearly makes the reader weep as her decks vanish into the sea. That alone would make this book worthy of note in any list of ship histories, but Tommy Thompson determined to find the wreck and to recover a treasure that many experts considered to be unrecoverable.
It takes a talented writer to make an engineer seem interesting, or maybe the engineer just has to combine an almost Edison-like gift for innovation with a bit of treasure hunter to be interesting. First you have to find the ship, then you have to figure out how to bring it's cargo back to the surface - no mean feat at those depths. But Thompson wasn't content with simply finding and recovering the gold bullion and coins that went down with the Central America, he wanted to bring the artifacts up as cleanly and completely as possible. Where others might have been content to just sink a robot-controlled bucket down to the wreck and scoop up what ever could be found, Thompson and his crew invented new technologies that brought coins up with so little damage that appraisers at first questioned whether they were from a shipwreck. Thompson and company face one challenge after another, engineering problems, technologic problems, financial problems and even the drama provided by rival treasure hunters. You might be surprised how difficult it can be to put this book down.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2002
It's such a cliche to say "I couldn't put it down!" but in this case, it's 100 percent true. I picked this book up at my friend's beach house thinking I'd read it off and on over the weekend and just leave it there, possibly unfinished. Well, I spent that whole weekend with my nose in the book, and needless to say, borrowed it to take home and finish.
The book is fascinating. It has a great story -- really two great stories, connected -- and is well written, too. The earlier part of the book, which deals mostly with the wreck of the U.S. Central America during the "gold rush" period, is a detailed and fascinating slice of American history as well as a breathtaking account of a terrible disaster. It features memorable characters and true human drama as the ship's passengers fight for survival for themselves and their loved ones, and even strangers -- or, in some cases, struggle only to save their precious gold.
The later story, the account of engineer Tommy Thompson's efforts to retrieve the ship and the gold that went down with it, is in its way just as fascinating and suspenseful. Thompson is an amazing real-life character, a sort of "mad genius" who drags a whole cadre of smart young people with him on his quest to do things no one has ever done before. The monetary value of the gold truly becomes irrelevant as the team fights to retrieve their treasure in the face of bad weather, limited funding, incredible technological hurdles, fierce and unscrupulous competition, and, of course, the might of the ocean itself.
You will not be disappointed by this book. It truly "has it all."