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The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty Paperback – Deckle Edge, May 25, 2004

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Editorial Reviews Review

Surely this exhaustingly-researched, enthralling and enthusiastically-written tome is the last word on the most famous of all seafaring mutinies, that of shipmate Fletcher Christian and against Lieutenant Bligh on the Bounty. More than 200 years have gone by since the ship left England after dreadful weather kept it harbored for months, on its mission to transport breadfruit from Tahiti to the West Indies. The mutiny in Tahiti left the mutineers scattered about the paradisiacal islands and found Bligh and 18 of his loyal crew members set adrift in a 23-foot open boat. Bligh, who'd served as Capt. James Cook's sailing master, fantastically maneuvered the crew on a 48-day, 3,600-mile journey to safety. Caroline Alexander, author of The Endurance, is never in over her head even when weaving together densely twisting narratives, or explaining the unwritten rules of the Royal Navy, of the complexities of class and hierarchy that impelled much of what happened aboard the Bounty. The book centers far more on the effort to round up the mutineers than the actual mutiny itself. The book is enlivened by the colorful commentary of the crew members themselves, gleaned from letters and court documents. Alexander does us all the favor of presenting Bligh the way he was understood and received in his day--as a brilliant navigator who, when placed in context, was not a brutal task-master at all. She roots the tyrannical figure we know so well from the movies on the last-ditch efforts of one well-connected crew member to save his own hide from hanging. --Mike McGonigal --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A contributor to the New Yorker, Granta, Cond‚ Nast Traveler and National Geographic, Alexander brings the past to life with travel narratives spanning continents and centuries. Alexander (The Endurance) again recreates a high seas voyage, retelling a familiar story-of the South Pacific misadventures of the small British naval vessel the Bounty-yet taking a fresh look at the drama. Commanded by William Bligh, the Bounty left England in December 1787 to transport breadfruit trees from Tahiti to the West Indies. During the 1789 mutiny, Bligh and crew members were set adrift in an open boat and eventually returned to England. Bligh-who up until now has been viewed as a tyrant-was praised at the time, Alexander finds, since "no feat of seamanship was deemed to surpass Bligh's navigation and command of The Bounty's 23-foot-long launch, and few feats of survival compared with his men's forty-eight-day ordeal on starvation rations." Alexander's reconstruction of the mutiny and its aftermath (thanks to her exhaustive research through books, reports, newspapers, correspondence, historical societies and archives) is almost as remarkable as Bligh's feat. She details daily events during the captured mutineers' court-martial, expanding on court transcripts. Separating facts from falsehoods and myths in the closing chapters, she finally turns to the life of the mutineers on Pitcairn Island, noting "this fantastic tale of escape to paradise at the far end of the world had the allure of something epic." Alexander's work is destined to become the definitive, enthralling history of a great seafaring adventure. Maps and illus. not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 491 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (May 25, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142004693
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142004692
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (150 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #238,683 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Caroline Alexander was born in Florida, of British parents and has lived in Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. She studied philosophy and theology at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar and has a doctorate in classics from Columbia University. She is the author of the best-selling The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition which has been translated into thirteen languages. She writes frequently for The New Yorker and National Geographic, and she is the author of four other books, including Mrs Chippy's Last Expedition, the journal of the Endurance's ship's cat.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

80 of 86 people found the following review helpful By bensmomma on May 25, 2004
Format: Paperback
Caroline Alexander takes a story you perhaps thought you knew-the 1789 mutiny on board the HMS Bounty-and says something new about it, in a style that is both economical, elegant, and exciting. In a first chapter that is a masterpiece of simple story-telling, she structures the fantastic story: "Captain" William Bligh (in fact, he was only a lieutenant) commanded the HMS Bounty to Tahiti, suffered the mutiny of part of his crew, and navigated a simple row-boat across many thousands of miles of the Pacific to be rescued. A second voyage, undertaken by the HMS Pandora, discovered many mutineers on a distant island, taking them into custody, only to be broken up in a terrible storm, its survivors (crew and prisoners) enduring a second open-boat voyage to safety. On return to England a length court-martial condemned many of the mutineers to death, but left unscathed young Peter Heywood, convicted but later pardoned.
The traditional view of things (i.e. the one you `know' from the movie versions) has Bligh as a torturer, the famous Fletcher Christian as a defender of the ordinary sailor's rights, and Heywood as an innocent bystander. Through careful reading of seemingly every contemporary document-including every bit of the trial transcripts-Alexander subverts the story to one of privilege rebelling against authority: whereas Bligh came from a family of extremely modest means, Christian and Heywood both came from old and well-connected families who, after the courtmartial, ensured their own good names by besmirching Bligh's.
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92 of 100 people found the following review helpful By Jeff Peirce on September 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I read the "Bounty Trilogy" over 40 years ago, and I never forgot the fascinating story of the Bounty. As the years passed,I read other books on the subject, including Bligh's account of the voyage and mutiny. All were interesting.
Finally, we have a wonderful new book on the subject. "The Bounty" could not have been a more enjoyable, and fascinating reading experience. I am still depressed the book is finished.
The book tells as true a story of the muntiny as one could expect. It was not,of course, like the old "Bounty Trilogy," but it was written as well, and told a wonderful non-fictionl account of the events. I learned more background, and the fate of the crew and others involved in the mutiny. The section on the court martial was extremely interesting.
I think this is one of the best books I have read in a long time. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Alex Gilly on August 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Caroline Alexander's history of the Bounty is a magnificent synthesis of deft narrative and thorough, patient scholarship.

The chapters describing the court-martial kept me up until the wee hours. Alexander's description of the captured mutineers' ordeal, sourced from, and coloured by, a mind-bogglingly vast pile of primary sources, is a gripping account of what it would be like to have your life depend on the opinions of 12 British naval officers at the end of the 18th century. That the mutineers' hopes and fears, as they passed daily beneath the yardarms from which three of them would eventually be hanged, mattered so much to me that I lost sleep over them is a testament to the author's art.

Anyone offering a postmodernist rant against this type of history should be smacked on the side of the head with Alexander's 450+ page book.

Alexander uncovers the elaborate webs of allegiance and interest that underscored the Bounty's mission, her crew, their mutiny, the court-martial, and the various smear campaigns that followed. This last in particular amazed me, I had no idea that so many of the Bounty's crew had published their own accounts of the mutiny.

The author also reveals the important roles various women played in events. Apart from the "seductions of Tahiti," as Alexander puts it, I had never known that women were such an integral part of the Bounty story. In her final chapter, Alexander mentions that there were frequently women aboard British men-of-war, though they weren't usually listed in the ships' books. O'Brian knew this and wrote women onto ships in various tomes of his Aubrey-Maturin series, though the film "Master and Commander" leaves them out of the picture.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By E. Baxter VINE VOICE on September 30, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Like many today, the only knowledge I had of the mutiny on the Bounty had come in bits and pieces from popular culture. I was well aware of the portrait of Bligh as a tyrannical madman forcing his subordinates to his will. However, is that characterization correct? If not, then why would his men mutiny? These and many other questions are answered in great detail in Caroline Alexander's book. I began reading with the expectation that the mutiny would take place with some swashbuckling battle for control of the ship, ultimately deposing Bligh and his allies. The mutiny actually took place fairly peacefully and is really a strange spectacle. The bulk of the book is not concerned directly with the mutiny itself but in the courts-martial drama that follows. The events that took place on the Bounty are told from multiple, often contradictory standpoints. It is hard to tell exactly who is innocent and who guilty. It amazes me that the mutiny seems to have been put together at the last minute. Christian Fletcher's motives remain shrouded in some mystery. Alexander asserts, with good evidence, that it was the lure of Tahiti that ultimately lit the fuse. This seems a partial explanation in my mind however, because Fletcher's reaction seems so abrupt and drastic. Perhaps this can be attributed to the excess of alcohol.

I enjoyed being taken back to Tahiti, having read several books of Cook's voyages, and enjoyed reading of the mutiny, the sailors involved, and what eventually happened to the mutineers. I was, however, disappointed that I found myself in a book that reads more as a courtroom drama than adventure on the high seas. I wish Alexander had spent more time and detail on the open boat voyage and the mysterious malaise that eventually struck several who survived it.
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