From Publishers Weekly
The sea's unpredictability and savage indifference to the things it touches are the defining themes of Langewiesche's well-researched book, which sadly does not fare well in audio. Beginning with an exploration of the open nature of the waterways—a world where standards are ill-defined, rules inconsistent and laws difficult to enforce—the book alternates from historical background to compellingly written narratives of the ugly things that can happen on the water, from piracy to shipwreck. But Langewiesche's presentation is monotonous, and his delivery is more befitting a dry scholarly journal than such a vivid and emotional story. The climax of the book comes fairly late, when Langewiesche describes the 1994 Estonia disaster, which claimed 850 lives, and then follows it up with other examples of how greed at sea (too many passengers, too much cargo, or both) has led to tragedy. Even here, Langewiesche's voice lacks emotion; indeed, it sounds as if the material doesn't interest him. Langewiesche (American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center) has written an eloquent and powerful book, but you wouldn't know it from hearing him read it.
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For Langewiesche, the ocean is still a frontier, a lawless domain where brute economics always trumps moral considerations. His overview ranges from a story of contemporary piracy off the coast of Indonesia to a portrait of the ship-breaking yards of India, where workers die by the dozen. The centerpiece of his exploration is the sinking, in 1994, of the ferry Estonia in the Baltic Sea, in which more than eight hundred and fifty people died. In harrowing detail, Langewiesche describes the chaos—sons abandoning mothers, criminals robbing fellow-passengers amid the confusion—and then follows the botched investigation that ensued. He makes an eloquent case that the ocean's forgotten corners have become too dangerous to neglect: Al Qaeda has begun to use freighters to smuggle its members across international borders.
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Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.