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The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime Paperback – May 12, 2005
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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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From The New Yorker
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.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
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Top customer reviews
The author shows us just how wild and little-observed the seas of the world really are, even in the modern age of satellites and surveillance planes. He spends a bit too much of the book on one tragic accident when I'd have liked more detail about the big picture of ocean commerce and crime, but that is my preference. The sea sagas here are gripping, and there's a lot of important information for everyone concerned about the seas and those who travel on them.
- Matt Bille, author, The First Space Race (TAMU, 2004)
Other than that, the book is simplistic and a bit dated. The agenda, if there is one, also comes across as convoluted. Topics undertaken are, among others, anarchy at sea, pollution and labor in shipbreaking, the potential for terrorism at sea, piracy, and regulatory inadequacy. This is too scattered for such a short book. And unfortunately none is subjected to real analysis; it's all anecdotal. There are also no notes.
This book teaches the reader very little that is real or important about the shipping industry, focusing instead on the rare and the eye-catching.
Two high points for came early on. The author does a superb job of describing the vast expanse of the ungovernable ocean, three quarters of the globes surface, carrying 40,000 wandering merchant ships on any given day, and completely beyond the reach of sovereign states. The author does a fine job of demonstrating how most regulations and documentation are a complete facade, to the point of being both authentic, and irrelevant.
The author's second big point for me came early on as he explored the utility of the large ocean to both pirates and terrorists seeking to rest within its bosom, and I am quite convinced, based on this book, that one of the next several 9-11's will be a large merchant ship exploding toxically in a close in port situation--on page 43 he describes a French munitions ship colliding with a Norwegian freighter in Halifax. "Witnesses say that the sky erupted in a cubic mile of flame, and for the blink of an eye the harbor bottom went dry. More than 1,630 buildings were completely destroyed, another 12,000 were damaged, and more than 1,900 people died."
There is no question but that the maritime industry is much more threatening to Western ports than is the aviation industry in the aftermath of 9-11, and we appear to be substituting paperwork instead of profound changes in how we track ships--instead of another secret satellite, for example, we should redirect funds to a maritime security satellite, and demand that ships have both transponders and an easy to understand chain of ownership. There is no question that we are caught in a trap: on the one hand, a major maritime disaster will make 9-11 look like a tea party; on the other the costs--in all forms--of actually securing the oceans is formidable.
Having previously written about the urgent need for a 450-ship Navy that includes brown water and deep water intercept ships (at the Defense Daily site, under Reports, GONAVY), I secure the fourth star for the author, despite my disappointment over the middle of the book, by giving him credit for doing a tremendous job of defining the challenges that we face in the combination of a vast sea and ruthless individual stateless terrorists, pirates, and crime gangs collaborating without regard to any sovereign state.
I do have to say, as a reader of Atlantic Monthly, I am getting a little tired of finding their stuff recycled into books without any warning as to the origin. Certainly I am happy to buy Jim Fallows and Robert Kaplan, to name just two that I admire, but it may be that books which consist of articles thrown together, without any additional research or cohesive elements added (such as a bibliography or index), should come with a warning. I for one will be more alert to this prospect in the future.
Having said that, I will end with the third reason I went up to four stars: the third and final story, on the poisonous manner in which we export our dead ships to be taken apart by hand in South Asia, with hundreds of deaths and truly gruesome working conditions for all concerned, is not one of the stories I have seen in article form before, it is a very valuable story, and for this unanticipated benefit, I put the book down a happy reader, well satisfied with the over-all afternoon.
See also, with reviews:
Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy
Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource
Blue Frontier: Dispatches from America's Ocean Wilderness