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The Private Journal of William Reynolds: United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 (Penguin Classics) Paperback – October 26, 2004
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About the Author
William Reynolds (1815–1879) was a junior officer on the Ex. Ex. with Captain Wilkes.
Nathaniel Philbrick, is a leading authority on the history of Nantucket Island. His In the Heart of the Sea won the National Book Award. His latest book is Sea of Glory, about the epic U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1838–1842. His other books include Away off Shore: Nantucket Island and Its People, 1602-1890 (which Russell Baker called "indispensable") and Abram's Eyes: The Native American Legend of Nantucket Island ("a classic of historical truthtelling," according to Stuart Frank, director of the Kendall Whaling Museum). He has written an introduction to a new edition of Joseph Hart's Miriam Coffin, or The Whale Fisherman, a Nantucket novel (first published in 1834) that Melville relied upon for information about the island when writing Moby Dick.
Philbrick, a champion sailboat racer, has also written extensively about sailing, including The Passionate Sailor (1987) and the forthcoming Second Wind: A Sunfish Sailor's Odyssey. He was editor in chief of the classic Yaahting: A Parody (1984).
In his role as director of the Egan Institute of Maritime Studies, Philbrick, who is also a research fellow at the Nantucket Historical Association, gives frequent talks about Nantucket and sailing. He has appeared on "NBC Today Weekend", A&E's "Biography" series, and National Public Radio and has served as a consultant for the movie "Moby Dick", shown on the USA Network. He received a bachelor of Arts from Brown University and a Master of Arts in American Literature from Duke. He lives on Natucket with his wife and two children.
Thomas Philbrick is professor emeritus of English at the University of Pittsburgh.
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Top Customer Reviews
As a narrative, the book is somewhat marred by Reynold's increasing dislike of the Exploring Expedition's commander, Lt. Charles Wilkes. Two years into the expedition, Reynolds lets his hatred of the man he once idolized surface too often. Historians seem to agree that Wilkes was a difficult, possibly paranoid, tyrant; and Wilkes described himself proudly as a "martinet" in letters home. The increasing dislike from his officers is a matter of record; several brought charges against him on the expedition's return but he was acquitted of all but one minor charge by a Court Martial. Hatred happens on a small sailing vessel on short voyages and the Exploring Expedition was gone for three years. All that said, the increasing drumbeat of complaints about Wilkes is distracting, but the journals are one of the best first-hand accounts of the sailing Navy I have read.
This journal was written as the experiences were being lived and it has a wonderful immediacy. Reynolds was quite young at the time and he can be a little gushy but it pays off overall as successfully conveying the true feelings of the experience. The last few chapters were actually a little too real since the experiences were so harrowing it was nerve-wracking and exhausting to read them.
Reynolds complains quite a few times about the commodore, Wilkes. From reading this and from Charlie Erskine's (another crewman on the expedition) recollections of Wilkes, it's clear Wilkes was an arrogant and brutal autocrat. Apparently this is the kind of character that it takes to get this kind of job done. I had no great respect for the goals of the expedition so I didn't have any problem with sharing Reynold's (and Erskine's) anger and contempt for Wilkes. Reynolds did value the expedition, was patriotic and tried to be a good naval officer and he still despised Wilkes.