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Two Years Before the Mast Paperback – January 29, 2013

4.5 out of 5 stars 76 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 442 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (January 29, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1482305860
  • ISBN-13: 978-1482305869
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,026,264 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Our technological world makes us forget what life was like when men, by sheer force of will and dangerous physical teamwork, could use the forces of nature to travel thousands of miles across oceans on wooden ships under fabric sails without electronics or comforts. What surprised me was the beauty of the writing by a young man in the 1830s. Dana's descriptions of raising the anchor and sails to glide out of California harbors, the four month journey trying to round Cape Horn in winter, the misery beneath decks, and the excitement as the ship headed north in the Atlantic toward home in Massachusetts created vivid scenes that still resonate in my mind. After his return home to Harvard and its law school, Dana dedicated his life to improving the slave-like lives of the sailors. I highly recommend this book to escape from our screens.
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Format: Paperback
I read part of this in Jr HS, then all of it after I graduated from college; my Shakespeare teacher (38 plays in the full year course) asked me, as he read it, why so much reference to the "lee scuppers." For a beginning sailor like me, an easy answer: those are the drains that fill because of the heel of the boat away from windward.
I recall how Dana records the loss of their first crewman off South America; this, from a small crew, perhaps 15? I should re-read. Then I recall the great joy of their tea and molasses, or after reefing the topsail, some grog (with rum). The weather around Cape Horn was abysmal, with big seas and sleet and snow, but they were on their way to pick up hides dropped down from the high coasts of certain California ports. Dana observes that if the Californians ever learn to make shoes, their services will no longer be required: shipping hides, taking them around Cape Horn to New England to be made into shoes, which are then shipped around Cape Horn to be sold to the Californians.
The fear of the captain and mates, the appreciation of the cook and his tea, the hard work and danger aloft--these remain with me fifty years after reading Dana
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Even as a lit major, I had never read this one. Something suggested it and so I made up for having never.
It can be repetitious and technically repetitious but that is part of what makes it absorbing. In addition,
I was raised in California and the description of pastoral California in the 1830's is excellent. It was the
one book he needed to write and we are wealthier for it.
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A classic that anyone interested in America's history, especially the West Coast pre-gold rush must read. The story is the tale of an upper middle class student taking off a couple of years to sail around the horn, as an able bodied seaman, to San Francisco spending considerable time at most ports on the California coast. The story is gripping and the sense of being there is captivating. Now, almost 200 years after publication, it is still a page turner.
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. . . ever! And I'm four score and eight months more.

Richard Henry Dana set out on a voyage that would take him from Boston, Massachusetts, to a California that few could identify with today. At the latter, there was no-one there! Well, not many. San Diego, for instance, was a sleepy little harbour; at least it was until his and other ships from time to time put in there, when the serious business of loading hides for Boston got under way. He even spent about six months ashore, preparing hides. Dana found even San Francisco's beautiful harbour almost devoid of human activity. Not that he would have considered that an unusual state, for he was not to know what lay ahead for it. Los Angeles was a town of 20,000 souls. And this was not so long ago: 1832-34. Crikey! Only 100 years before I was born!

The scruffy lightweight little ship Pilgrim took him round Cape Horn; seemingly without much incident, for he makes no big deal of that phase of his voyage. But we do learn from him, in amazing detail, of the day-to-day workings of, not only this vessel, but also of the Alert, the smartest ship on the Boston-California run in which he served on the return leg of his voyage. He has the ability to put us on board with himself, as if we were of the crew itself. I could feel the rope in my hands and below my feet, as I sped, with frozen fingers, to the topmost yard. I felt the cold blasts off icebergs of the Southern Ocean. I sweated in the tropic. I witnessed a brutal flogging by one captain, and suffered the indifference and wile of an uncaring other. All of this, as he an ordinary seaman, a choice he made, rather than as a passenger, which he could easily have afforded to be.
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I only read the book for a book club that I was in. Most of the people in the book club hated it. But it was a good book to read if you like to read about how sailors sailed the seas back in the days.
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Well written book. Hard to read in some cases, because of the arcane terminology used to describe all the sails & the tasks that had to be performed to get them changed according the weather. Three main takeaways from the book are 1) how tough the sailing life actually was, in general; 2) how scary and life-threatening it must have been to round Cape Horn, especially during southern winter; 3) how much California changed after the gold rush - the book mostly describing the California coast during 1835-1836.

This book appears to have been 'influential' in the time frame 1850-1860, when people were thirsting for knowledge about California. This was a true account of what it was like when it was still a total backwater, providing depots to store and load hides onto shipping for resale back east, and little else!
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