In 1838, the U.S. government launched the largest discovery voyage the Western world had ever seen-6 sailing vessels and 346 men bound for the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Four years later, the U.S. Exploring Expedition, or Ex. Ex. as it was known, returned with an astounding array of accomplishments and discoveries: 87,000 miles logged, 280 Pacific islands surveyed, 4,000 zoological specimens collected, including 2,000 new species, and the discovery of the continent of Antarctica. And yet at a human level, the project was a disaster-not only had 28 men died and 2 ships been lost, but a series of sensational courts-martial had also ensued that pitted the expedition's controversial leader, Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, against almost every officer under his command.
Though comparable in importance and breadth of success to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the Ex. Ex. has been largely forgotten. Now, the celebrated Nathaniel Philbrick re-creates this chapter of American maritime history in all its triumph and scandal.
Like the award-winning In the Heart of the Sea, Sea of Glory combines meticulous history with spellbinding human drama as it circles the globe from the palm-fringed beaches of the South Pacific to the treacherous waters off Antarctica and to the stunning beauty of the Pacific Northwest, and, finally, to a court-martial aboard a ship of the line anchored off New York City.
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The expeditions of Magellan, Columbus, and Lewis and Clark have been well documented and are instantly familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in world history. But the average person is likely unaware of the U.S. Exploring Expedition or its mercurial leader, Charles Wilkes. This despite the numerous accomplishments and lasting legacy of the massive four-year project that involved six ships and hundreds of men. The "Ex. Ex.," as it came to be known, is credited with the discovery of Antarctica, the first accurate charting of what is now Oregon and Washington, the retrieval of thousands of new species of life, and the foundation of the Smithsonian Institution. Yet when Wilkes returned, instead of being hailed as a great man of science or a national hero, he was shunned by the President, ignored by the press, and was the subject of so much ill will on the part of his men that he was ultimately put on trial for a variety of offenses. In the portrayal presented in Nathaniel Philbrick's Sea of Glory, Wilkes is a passionate man, brash and enthusiastic, driven by seemingly impossible goals, many of which he actually accomplished. But he's also a petty, mean-spirited loner, egotistical enough to unilaterally give himself a promotion in the middle of the expedition. Without Wilkes' singularity of purpose, it's hard to imagine the mission being as successful as it was, but it's also hard to conceive a personality more poorly suited to leadership than the near-universally-despised Wilkes. Philbrick also skillfully reveals the insecurity behind the tyranny in excerpts from letters to Wilkes' wife, Jane. The accounts of the expedition's adventures are at various times exhilarating and tragic as the crew scales the volcanoes of Hawaii, becomes involved in a bloody war with Fijian natives, and struggles merely to stay alive while at the same time not killing Wilkes. Philbrick's compelling narrative and meticulous research provide a vivid picture of the triumphs and hardships of the exploration age. --John MoeAbout the Author:
Nathaniel Philbrick grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and earned a BA in English from Brown University and an MA in America Literature from Duke University, where he was a James B. Duke Fellow. He was Brown University’s first Intercollegiate All-American sailor in 1978, the same year he won the Sunfish North Americans in Barrington, RI. After working as an editor at Sailing World magazine, he wrote and edited several books about sailing, including The Passionate Sailor, Second Wind, and Yaahting: A Parody.
In 1986, Philbrick moved to Nantucket with his wife Melissa and their two children. In 1994, he published his first book about the island’s history, Away Off Shore, followed by a study of the Nantucket’s native legacy, Abram’s Eyes. He was the founding director of Nantucket’s Egan Maritime Institute and is still a research fellow at the Nantucket Historical Association.
In 2000, Philbrick published the New York Times bestseller In the Heart of the Sea, which won the National Book Award for nonfiction. The book is the basis of the forthcoming Warner Bros. motion picture Heart of the Sea,” directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Benjamin Walker, Ben Wishaw, and Tom Holland, which is scheduled for release in March, 2015. The book also inspired a 2001 Dateline special on NBC as well as the 2010 two-hour PBS American Experience film Into the Deep” by Ric Burns.
His next book was Sea of Glory, published in 2003, which won the Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Naval History Prize and the Albion-Monroe Award from the National Maritime Historical Society. The New York Times Bestseller Mayflower was a finalist for both the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History and the Los Angeles Times Book Award, won the Massachusetts Book Award for nonfiction, and was named one the ten Best Books of 2006 by the New York Times Book Review. Mayflower is currently in development as a limited series on FX.
In 2010, he published the New York Times bestseller The Last Stand, which was named a New York Times Notable book, a 2010 Montana Book Award Honor Book, and a 2011 ALA Notable Book. Philbrick was an on-camera consultant to the two-hour PBS American Experience film Custer’s Last Stand” by Stephen Ives. The book is currently being adapted for a ten-hour, multi-part television series. The audio book for Philbrick’s Why Read Moby-Dick? (2011) made the ALA's Listen List in 2012 and was a finalist for the New England Society Book Award.
Philbrick’s latest New York Times bestseller, Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution, was published in 2013 and was awarded both the 2013 New England Book Award for Non-Fiction and the 2014 New England Society Book Award. Bunker Hill won the 2014 book award from the Society of Colonial Wars, and has been optioned by Warner Bros. for feature film adaptation with Ben Affleck attached to direct.
Philbrick has also received the Byrne Waterman Award from the Kendall Whaling Museum, the Samuel Eliot Morison Award for distinguished service from the USS Constitution Museum, the Nathaniel Bowditch Award from the American Merchant Marine Museum, the William Bradford Award from the Pilgrim Society, and the Boston History Award from the Bostonian Society. He was named the 2011 Cushing Orator by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and has an honorary doctorate from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where he delivered the commencement address in 2009.
Philbrick’s writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, the New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe. He has appeared on the Today Show, the Morning Show, Dateline, PBS’s American Experience, C-SPAN, and NPR. He and his wife still live on Nantucket.
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