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The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea ()

Mr. Doggett's Suggested Summer Reading for Students

In October 1991, meteorological conditions combined to create the worst nor'easter of the Century--"the Perfect Storm". Junger tells the exciting story of those who faced the fury of that storm at sea and of the men who tried to rescue them.

The book is genuinely thrilling, as the reader gets caught up in the various survival struggles and rescue attempts. Throughout the book, Junger regales us with tales of storms past & explains the physics of the storm & the Sea. All of this is wonderful.

However, I have one major complaint with the structure of the book. He has built the story around the Andrea Gail, a swordfishing boat out of Gloucester, MA, & her crew of six. But as he tells us in the opening section of the book, the crewman are basically drunken louts who work the boats because those are the jobs available to them. They go to sea to make enough money to fuel the lives of dissipation they lead ashore. They just aren't very interesting people.

Moreover, the Andrea Gail, as we know early on, was lost with all hands, so Junger is forced to imagine what may have happened to them. This leads to an abundance of "they must"s & "inevitably"s & "one imagine"s. It's pretty unsatisfactory.

Meanwhile, the pararescue jumpers (rescue divers) & the Coast Guard & Navy helicopter crews are genuinely fascinating. Their dedication to their dangerous work is wondrous to behold and their feats of heroism are amazing. Yet they are shunted to the side in the book & we are left wanting to know more about them & their work.

Now I know that other folks I've talked to have not been much bothered by this & I still enjoyed the book very much, so I wouldn't let this criticism deter you from reading it. It just bugged me.

Mark McCormick response:

Your disgruntlement with The Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger's account of the
1991 sinking of the fishing vessel, is off-base. Why should you care if the
main characters are, "basically drunken louts"? Their life choices are
different, but that does not make them uninteresting people.

You rail against the climbers in Into Thin Air, and the "cultish nature of the
climbing fraternity based on a macho risk-taker ethos". Captain Billy Tyne,
Bobby Shatford all feared the sea. There is none of the hubris that the would
be conquerors of Everest exhibited. If any of the characters in the book
such hubris, it was Ray Leonard aboard the Satori.

Junger does a fine job in educating the reader about the sea, and the fishing
industry as plied by individuals like Bob Brown, Linda Greenlaw and Billy

The story turns from factual to conjecture, as it must, and we are left with
more questions than answers. What really happened to the Andrea Gail and her
crew of six somewhere among The Grand Banks during the final days of October,
1991? Why didn't Billy trip his EPIRB before the boat became crippled?

Given the restriction that no one alive knows the answers, it's a fascinating

GRADE: 3 out of 4

Andrew Geller's Review

The Perfect Storm mixes enough technical meteorological detail to fulfill
the Tom Clancy crowd with natural tragedy/adventure a la Jon Krakauer.
To these, however, it adds another element, an anthropological view
into lives very different from the privileged climbers of Krakauer's Into
Thin Air and very different, I suspect, from that of most of his readers.
This perspective proves invaluable, ultimately making this a much sadder
story than the Everest tragedy, the story of individuals dying doing what
they had to do, in most cases, rather than what foolish vanity pushed
them to choose to do.

This book lacks the emotionalism of Krakauer's angst-ridden story,
fitting since this is a second-hand account and is part speculation.
Perhaps it also reflects the Yankee reserve that seems to mark the
people whose difficult lives are described in the book. Perhaps a better
comparison is to Jonathan Harr's A Civil Action, another account of
blue-collar citizens of Massachusetts up against another inexorable
force, the American corporation. While The Perfect Storm lacks the
moral issues that provide the complex backdrops for both Into Thin Air
and A Civil Action, it provides a clearer canvas for unimaginable bravery
and heroism.

While the book is somewhat coarsely written, and the use of the
present tense grows tiresome, I enjoyed it thoroughly.



Grade: (B-)


Sebastian Junger Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Sebastian Junger
    -PODCAST: Sebastian Junger on Tribe (Russ Roberts, Dec 31 2018, EconTalk)
    -PODCAST: Sebastian Junger on Freedom (Russ Roberts, Jun 28 2021, EconTalk)
    -INTERVIEW: The paradox of American freedom: “The idea that we can enjoy the benefits of society while owing nothing in return is literally infantile. Only children owe nothing.” —Sebastian Junger (Sean Illing, Nov 8, 2021, Vox)
-PODCAST: The Perfect Storm (THe Rewatchables, The Ringer)
    -REVIEW: of The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger (Victorino Matus, Free Beacon)

Book-related and General Links:

    -ESSAY: The Story Behind ‘The Perfect Storm‘: We caught up with author Sebastian Junger to find out how he reported the incredible Outside Classic story of the Andrea Gail’s crew, what’s changed in the commercial fishing industry, and why he’s drawn to people who have dangerous jobs (Elizabeth Hightower Allen, Oct 27, 2021, Outside)
    -PODCAST: ‘The Perfect Storm’ With Bill Simmons and Chris Ryan: We rewatch the 2000 biographical disaster drama (Bill Simmons and Chris Ryan Jul 2, 2020, The Ringer: Rewatchables)
    -ESSAY: 30 years later, 'Perfect Storm' remains a haunting weather event (Zachary Rosenthal, 10/30/21, AccuWeather)
    If you liked The Perfect Storm, try:

Casey, John

Hayden, Sterling

Johnson, Charles
    -Middle Passage

Kinder, Gary
    -Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea (1998)

Krakauer, Jon
    -Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster

Melville, Herman
    -Moby Dick

Severin, Timothy
    -The Brendan Voyage

Watkins, Paul
    -Calm at Sunset, Calm at Dawn