Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Two years before the mast : a personal…

Two years before the mast : a personal narrative of life at sea (original 1840; edition 1841)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,990323,388 (3.88)121
Title:Two years before the mast : a personal narrative of life at sea
Info:London : Edward Moxon, 1841.
Collections:Your library

Work details

Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana (1840)


Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 121 mentions

English (31)  Dutch (1)  All languages (32)
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
A free audio-book is available from librivox.org
  captbirdseye | Aug 26, 2014 |
Highly enjoyable despite being packed with sailing jargon and almost entirely lacking any narrative tension. Also, it doesn't have as much flogging as it could, but what can you do? Still a fun world to live in for the duration. ( )
1 vote knownever | Jul 28, 2014 |
I love Dana's Two Years Before the Mast not only for its look into the working life aboard merchant ships but also for the glimpse of pre-statehood California. This memoir was groundbreaking in its time, with the general middle class of colonial/Eastern knowing little of the actual conditions to the sailors aboard a merchant vessel. It describes in detail the extreme latitude that captains took with little or no consequence once the vessel was out of its home port. Through all the indignities suffered by merchant seamen, once back home it was very difficult to call to task a captain in the court of law and receive any remedy for unlawful actions while at sea. Dana's account, with being an ivy league educated person of some class stature, had more weight that made shipping companies, their owners, and the general public aware of the indignities that were occurring.

In terms of literature itself, Dana's journaling is well written, and lends a certain style to his narrative that could otherwise be a boring list of things, and people and places. The way in which he describes the vistas of California, especially place I have been myself, make me feel a nostalgia for the time of sea going trade and feel the same romanticism that seemed to pull Dana to sign on as a merchant sailor in the first place, instead of take a leisurely tour of Europe post graduation from Harvard.

While his account really only gives the first hand account of two different Captains, you can see the vast difference from over zealous warden to respectful but disciplined employer and really get a quick picture of how the life of the average working sailor was greatly affected by the demeanor of its captain. We are lucky to have this account, which was so regarded for its description of California that it became the defacto book during the gold rush days and made Dana somewhat a celebrity when he revisited San Francisco 24 years later.

I think this should be on everyone's radar to read at least once, and that people who live in and love California particularly should be acquainted with Two Years Before the Mast. ( )
1 vote jshrop | Jul 15, 2014 |
This pairs well with Twain's Life on the Mississippi as a look at maritime life in the U.S. before the Civil War. Dana spent two years off the coast of California gathering cattle hides and his descriptions of the trading posts, Spanish settlements and life aboard ship are excellent. He adds a followup many years later, as does Twain, in Dana's case, after the gold rush of 1848.
  SteveJohnson | Jul 5, 2014 |
When I was a sophmore in high school I decided to read this book, for reasons I no longer remember. I found it a struggle but persisted, though I think I was glad whenI reached the end. Excitement was not often in evidence ( )
  Schmerguls | Sep 14, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
Almost two centuries later, we are all made richer by Dana's classic memoir, "Two Years Before the Mast," which is among the finest books ever written about the immensely popular subject of adventure at sea, and is as relevant and readable today as it was then.

» Add other authors (49 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dana, Richard Henryprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Davis, WesAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dobkin, AlexanderIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fleming, ThomasAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grenfell, Sir WilfredIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grenfell, WilfredIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kemble, John HaskellEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Killavey, JimNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kinder, GaryIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mayes, BernardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McFee, WilliamIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morris, WrightAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Orr, Monro S.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pears, CharlesIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Philbrick, ThomasEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Seelye, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, E. BoydIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Spencer, AnneIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weinstein, Robert A.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
Crowded in the rank and narrow ship, --
Housed on the wild sea with wild usages, --
Whate'er in the inland dales the land conceals
Of fair and exquisite, O! nothing, nothing,
Do we behold of that in our rude voyage.
Coleridge's Wallenstein
First words
I am unwilling to present this narrative to the public without a few words in explanation of my reasons for publishing it.
Yet a sailor's life is at best but a mixture of a little good with much evil, and a little pleasure with much pain. The beautiful is linked with the revolting, the sublime with the commonplace, and the solemn with the ludicrous.
Death is at all times solemn, but never so much so at sea. A man dies on shore, his body remains with his friends, and the mourners go about the streets; but when a man falls overboard at sea and is lost, these is a suddeness in the event, and a difficulty in realizing it, which give to it an air of awful mystery. ...you miss a man so much. A dozen men are shut up together in a little bark upon the wide, wide sea, and for months and months see no forms and hear no voices but their own, and one is taken suddenly from among them, and they miss him at every turn. It is like losing a limb.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
This work is Dana's Two Years Before the Mast (unabridged).  Please do not combine with anthologies or abridged editions.
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language
Book description
This 1937 edition from The Spencer Press features an introduction by Leonard Davidow. 

Tracing an awe-inspiring oceanic route from Boston, around Cape Horn, to the California coast, Two Years Before the Mast is both a riveting story of adventure & the most eloquent, insightful account we have of life at sea in the early 19th century.
Richard Henry Dana Jr. is only nineteen when he abandons the patrician world of Boston & Harvard for an arduous voyage among real sailors, amid genuine danger. The result is an astonishing read, replete with vivid descriptions of storms, whales, & the ship's mad captain, terrible hardship & magical beauty, & fascinating historical detail, including an intriguing portrait of California before the gold rush.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140390081, Paperback)

In 1834, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., left the comforts of genteel Boston to endure the hardships and abuses of the most exploited segment of the American working class.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:01 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Describes life at sea in the 1830's from the viewpoint of a common sailor in the American merchant service.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 11 descriptions

Quick Links

Popular covers


Average: (3.88)
1 2
1.5 1
2 15
2.5 6
3 38
3.5 21
4 100
4.5 20
5 54


6 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

See editions

Tantor Media

An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

» Publisher information page

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


Help/FAQs | About | Privacy/Terms | Blog | Store | Contact | LibraryThing.com | APIs | WikiThing | Common Knowledge | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | 100,915,788 books! | Top bar: Always visible