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The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men against the Sea (1997)

by Sebastian Junger

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6,090921,588 (3.89)199
The incredible true account of the most extraordinary storm of the 20th century, this is the story of a tempest born from so rare a combination of factors it was deemed "perfect" and of the doomed fishing boat with her crew of six that was helpless in the midst of a force beyond comprehension.
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English (87)  Spanish (2)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  German (1)  All languages (92)
Showing 1-5 of 87 (next | show all)
I’m very impressed with the amount of research that went into The Perfect Storm, and with Junger’s ability to arrange it all in a manner that was both easy to follow and didn’t slog the reader down in too much technical data. The individuals’ stories, such as those of the men lost aboard the Andrea Gail, added a lot to the story. My only real complaint involves a personal preference - I could have done without the ‘biological responses to drowning’ section as I felt it to be in poor taste. ( )
  dinahmine | Mar 25, 2023 |
I tried. I tried so hard but I just can't get into this book at all.
  amcheri | Jan 5, 2023 |
Here's what I wrote in 2008 about this read: "Highly memorable, the fated Andrea Gail, lost a sea in the perfect storm, in 1991. Also made into a movie, but did not see." ( )
  MGADMJK | Sep 22, 2022 |
Things I like:

Setting the story: I guess everyone has a good idea of where this 'story' is going, but rather than jumping straight into the action, he spends time building out the context in which the story takes place. I like this.

Scientific asides: The author manages to make subjects such as oceanography, weather patterns and deep sea fishing really interesting. I found some of the descriptions

Things that could be improved: POV: who's talking, I can't tell. I appreciate this is nonfiction, but I find this confusing. I'd prefer, if it was an attributed account. Quite often the perspective jumps between the narrator and witnesses; often in way that was jarring and confusing.

Focus of the story, I think the story maybe focused a little too much on the Andrea Gale. I think if the story had been a bit more balanced I would have enjoyed it more. For instance in the last 10 pages or so of the book he mentions another ship that lost all of its crew in a second storm (33 crew all lost) this gets only a passing glance while the Andrea Gales crew takes up half the story

Notes:

"Reminds me a bit of Moby Dick in the way it seems to oscilate between the main story action (the crew of the Andrea Gale) and background information (in Moby Dick it was about whales, in this one it's about fishing industry in Gloucester)."

Overall: A good read that makes the nonfiction content really jump off the page. I think for me the stand out feature was probably description of scientific principals.
( )
  benkaboo | Aug 18, 2022 |
It doesn't take Sebastian Junger's quotations from Moby-Dick and the Bible, used to open some of his chapters in The Perfect Storm, to make you realise that the sea and the men who navigate it has long been fertile ground for literary endeavours. The true story recorded in Junger's breakout piece of narrative journalism would be innately fascinating told by any hand: a crew of six hardened fishermen aboard a small commercial fishing vessel find themselves at the mercy of a once-in-a-century "meteorological hell" (pg. 104) in the open Atlantic. A storm – the "perfect storm", in fact (pg. 150) – a confluence of various extreme weather fronts over our doomed everymen, including a hurricane, that ultimately sinks the Andrea Gail and its occupants without trace.

That the ship and its men are lost is not a spoiler, for want of a better term, for how could it be otherwise? Junger goes into great detail about the circumstances surrounding the loss of the Andrea Gail and its souls: how such a 'perfect' storm brewed; about so-called 'rogue' waves and how even top-of-the-line ships can have their backs broken by them; about how oil tankers and even aircraft carriers would be at risk faced with a single big wave, let alone a small fishing boat facing countless numbers of them, from all directions, relentlessly over the course of many hours.

A mere recitation of some of the facts Junger unpacks is mind-boggling: "the combined nuclear arsenals of the United States and the former Soviet Union don't contain enough energy to keep a hurricane going for one day" (pg. 102); on one large ship, the storm peeled shipping containers "open like sardine cans, forty feet above the surface" (pg. 114); during a rescue elsewhere in the storm, the waves took the man in the water thirty feet higher than the rescuers in a hovering helicopter (pg. 197). The waves in the Perfect Storm topped 100 feet, among the highest waves ever recorded (pg. 119). There may well have been higher ones throughout history, but they are so unpredictable and so devastating that those who likely encountered them did not live to tell it. I read part of Junger's book at work, in the break-room of my office building, and was stunned to realise, looking down, that the waves which struck the men of the Andrea Gail would be almost twice as high as from where I stood. I'm not of a mind to quit my desk job and join the fishing fleet, let me tell you.

I took my time reading the book, because even the contemplation of any single part of this scenario is frightening. To know that these people – real people, to those lives Junger devotes many pages – actually faced that, at their end, in the dark, is unimaginable. Junger, nevertheless, undertakes a number of strategies to bridge the imagination gap. His account of the final moments of the Andrea Gail, he freely admits, can only be conjecture, but he bases his conjecture on research and on the experiences of those who survived similar events, including fishermen who counted the men of the Andrea Gail among their friends. He supplements this with in-depth yet readable information on sword-fishing, search-and-rescue, and meteorology. By the time the reader finishes the book, Junger has given them so much relevant information that even the most complacent reader no longer wonders how mere water and wind could sink a modern sea-going vessel. In fact, the reader likely goes to the opposite extreme, and wonders how or why any man would ever choose to lose sight of shore. When we first read, on page 70, of how "more people are killed on fishing boats, per capita, than in any other job in the United States", we think of possible negligence and safety measures and technological advances. By the end, we look back on that quote and reach, like the fishermen often do, for superstition, fate, and a primal respect for the naked forces which brawl across the world.

Junger supplements his account of the men of the Andrea Gail with other "nightmarish, white-knuckle business" which took place during the Perfect Storm (pg. 182), not least the afore-mentioned helicopter rescue. Knowing that other men died during the storm helps provide some perspective: this is not a romance of the sea, a tragic tale that affected the Andrea Gail especially, the ship a unique icon marked out for some moral lesson about the hubris of man. Junger strips away pretensions, sentimentality and literary artifice; he soberly constructs an environment where the smallness of man and the arbitrariness of the ocean – a place where 70-foot waves roam "like surly giants" (pg. 138) – are the only possible conclusions. When the Andrea Gail goes down, there is no music playing, no nobility on display; only desperation and futile human struggle. This is one great advantage the book has over its movie adaptation of the same name. Not only does the movie have the music playing, but it feels obliged to add some counterfeit drama to the story: George Clooney's character is portrayed as having deliberately headed into the storm when he could have escaped it. Hollywood abhors a narrative vacuum; if those men had to die on screen there had to be a token moral lesson behind it, and the token they reached for was hubris, and perhaps greed.

Junger, in contrast – and to his great credit – has no qualms about facing the reality of the true story. The circumstances he has laid out show us clearly that the Andrea Gail had no time or ability to escape; not only were storms an occupational hazard for seasoned fishermen, but the boat steps into the Perfect Storm "the way one might step into a room" (pg. 105). Such turns of phrase are not infrequent in the book, and Junger's deployment of them does much to keep the reader anchored during the wild unfathomability of the events described. Nowhere is the depth and reality of the tragedy more apparent than in the sequence of pages where, with the Andrea Gail going down with all hands, Junger dissects, at torturous length, the sensations and the medical immediacy of drowning (pp140-6). Strange as it might sound, I mean the word 'torturous' positively; Junger's unavoidable forensic reality mimics the helplessness and the banal tragedy of these men in that moment. It's so potent it's unbearable.

And yet, strangely, it's not voyeuristic; Junger recognises a wound is healed by being touched with care, not by being ignored. The deaths are appalling – and they were real men – but it would be disrespectful if the story was told using euphemisms and polite evasions. This is great, mature writing, and throughout The Perfect Storm Junger achieves a balancing act of respect towards the dead, respect towards the sea, and respect towards what the reader can take in (emotionally and meteorologically). I mentioned at the start of my review that stories of the sea have long been fertile ground for our imagination, and the story of The Perfect Storm would have been arresting even if told by a second-rate writer. That Junger is able to add writing of real calibre to the piece makes it truly special. ( )
1 vote MikeFutcher | Feb 28, 2022 |
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sebastian Jungerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bourdier, JeanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davidson, Richard M.Narratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
It's no fish ye're buying, it's men's lives.
- Sir Walter Scott, The Antiquary, Chapter 11
Dedication
This book is dedicated to my father, who first introduced me to the sea.
First words
One midwinter day off the coast of Massachusetts, the crew of a mackerel schooner spotted a bottle with a note in it.
Quotations
The two vessels pass by each other without a word or a sign, unable to communicate, unable to help each other, navigating their own courses through hell.
Meteorologists see perfection in strange things, and the meshing of three completely independent weather systems to form a hundred-year event is one of them. My God, thought Case, this is the perfect storm. As a result of this horrible alignment, the bulk of the sword fleet – way out by the Flemish Cap – is spared the brunt of the storm, while everyone closer to shore gets pummeled.
People who work on boats have a hard time resisting the idea that certain ones among them are marked, and that they will be reclaimed by the sea. The spitting image of a man who drowned is a good candidate for that; so are all his shipmates. Jonah, of course, was marked, and his shipmates knew it. Murph was marked and told his mother so. Adam Randall was marked but had no idea; as far as he was concerned, he just had a couple of close-calls. After the Andrea Gail went down e told his girlfriend, Chris Hansen, that while he was walking around on board he felt a cold wind on his skin and realized that no one on the crew was coming back. He didn't say anything to them, though, because on the waterfront that isn't done – you don't just tell six men you think they're going to drown. Everyone takes their chance,s and either you drown or you don't.
Anyone who has been through a severe storm at sea has, to one degree or another, almost died, and that fact will continue to alter them long after the winds have stopped blowing and the waves have died down. Like a war or a great fire, the effects of a storm go rippling outward through webs of people for years, even generations. It breaches lives like coastlines and nothing is ever again the same.
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The incredible true account of the most extraordinary storm of the 20th century, this is the story of a tempest born from so rare a combination of factors it was deemed "perfect" and of the doomed fishing boat with her crew of six that was helpless in the midst of a force beyond comprehension.

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With its nail-biting suspense and nonstop action, The Perfect Storm has the makings of a superb thriller. But this story of a once-in-a-century meterological occurence, the lives it changes, and the lives it claimed is achingly real. Junger's account of the fate of a group of swordfishermen battling a storm off the Newfoundland coast opens a door into the world of commercial fishing, historically among the most dangerous of occupations. Junger reveals how a finite supply of fish forces boats farther out to sea, and in increasingly hazardous conditions. He explains the unique set of circumstances that led to a storm of unpredictable strength and how even the most advanced technology cannot warn of prepare us for the whims of nature. And he shows us the sea in all its power: the gray horizon at dawn; the maelstrom of wind, water, and rain that make up a nor'easter; and the precise structure of a tidal wave the size of an office building as it curves and falls, playing havoc with any ship that dares to cross its path.
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W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 039304016X, 0393337014

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An edition of this book was published by Recorded Books.

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