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Looking for a Ship

Overview

This is an extraordinary tale of life on the high seas aboard one of the last American merchant ships, the S.S. Stella Lykes, on a forty-two-day journey from Charleston down the Pacific coast of South America. As the crew of the Stella Lykes makes their ocean voyage, they tell stories of other runs and other ships, tales of disaster, stupidity, greed, generosity, and courage.

More than two months on the New York Times bestseller list, Looking for a Ship is a ...

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Overview

This is an extraordinary tale of life on the high seas aboard one of the last American merchant ships, the S.S. Stella Lykes, on a forty-two-day journey from Charleston down the Pacific coast of South America. As the crew of the Stella Lykes makes their ocean voyage, they tell stories of other runs and other ships, tales of disaster, stupidity, greed, generosity, and courage.

More than two months on the New York Times bestseller list, Looking for a Ship is a fascinating of the last American merchant ships. Through the details of a South Pacific journey and the tales of disaster, greed, courage, and stupidity that are told along the way emerge the history and character of an extraordinary calling.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
McPhee joined a friend, merchant mariner Andy Chase, on a 42-day voyage from Charleston, S.C., through the Panama Canal, down the Pacific coast of South America. A gem of a book, this leisurely, unpretentious log is a paean to the United States Merchant Marine, a declining institution battered by international competition and lowered cargo rates. The ship's New England captain ``couldn't find his way around a traffic circle'' but manages to outmaneuver a tropical storm. Porpoises and albatrosses accompany the SS Stella Lykes on a cruise laden with much talk of stowaways, collisions and cocaine smuggling, of pirates both legendary and contemporary (the modern variety carry bolt-cutters and walkie-talkies). McPhee's ( The Control of Nature ) clean, lean prose displays his sharp eye for telling detail and arresting incident. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Known for his books on natural history, such as The Control of Nature (LJ 4/1/89), Basin and Range (LJ 4/1/81), etc., McPhee brings his considerable storytelling ability to bear on the plight of the U.S. merchant marine. Accompanying Second Mate Andy Chase on a 42-day run down the west coast of South America aboard the S.S. Stella Lykes , McPhee provides the reader with stories and tales of modern seafaring life and the problems of making a living as a merchant mariner. This book is both an engrossing tale of the sea, with excellent detail and humanity, and a disturbing portrait of the merchant marine--a once-great American institution that made its presence known around the world. Highly recommended for public libraries. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/90.-- Harold N. Boyer, Marple P.L., Broomall, Pa.
Stephen Jones
McPhee makes Captain Paul McHenry Washburn one of the most memorable men of sea literature.
—Stephen Jones, Chicago Tribune
Richard F. Shepard
Looking for a Ship is not a treatise on the decline of the American Merchant Marine, anymore than Moby—Dick was meant to be a journal of commerce report on the whaling industry…Style is what McPhee is loaded down to the Plimsoll marks in: felicitous phrases, keen observation, the knack of unloading a cargo of information without hitting the reader on the head with a jumbo boom.
—Richard F. Shepard, The New York Times
William Warner
Remarkably adroit and compelling…the sea seems to be his natural home.
—William Warner, The Washington Post Book World
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781560541028
  • Publisher: Macmillan Library Reference
  • Publication date: 11/9/1992
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 294
  • Product dimensions: 5.75 (w) x 8.77 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

John McPhee was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and was educated at Princeton University and Cambridge University. His writing career began at Time magazine and led to his long association with The New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer since 1965. The same year he published his first book, A Sense of Where You Are, with FSG, and soon followed with The Headmaster (1966), Oranges (1967), The Pine Barrens (1968), A Roomful of Hovings and Other Profiles (collection, 1969), The Crofter and the Laird (1969), Levels of the Game (1970), Encounters with the Archdruid (1972), The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed (1973), The Curve of Binding Energy (1974), Pieces of the Frame (collection, 1975), and The Survival of the Bark Canoe (1975). Both Encounters with the Archdruid and The Curve of Binding Energy were nominated for National Book Awards in the category of science.

Biography

"John McPhee ought to be a bore," The Christian Science Monitor once observed. "With a bore's persistence he seizes a subject, shakes loose a cloud of more detail than we ever imagined we would care to hear on any subject -- yet somehow he makes the whole procedure curiously fascinating."

This is his specialty. A New Yorker writer hired in 1965 by another devil-is-in-the-details disciple, William Shawn, McPhee has taken full advantage of the magazine's commitment to long, unusual pieces and became one of the practitioners of so-called "literary journalism," joining a fraternity occupied by Tom Wolfe, Tracey Kidder, and Joan Didion. He hung on during the Tina Brown days, when the marching orders were for short and topical pieces. And the magazine's current editor, David Remnick, was once a student of McPhee's annual writing seminar at Princeton University.

The temptation is to brand McPhee a nature writer, since he spends so much of his professional life trekking through the outdoors or scribbling notes in the passenger seat of a game warden's pickup truck. But his writing isn't so easily labeled as that. Instead, he has the luxury of writing about whatever strikes his fancy, oftentimes plumbing childhood passions. In fact, his big break as a professional writer combined two of his favorite things: sports and Princeton, his home since birth. In 1965, he finally got published by The New Yorker with a profile on Princeton basketball star Bill Bradley. The piece later became his first book.

He wrote for the television program Robert Montgomery Presents in the late 1950s and was on staff at Time in the ‘50s and ‘60s, frequently pitching pieces to his dream publication,The New Yorker. That particular success eluded him until Shawn picked up the Bradley piece and then spent hours with him editing the piece the night the magazine was going to press. In a 1997 interview with Newsday, McPhee recalled that experience: "I said to him, 'This whole enterprise is going on and you're sitting here talking to me about this comma. How do you do it?' And he said, 'It takes as long as it takes.' That's the greatest answer I ever heard."

The same might be said of McPhee himself. He has written what, for many, is the definitive book on Alaska, Coming into the Country. "With this book,The New York Times said, "McPhee proves to be the most versatile journalist in America." He spent 696 pages on the geological development of North America in Annals of the Former World. He explored man's battle to tame mudslides and lava flows in The Control of Nature. He considered the birch-bark canoe in The Survival of the Bark Canoe. He caused a bit of head-scratching over the topic of his 17th book, La Place de la Concorde Suisse: the Swiss army.

The itinerary, at first blush, might not always be compelling, but in McPhee's hands, the journey is its own reward.

"Mr. McPhee is a writer's writer -- a master craftsman whom many aspirants study," The Wall Street Journal said in 1989. "For one thing, he has an engaging, distinctive voice. It is warm, understated and wry. Within a paragraph or two, he takes us into his company and makes us feel we're on an outing with an old chum. A talky old chum, to be sure, with an occasional tendency to corniness and rambling, but a cherished one nevertheless. We read his books not so much because we're thirsty for information about canoes, but because it's worth tagging along on any literary journey Mr. McPhee feels like taking."

Good To Know

The son of a doctor, McPhee credits his love of the outdoors to the 13 summers he spent at Camp Keewaydin, where his father was the camp physician.

His devotion to the perfect sentence came from a high school English teacher who assigned her students three compositions a week, an assignment that included an outline defending the composition's structure.

Bill Bradley made McPhee his daughter's godfather.

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    1. Also Known As:
      John A. McPhee
    2. Hometown:
      Princeton, New Jersey
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 8, 1931
    2. Place of Birth:
      Princeton, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      A.B., Princeton University, 1953; graduate study at Cambridge University, 1953-54
    2. Website:

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