Readers have reviewed two seafaring history books for us this month, and both have a lot to do with the Pacific.
Simon Pearson liked Mike Carlton’s Cruiser
Like so many Australian war stories, this is one of defeat—the loss of HMAS Perth and her crew in WWII. HMAS Perth fought in poorly run naval campaigns, first in the Mediterranean, and then in the Java Sea. Her officers and men were at the behest of the British war effort, and Carlton’s story is always aware of a larger narrative, of tensions between London and Canberra, and of the alliance between Australia and the US. These Australian sailors were hopelessly stretched between the war in Europe and the war in the Pacific. But this is not military history. The human focus is on the individual crew members, both officers and sailors. Carlton writes especially well about the battles, and recreates memorably the experience of what it must have been like to be on a warship, to be in a hurricane, to be bombed or torpedoed. The recollections, in letters and diaries and journals, of the crew members who survived, are Carlton’s main source, and the mainspring of his book. It is a story of loyalty, family, and friendship in a vanished era. It’s about young men at war, but Carlton wisely doesn’t overplay the mateship card, and keeps us aware also of mothers, wives, girlfriends.
Rohanna Mitchell loved The Discovery of Jeanne Baret
In 1775 Jeanne Baret became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. The bulk of Glynis Ridley’s remarkable story centres on the 1766-69 French expedition to the South Pacific, led by Louis Antoine de Bougainville. Renowned botanist Philibert de Commerson, who was hired to find and catalogue plant species during the voyage, hired as his assistant a man who happened to offer his services at dockside. But Commerson’s new assistant was not a man. It was his female lover, Jeanne Baret, who, dressed as a man, would now spend the next three years aboard a ship of more than 100 men. Commerson left the ship in Mauritius, where he and Baret lived until his death in 1773. Unable to lay claim to Commerson’s property because she was officially his servant, Baret was destitute. In 1774 she married a French soldier, and they returned to France, where Baret died in 1807. During her expeditions, Baret collected and catalogued thousands of plant species, most notably the Bougainvillea. This book tells the story of an incredible working-class woman whose scientific contributions were written out of history—until now. It would be an excellent choice for Encounters.
Rohanna, we’ve included The Discovery of Jeanne Baret in the Encounters volume that goes to readers this month!
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