The Perfect Storm

Bookshelf: The Perfect Storm

The Perfect Storm
The Perfect Storm

The Perfect Storm – Sebastian Junger

Until I read The Penguin Book of the Ocean, all I knew about The Perfect Storm was that it’s a movie with George Clooney in it. This is the second book after The Outlaw Sea that I’ve tracked down after reading an excerpt of it in that anthology.

The perfect storm in question occurred between 28 October and 4 November 1991. Three weather systems converged and battered the east coast of the United States. Wave heights of 30 metres were recorded on offshore buoys. Several ships foundered, an Air National Guard helicopter ran out of fuel and had to be ditched, and several lives were lost. There’s a technical explanation of the event, with satellite images, here.

Junger’s book follows several threads in order to present as complete a picture of the storm’s formation and devastation as possible. My expectation was that the story of the Andrea Gail, a swordfishing boat that disappeared without a trace, was the central theme of the book, and it was only when I was three quarters of the way through that I realised that the author’s interest was in the storm, rather than in the fate of this particular ship.

I enjoyed the sections dealing with the storm itself, weather and wave mechanics, the practice of swordfishing, and the various rescue attempts the most. I was confused and irritated by the scene-setting chapters dealing with Massachusetts night life and fishing culture; all the characters were called Bobby or Billy. The decision to feature the Andrea Gail so prominently seems an odd one to me, as almost nothing is known regarding her disappearance. Junger speculates as to what happened, but is largely confined to descriptions of what it feels like to drown, and how ships sink.

My enjoyment of the book was significantly impaired by the fact that the Harper Collins ebook imprint I read (obtained from the Amazon Kindle store) was riddled with typographical errors, having been produced by running a hard copy of the book through OCR software (my guess) without subsequent proofreading. Numbers were rendered as letters, hyphens appeared almost at random, text was bold and italic for pages on end without purpose, and a very poor overall impression was made. I’d probably have followed the flow of the book better if I’d read a hard copy. I’d suggest you avoid the Kindle version, unless you have the patience of a saint.

If you enjoy weather writing, and have an interest in how spectacular and devastating weather events occur (and we all should, since we’re going to see many more strong storms as the earth warms up), Junger’s book is an interesting source of information. Susan Casey’s The Wave and Bruce Parker’s The Power of the Sea are also recommended reading on this subject. The human interest aspect may also appeal to some – there’s a definite Deadliest Catch feel to life on a swordfishing boat, and that series also seems to closely approximate life on shore in a fishing town.

You can get a copy of the book here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise here or here.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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