The Sea Journal: Seafarers’ Sketchbooks

Chronicle. Feb. 2020. 320p. ISBN 9781452181158. $40. TRAV
The age of maritime exploration may be past, but armchair oceanographers can satisfy their fascination visually through this book, edited by historian/polar guide Lewis-Jones. Like his previous Explorers’ Notes, this work compiles excerpts of sketchbooks, logbooks, and diaries from explorers, sailors, crusaders, whalers, naturalists, officers, and artists (representation is, predictably, predominantly male and western), interspersed with contemporary essays. The attractive color reproductions, accompanied by short biographies of their creators, offer a range of visual chronicles from the 14th through mid-20th centuries: not only evidence of new lands, flora and fauna, and people, but meteorological charts, records of disasters at sea, early navigational calculations, and even 19th–century pinup girls pasted in a merchant shipman’s journal. The art is tantalizing, as is the wealth of information accompanying it: a Neptune was a collection of charts equivalent to a landlocked atlas; British sailors were nicknamed “limeys” from “lime-juicers,” after the citrus they consumed to ward off scurvy; William Bly, of Bounty fame (whose drawing of a hammerhead shark graces the book’s cover) joined the Navy at age seven.
VERDICT An enjoyable overview of a bygone era for browsing or reading; a pleasing addition to art, maritime history, or environmental collections.

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