Sailing the Graveyard Sea: The Deathly Voyage of the Somers, the U.S. Navy’s Only Mutiny, and the Trial That Gripped the Nation

S. & S. Audio. Nov. 2023. 8:04 hrs. ISBN 9781797165820. $19.99. HIST
Historian and former editor of American Heritage Magazine Snow (Disney’s Land) grapples with a scandalous event in the history of the U.S. Navy known as the Somers Affair. During an 1842 training voyage, Captain Alexander Slidell Mackenzie of the USS Somers detained several crew members on the charge of attempted mutiny and hanged the three he considered the ringleaders, despite being nearly back on U.S. soil. Largely because one of the hanged men, Philip Spencer, was the son of the secretary of war, a formal inquiry and several court martials followed. Mackenzie was acquitted every time, but the affair stained the reputation of both the captain and the navy. Narrator Jacques Roy offers a restrained but engaging tone while the book sets forth the personal histories of both Mackenzie and Spencer as they draw closer to their fatal clash. He subtly works the class and education differences between officers and ordinary sailors into his voice, especially for direct quotes. Roy truly shines during the coverage of the inquiry and court martial, bringing Snow’s skeptical commentary on Mackenzie’s self-justifications into sharp focus.
VERDICT Recommended for fans of David Grann’s The Wager or Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea.
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