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History & Ship Design

Editor's Picks: Cruise Books

Ocean Liner Twilight: Steaming to Adventure 1968-1979
by Theodore W. Scull

In 1968, Theodore Scull set out on an around the world voyage done almost entirely by ship. Then, liners still crisscrossed the world's sea-lanes, and it was possible to travel economically to virtually anywhere in the world by sea. Scull, a regular Cruise Critic contributor, now shares the detailed notes he took of a way of life that would shortly disappear in his latest book, Ocean Liner Twilight: Steaming to Adventure 1968-1979. For the next 11 years, Scull spent most summer holidays as a teacher hopping ships in exotic ports on classic sea journeys, going from Singapore to India, Durban to the United Kingdom or Yokohama to Hong Kong. While Scull managed to travel on some luxurious vessels, including the QE2 at the start of her career and the superliner France, he also experienced migrant and passenger cargo ships, assigned roommates, and both tourist and first-class accommodations.

Scull illustrates the book with 200 pictures, including deck passengers sailing to India, dhows carrying baggage and disembarking passengers, and wonderful shots of the ships themselves. Scull manages to weave in stories from his trips overland on trains, including visits to the Seychelles before the airport and a fortunate meeting with his brother, stationed in Vietnam, for a week of R&R in Bangkok just after the Tet Offensive. For those for who love ships, and for whom names like the Rajah Brooke, British India Line, the State of Madras or the Union Castle Line stir nostalgic memories, you'll enjoy sailing along with Scull on a trip down memory lane.

--by Ben Lyons, Cruise Critic contributor

The Tragic History of the Sea: Shipwrecks from the Bible to Titanic
by Anthony Brandt

The Tragic History of the Sea is a well organized and documented book on fires, mysteries disappearances and tragedies at sea of famous -- and not so famous -- incidents that span the centuries between the Bible and the Titanic. I was riveted.

Finding an article written by Mark Twain was a pleasant surprise; I loved his story in the Sacramento Daily in 1866 about the burning of Hornet, a clipper ship. This story launched Twain's career in the literary arts. From the shipwreck of "the Acts of the Apostles" in the New Testament, through the 1700's to the mysteries of the Mary Celeste, to the 1912 tragic sinking of Titanic, the first-hand accounts of those who witnessed and survived harrowing stories essentially forced me to appreciate the influential strength of the sea and the courage it takes to battle the strife she can cause. When reading these stories, the old Portuguese proverb stated in the book comes to mind: "If you want to learn how to pray, go to sea."

--by Joyce Gleeson-Adamidis, Cruise Critic contributor

125 Years of Holland America Line
by Captain Albert Schoonderbeek and Guus Dalkmann

Few companies can boast a history as rich as Holland America Line, and as few people are as qualified to tell its story as Captain Albert Schoonderbeek. Schoonderbeek is not only a passionate student of maritime history but also a captain of one of HAL's ships; in 1998 he helped co-author with Guus Dalkmann 125 Years of Holland America Line. While not meant to be an easy-to-read page turner, the book devotes a few chapters to the company's history, including its origins in the Atlantic crossing trade, its roll in World War I and World War II when its ships were requisitioned as troop carriers, and its successful transition from crossings to full-time cruising.

Most of today's readers will find the chapter "Under the Carnival Umbrella" the most interesting, which details the company acquisition by Carnival and its subsequent expansion. Approximately three-quarters of the book, however, is a comprehensive fleet biography, with specifications, photographs and a history of every vessel that has sailed in the fleet. Schoonderbeek and Dalkmann take this to an extraordinary level of detail, including the riverboats, cargo ships and even day excursion boats in Alaska that the company has owned.

While the book may be too technical and detailed for casual, first-time cruisers, the serious cruise ship history buff or loyal Holland America passenger will enjoy this accurate and complete compendium. Schoonderbeek and Dalkmann are justifiably proud of the line, and their efforts should give its passengers a new appreciation for the diverse and varied interests of the company over the years.

--by Ben Lyons, Cruise Critic contributor

Looking for a Ship
by John McPhee

There are few books on the sea that manage to appeal to both sailors and non-sailors alike, but John McPhee's Looking for a Ship (a non-fiction account) is a wonderful, very readable exception. Shadowing a 2nd Officer in the U.S. Merchant Marine, McPhee spends a month on a U.S.-flagged container ship sailing around South America and gains a level of understanding about going to sea that most authors never grasp.

The book gives a full portrait of the routine and excitement of shipboard life as you are put on the bridge coming into port or in the engine room going through the Panama Canal. McPhee also encounters pirates, stowaways and storms, while explaining the tamer side of shipping including the difficulties of getting a union job and the massive decline of the deep sea U.S. fleet. As a Merchant Marine Officer myself, I have never read a book that so perfectly captures the characters and atmosphere of life at sea, and anyone who has wanted to know what happens on the bridge or wondered about life onboard a passing freighter will be delighted with this read.

--by Ben Lyons, Cruise Critic contributor

Cruise: Design, Identity and Culture
by Peter Quartermaine and Bruce Peter

Design, Identity and Culture, a well-illustrated (and decorated) book, takes a different approach to cruises -- where they came from and how we got to where we are. The author tells the story of how cruises developed over several decades as an offshoot of the ocean liner business and slowly but definitely evolved into a separate entity, with a marked effort to distinguish what they looked and felt like in their design, presentation and public perception.

The industry created its own environment, and Carnival's celebrated Joe Farcus had predecessors. The mega-ships of today, pleasure-oriented floating resorts with assorted restaurants, bars, casinos, atriums and promenades have arrived by no accident, and this will help you understand the how and why.

--by Glenn Tucker, Cruise Critic contributor

Crossing and Cruising
by John Maxtone-Graham

Though written by the author of possibly the best book on trans-Atlantic travel, The Only Way to Cross, this excellent volume, Crossing and Cruising, takes an entirely different approach to the shipboard experience and the changes it has undergone. While profiling the stories of the Aquitania and the Normandie, he also tells of the development of the modern cruise line, and especially the story of Carnival and its competitors. He talks of Windstar and Seabourn and other mini-ships, even as he relates the incredible transformation story that changed the massive ocean liner France into the first super cruise ship Norway.

Through all of it, he continues to show his love of the ocean journey, his love of the ships one and all, and his belief that, as Cunard used to say, "getting there is half the fun." For him, it always has been.

--by Glenn Tucker, Cruise Critic contributor

The Saga Sisters
by Clive Harvey & Roger Cartwright

It's hard to decide whether The Saga Sisters is a history book or a love letter; it's probably both. The book recounts the story of two ships, near-identical though one was built in England and the other in France. As the Sagafjord and the Vistafjord, these elegant ships were the pride of Norwegian-American Cruises as they roamed the world, delighting both loyal passengers and the newly enchanted. They would later become part of the Cunard fleet and have now found a home with Saga Holidays as the Saga Rose and the Saga Ruby.

All along, and through modifications and refurbishments, they both have remained quietly classic and eminently comfortable -- the ocean-going version of a stately home. The authors do justice to their lineage and history as they pay homage to their continued useful existence.

--by Glenn Tucker, Cruise Critic contributor

Mauretania: Triumph and Resurrection
by Peter Newall

The story of Cunard Line's first ship, Mauretania (1907), has been told often. Innovative in her day for her advanced machinery, Mauretania and her sister ship, Lusitania, were driven by steam turbines. She held the Blue Riband for fastest crossings of the Atlantic for a remarkable 22 years. Peter Newall's book, Mauretania, while sketching the liner's long, illustrious history, focuses on the ship's interior design. In fact, he dedicates his book to Harold Peto, who designed most of the ship's first-class public spaces.

What will make this book of particular interest to ship buffs is Newall's lavish use of photographs (most are in black and white, but some are in color) that illustrate the interiors of the ship and their evolution during Mauretania's career. Much of the latter half of the book is devoted to the survival of some of the ship's interiors after Mauretania was scrapped in 1936. Newall tracks down the remaining interior spaces and furnishings and uncovers their present whereabouts. This section of the book reads like a well-written murder mystery: red herrings are considered and rejected; blind alleys are explored and escaped; photographs and addresses of the ship's surviving interiors are revealed.

While Mauretania's ill-fated sister ship, Lusitania, is more famous today (Lusitania sunk off the Irish coast in 1915, which was an important event in World War I), Mauretania was a beloved ship for Atlantic crossings and early cruises. Newall's book makes clear for readers today why that was so.

--by Greg Straub, Cruise Critic contributor

Ile de France (A Biography)
by Don Stanford

This biographical life of the storied Ile de France left me aching for more. She sailed a magnificent life of heroics, romance and glamour.

Prior to World War II, the Ile de France was the master of navigating the seas -- hence the nickname "St. Bernard of the Atlantic." She wore the title of grace and the title of soldier, thus suffering a number of facelifts to match the times. During the war she transported thousands of troops to their destination of fight. She carefully returned families to their homes. She carried the injured to get help. She saved hundreds of lives from the sinking Andrea Doria as naturally as rescuing one man on a freighter with appendicitis. She dared to dart between German torpedoes as well as risk adverse weather to get to her destination.

And, as well, she carried on her decks the lives of countless movies stars, singers, politicians and the affluent from around the world with the same ease as an unknown number of stowaways looking for a new life. Her dramatic life is just that, a life filled with spell-bounding episodes. As one who completely is in love with ships, I fell deeper in love due to this book. A timeless read that never gets old and creates a better appreciation of a time past combined with today's afforded luxuries.

--by Joyce Gleeson-Adamidis, Cruise Critic contributor

"Captain of the Queens" The Autobiography of Captain Harry Grattidge
As told to Richard Collier

A 50-year legend, Captain Harry Grattidge, who mastered Cunard's Aquitania, Mauretania, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, tells a fascinating story. He went to sea at the age of 15, and the book is loaded with his experiences from then on. In an era when celebrities regularly cruised, he met such strapping characters as King Edward VIII, Winston Churchill, Greta Garbo, Bing Crosby, Lana Turner and others along the way. There's more to the book than tales of the famous -- some of my favorite stories feature sinking ships, lives lost, lives saved, two world wars and the idyllic romance of living a life at sea.

Since my husband, a longtime cruise ship captain, and I had experienced our own version of life at sea, we appreciated his candor, his telling of lesson learned, and insights into the art of traveling well.

--by Joyce Gleeson-Adamidis, Cruise Critic contributor

Cruise Ships: An Evolution In Design
by Philip Dawson

This superb volume is a must-read for anyone interested in the design of modern cruise ships. As its title suggests, it follows the evolution of cruise ship design from its earliest origins to today. The book begins with a brief look at the cruise ship's beginnings with the earliest steamships of the Victorian era, but begins in earnest with the first purpose-built cruise ships: Bergen Line's ultra-luxurious yacht-like STella Polaris of 1927 and the very first "mass-market" cruise ships, the infamous Wilhelm Gustoff (1938) and Robert Ley (1939), built under the aegis of the Nazis' "Strength Through Joy" program to provide cheap cruises to German workers.

The book continues after World War II with the converted ocean liners that introduced cruising to many of today's cruisers, then moves on to the first "modern" cruise ships of the 1960's and 1970's, and finally ends with the mega-ship era of the 1980's that continues today. Through all this, the book demonstrates the common threads that have linked ships of different generations.

--by Douglas Newman, Cruise Critic contributor

Holland America Line: The Spotless Fleet
by Stephen J. Card

For anyone who's ever sailed on Holland America and admired its fabulous collection of oil paintings commemorating its ships old and new, The Spotless Fleet is an easy (and frankly cheaper) way to take them home with you! Card, who hails from Bermuda, is a self-taught artist whose first career was at sea as a navigating cadet; he ultimately became a captain -- and the nose for detail he must have learned then is quite obvious here.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor

The Only Way to Cross
by John Maxtone-Graham

If there is only one book you ever read on ocean liners, this must be the one. Maritime historian John Maxtone-Graham's classic manages to bring alive the Atlantic liners and their history through his passion and humor. Describing not only the glamour of 1st class, but also the hardships of the immigrants in 3rd class, the vital role of the liners as troopships in WWI and WWII, and the rapid decline of the Atlantic trade after jet airplanes, his writing delights both frequent cruisers and first timer sailors.

As the 1st Officer onboard Queen Mary 2, I've had the pleasure of listening to Mr. Maxtone-Graham lecture several times onboard both QM2 and QE2. His superbly crafted talks make him one of our most popular entertainers. A definite "must-read!"

--by Ben Lyons, Cruise Critic contributor

QE2: The Cunard Line's Flagship

When I was seven years old, having already been interested in ocean liners for a few years, I picked up Captain Warwick's book on the QE2 in the local library -- and was hooked. As his father was QE2's first captain, and he, himself, one of its captains between 1990 and 2003, who better to tell the story?

I poured over every detail concerning QE2's remarkably eventful career -- including bomb threats, service as a troopship in the Falklands and numerous refits. In addition, the book's deck-by-deck tour of the ship, including areas normally off limits to passengers, provided some insight into the many facets needed to operate a liner.

Years later, inspired in part by Warwick, I joined Cunard Line as Queen Mary 2's Third Officer. Over the last several years up until his recent retirement, I had the great pleasure of sailing with the now Commodore Warwick and learning firsthand about his career. I always took particular delight in recommending his book to our passengers in the onboard library -- while wondering if the well-read copy in my childhood library was still there.

--by Ben Lyons, Cruise Critic contributor

Queen Mary 2: Birth of a Legend
by Philip Plisson

Queen Mary 2: Birth of a Legend is the quintessential holiday gift book for anyone interested not only in Cunard's Queen Mary 2 but also in the photographic trail of the shipbuilding process. At this point, it's almost hard to remember a time when QM2 barely existed; Plisson's coffee table book, loaded with great photographs, will bring you back to that time. Plisson notes here that he is "following in the footsteps" of a ship that was called a legend before it was even built, noting that for 23 months he spent photographing and observing "a colossal puzzle made up of more than 100 blocks, some weighing more than 600 tonnes [sic]."

So the ship's been around for awhile now. So what? Plisson will tell you what's important, which is that the legend-before-its-time has matured into an iconic symbol of today's era of cruising. And as such, this book serves to commemorate the birth of a legend.

Aside from the celebration of Queen Mary 2 in particular, the photographic blow-by-blow of the shipbuilding process, perhaps the only thing not totally unique to this incredible ship, will be of interest to anyone curious about the process of shipbuilding.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor

Ghost Ship of Diamond Shoals: The Mystery of the Carroll A. Deering
by Bland Simpson

Ghost Ship of Diamond Shoals: The Mystery of the Carroll A. Deering is for fans of cruise history, but don't think that means this book is a dry read! Bland Simpson wrote a meticulously thorough nonfiction piece surrounding the mysterious disappearance of the schooner Carroll A. Deering on January 31, 1921. Having brilliantly gathered all resources from newspapers, FBI reports, ship's logs, official correspondence and personal accounts, Bland describes the heart-wrenching disappearance of the Master, Captain Willis Wormell and his crew. And just when you think you have it all figured out, the author finds something else to twist the plot.

Bland skillfully arranged his book by piecing together intricate resources, making you feel as a participant in the search for answers. I couldn't wait to get from one letter to the next. I was warmed by the fact that Herbert Hoover himself worked hard to solve the puzzle, but I, too, felt spent and haunted after reading the resolve. The captain's daughter never gave up her reserve; she pleasantly kept herself in check, reacted accordingly and her writings portray her innermost thoughts. Time reading this book is well spent.

--by Joyce Gleeson-Adamidis, Cruise Critic contributor

To Honolulu in Five Days -- Cruising Aboard Matson's SS Lurline
by Lynn Blocker Krantz

There was a time when getting to Hawai'i (or coming back) was as much fun as actually being there. Passengers on the Matson Lines' Lurline (or Matsonia) found that Hawai'i began (or ended) at the ship's gangway, adding five days to their enjoyment in either direction. For me, those memories haven't faded in forty years.

That time is gone (and so are the ships), but To Honolulu in Five Days -- Cruising Aboard Matson's SS Lurline brings it all back in a warm and vivid fashion. While it is full of interesting facts and wonderful history, it's more like a look at an ocean liner's family album, shared freely and lovingly. A truly enjoyable time capsule of cruising from long ago and far away -- whether you're a contemporary Hawaii cruise traveler or a sentimental one.

--by Glenn Tucker, Cruise Critic contributor

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