The Great Deep by James Hamilton-Paterson (out of print). Famously enigmatic and reclusive, Hamilton-Paterson has a profound fascination for the world’s waters and oceans. This slender book presents a distillation of the maritime world like few others.
The Physical Geography of the Sea by Matthew Fontaine Maury (Univ. of Michigan, $24). Maury was a rising star in the U.S. Navy when he was crippled in a stagecoach accident. He stayed in the Navy, becoming the greatest oceanographer of his time. The Physical Geography of the Sea remains the best description available of the technical mysteries of waves, currents, and ocean winds.
Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum (Penguin, $14). Slocum took a worn-out, 36-foot sloop named Spray, rebuilt it, and set out from Massachusetts in 1895. Three years later, he returned, having logged 46,000 sea miles while sailing solo around the planet. Any boy who does not like Slocum’s book, declared children’s author Arthur Ransome, should be “drowned at once.”
In Hazard by Richard Hughes (NYRB Classics, $15). Best known for his trilogy The Human Predicament, Hughes had decades earlier written this fictional account of a hurricane in the Caribbean. He tells the story from the perspective of the crew of a merchant ship called the Archimedes, and the writing is truly sensational: You huddle beneath the covers, relieved to be safe and dry.
Ocean Passages for the World: First Edition by the Hydrographer of the British Navy (British Library, $21). The famous coastal guides of the British admiralty pilots are captivating reading for even the most landlubberly, but the 1895 first edition, attributed to Capt. Robert Jackson, will make armchair sailors of us all.
The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat (Burford Books, $19). Monsarrat was a commander in Britain’s volunteer navy reserve during World War II and he wrote several sea stories. Of the many accounts of battles and ships, his story of the HMS Compass Rose at war remains the most vivid, sad, and memorable.