Two Years Before the Mast

Two Years Before the Mast

by Richard Henry Dana


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Tracing an awe-inspiring oceanic route from Boston, around Cape Horn, to the California coast, Two Years Before the Mast is both a riveting story of adventure and the most eloquent, insightful account we have of life at sea in the early nineteenth century. Richard Henry Dana is only nineteen when he abandons the patrician world of Boston and Harvard for an arduous voyage among real sailors, amid genuine danger. The result is an astonishing read, replete with vivid descriptions of storms, whales, and the ship's mad captain, terrible hardship and magical beauty, and fascinating historical detail, including an intriguing portrait of California before the gold rush. As D. H. Lawrence proclaimed, "Dana's small book is a very great book."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781515434726
Publisher: Wilder Publications
Publication date: 04/03/2018
Pages: 316
Sales rank: 875,650
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.88(d)

About the Author

John Seelye is a graduate research professor of American literature at the University of Florida. He is the author of The True Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain at the Movies, Prophetic Waters: The River in Early American Literature, Beautiful Machine: Rivers and the Early Republic, Memory's Nation: The Place of Plymouth Rock, and War Games: Richard Harding Davis and the New Imperialism. He is also the consulting editor for Penguin Classics in American literature.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter I

Excerpted from "Two Years Before the Mast"
by .
Copyright © 2009 Richard Henry Dana.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

1. ?Discuss Dana?s motives for the voyage. What do you feel was the predominating factor in his decision to undertake such a journey? What were the risks involved, and how serious do you feel they were? What is your view of Dana?s momentous choice?

2. ?What do you make of Dana?s attitude toward religion, and religious instruction? Do you agree or not? Why? Is his a perspective that is anachronistic, or not?

3. ?How does social class play a role in the book? Discuss the implications of Dana?s background. How did it affect his experience on the ship? Did you find it important, or inconsequential?

4. ?What is your opinion of the book?s stark realism? Does Dana have an agenda in writing the book? If so, what is it? Do you think the experience was a positive one for Dana, or not?

5. ?What is the role of nature and the outdoors for Dana? How does he view the American West? How does his voyage attest to his view of the outdoors? Does this view change throughout his experience on the ship? If so, how?

6. ?Discuss the contrasts between Captain Thompson and Captain Faucon. How do their leadership skills differ? Who is more effective, and why? Discuss Dana?s book on a political level. What do his portrayals of each captain reveal?

7. ?Discuss the considerable shift in Dana?s perspective as evidenced in ?Twenty-Four Years After.? How do you account for this change? Do you agree or disagree with the author?s decision to replace the original final chapter with this later account? Why or why not?

Customer Reviews

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Two Years Before the Mast 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldnt put it down. The writing is descriptive and colorful. I thought I'd just skim through this book but in the end I didn't want to miss a word . Written in layman's terms for the most part you do not have to understand nautical terms to read this book. I had no trouble reading this on my Nook as someone earlier stated. They must be doing something wrong! If you enjoy history and want a true acvount of what life was like on a merchant ship or in California in the mid1800's you will love this book!
andrew98 More than 1 year ago
This copy only fills top third to top half of the screen. This makes it annoying to read given that you have to turn the page so much more often.
Anonymous 7 months ago
A well written, accurate description of life on a sailing ship in the days of the tall ships. Read this acclaimed book to find out what it was really like.
tzelman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Entirely engrossing account of sea-voyaging to California in 1836 to collect and prepare hides
amerynth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Richard Henry Dana's book "Two Years Before the Mast" actually did remind me of the ocean -- my interest level in the book ebbed and flowed like the tides. I found much of his tale of sailing to be somewhat mundane, but every once in a while, he'll get into a story about a crew member that is utterly fascinating. I particularly enjoyed reading about his experiences in wild California... which was the very highlight of the book for me. Overall, this book would be best for someone with a particular interest in sailing (as opposed to a general interest in exploration.)
corinneblackmer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A harrowing tale of the life of a common sailor in 1840. The author, an undergraduate at Harvard, took to the sea because he thought it might improve his eyesight (after a bout with measles). The work is backbreaking; his witness to a flogging and the merciless discipline of the sea unforgettable. He returns two years later and, as he says, just in time before the brutality of the life of a common sailor would have consumed and overtaken him permanently. A moving plea for more compassionate treatment of common workers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book is an interesting portrayal of life in California before the Union and the Gold Rush. I’m amazed that the author was able to capture so much detail of the area and of life aboard the ships. I wish I had seen the glossary in the back sooner, however, so that I would have better understood the parts of the ship he described, particularly the different sails that he referenced on the ships he sailed upon. Terry
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A revealing tale of the life of a sailor and the California coast in the 1800's.
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psychmd More than 1 year ago
Appearing on many top 100 must read lists, this book deserves the acclaim. You smell the salt air and feel the cramped quarters of the narrator, a Harvard educated young man who takes on the adventure of a lifetime as a common sailor in the 1830's. A poignant portrayal of nautical life and California's early days as a part of Mexico. A unique personal history that stands the test of time.
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I went on the pilgrim for the book
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