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A furnace afloat - Joe Jackson

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A furnace afloat - the wreck of the Hornet and the 4,300-mile voyage of its survivors
Joe Jackson
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
UK Publication Date

When an accident with an open oil lantern set the American clipper Hornet alight in 1866, the 31 passengers and crew were forced to abandon ship. Cast adrift in three small lifeboats, they had less than 10 days rations to share between them. They were over 1000 miles from the nearest island.Over the next six weeks they were to encounter every danger the Pacific could throw at them. They were attacked by sharks and swordfish. They endured storms, and even tornadoes. Their hunger became so intense that they resorted to eating their clothes, and later, half-mad from the effects of drinking sea-water, were driven to the edge of cannibalism.A FURNACE AFLOAT tells the story of their 4000-mile voyage through the eyes of three men, who kept journals throughout their ordeal. It is one of the rare, great historical survival stories, and yet it also transcends its genre: the boatful of castaways becomes a microcosm of 1866 America - a diverse mix of immigrants struggling to overcome class divisions, and to recover from the recent Civil War.

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A four time Pulitzer Prize nominee, Joe Jackson is author of the Edgar Award Nominated LEAVENWORTH TRAIN (Carol & Graf, 2002), and is co-author of DEAD RUN (Canongate, 1999), which is in development as a feature film with HBO.

'By any standards, this is a remarkable tale...'

'Jackson's story contains fascinating detail on sharks, tornadoes, typhoons, waterspouts and other hazards, as well as the minutiae of clipper sailing, but it is the dreadful pages describing agonising death, madness from drinking seawater and painful bowel movements by those who ate wood and the leather of their boots that really make us take notice... Jackson's conclusion is almost thermonuclear in its devastation.'

'A FURNACE AFLOAT is richly written and its author seems to have something interesting to say on virtually every topic raised by his harrowing story... His book manages to combine the high authority of an encyclopedic work of history with the page-turning excitement of an adventure story.'
DAILY MAIL - Andrew Rosenheim

'Jackson's tale is beautifully rendered. In a story crammed with intriguing detail, there is breathing space for lyricism... But Jackson never allows the writing to get in the way of the story... In a gripping story of disaster and triumph, pain and renewal, prayer and perfidy, the most chilling aspect is that in the most awful of circumstances, man clings to the differences of life as he faces the ultimate democracy of death.'

'Jackson has done an impressive job of fleshing out the bones of a story that has been drawn almost entirely from diary entries. Being able to transform a month of monotony into a book that continually holds your attention is no mean feat, and A Furnace Afloat is an intriguing testament to both the author's skill and the human spirit.'

Keyword Index
Shipwrecks - Pacific Ocean.|Survival after airplane accidents, shipwrecks, etc.
Country of Publication
Number of Pages

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