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Cannonball Read #53: A Furnace Afloat: The Wreck of the Hornet and the Harrowing 4,300-mile Voyage of Its Survivors by Joe Jackson.

Three shipwrecks for the price of one today! (I have some free time and am trying to catch up again on my blogging.)

A Furnace Afloat is the story of the clipper ship Hornet, which caught fire at sea, leaving its crew and several upper-class passengers adrift at sea in an open lifeboat for 43 days. The tensions between the crew and the passengers that nearly led to mutiny, the desperate fight for survival which included eating shoe leather and contemplating cannibalism, and their miraculous arrival in Hawaii to the delight of then-unknown journalist Samuel Clemens (later known the world over as Mark Twain) are all covered in the book. Jackson does an excellent job with research, aided by the fact that the captain, two passengers, and one member of the crew kept extensive diaries through the experience, and nearly all gave interviews to Twain, who documented the events in a career-making piece of journalism. Jackson also makes a point to explain the historical context of the ship's journey, the science behind the weather phenomenons the lifeboat encountered, and medical facts of the sufferings of the crew. It is a fact-packed and well written book.

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