The Hard Way Around: The Passages of Joshua Slocum

Geoffrey Wolff, Editor
Geoffrey Wolff, Knopf, $25.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4000-4342-2
Reviewed on: 01/10/2011
Release date: 10/01/2010
In Wolff's (Edge of Maine) biographical sketch of Joshua Slocum, a 19th-century mariner explorer and entrepreneur, accounts of Slocum's bold exploits abound, and abound, and abound. After a rigid and dreary childhood, Slocum applied his substantial engineering genius to a capricious, boat-dwelling lifestyle. "Again and again, when Slocum found himself in a fix he would boat-build his escape." According to Wolff, who all but deifies his subject, Slocum was a "carpe-diem kind of fellow... remarkable even in such a carpe-diem period in our carpe-diem country's history." He was a calculating gambling man with economic savoir faire, an awareness of the world, and a lucky-streak as wide as his wake. Ultimately, however, despite his resourcefulness, courage, and cunning, it's difficult to ignore his personal shortcomings; Wolff cannot write around Slocum's arrogance and general unpleasantness as a man. Nor can Wolff write himself out of a dull portrayal of his subject, and his biography often reads more like a reference book for turn-of-the-century folly. While Wolff may succeed in inspiring a spirit of adventure in some, it's hard to imagine him not alienating others. (Oct.)