TRANSATLANTIC: Samuel Cunard, Isambard Brunel, and the Great Atlantic Steamships

Stephen Fox, Author . HarperCollins $29.95 (512p) ISBN 978-0-06-019595-3

Freelance historian Fox chronicles the changes in transatlantic travel from 1820, when sailing ships took three weeks to cross the treacherous North Atlantic, through 1910, when huge steam-driven ocean liners made the passage in less than a week. No aspect of the remarkable transformation from wind to steam power is left unattended. Fox is as adept at explaining the engineering obstacles facing designers of efficient, safe steamships as he is at describing the charismatic personalities who drove the commercial rivalries and made the under-the-table agreements that dominated the industry. And there is ample drama in the story as steamship builders from Glasgow and London compete for prominence, ships race for the transatlantic crossing record and shipwrecks are caused by human folly and ill luck. For readers whose interest in the nuances of steam engines or paddle-wheel placement is limited, Fox also examines the human dynamics of a transatlantic crossing. His descriptions of the relationships between crew and passengers, first-class passengers and those in steerage, provide insights into the social milieu. The descriptions of life in steerage will intrigue the many Americans whose ancestors arrived after enduring the harrowing conditions, which, according to Fox, deteriorated noticeably in the 1880s, when the demographics of steerage passengers changed from western Europeans to eastern European and Jewish immigrants. Many readers will skip detailed descriptions of the interior dimensions and designs, the crossing times, and the tonnage and horsepower of a seemingly endless number of steamships. Still, Fox has fashioned a comprehensive and informative book. 32 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (July 4)

Reviewed on: 05/26/2003
Release date: 07/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
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