cover image THE OUTLAW SEA


William Langewiesche, . . FSG/North Point, $23 (239pp) ISBN 978-0-86547-581-6

"Our world is an ocean world, and it is wild," Langewiesche writes. He then poses a powerful question: have the industrialized nations of the world given up control of the shipping industry to the demands of the free market? And if this free market is indeed the most efficient and profitable system, what price, socially, politically and environmentally will it extract from the human beings who use it? From the panic-stricken bridge of a sinking oil tanker to the filth-clogged beaches resulting from a destroyed ship in India, Langewiesche (American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center ) vividly describes a global cabal of unscrupulous ship owners, well-intentioned but overmatched regulators, and poorly trained and poorly paid seamen who risk their lives every day to make this new global economy function. "It is not exactly a criminal industry," Langewiesche explains, "but it is an amoral and stubbornly anarchic one." Accidents happen with alarming regularity. A sobering account of the 1994 sinking of the passenger ferry Estonia in the Baltic is the centerpiece of this book. Brutally handled, poorly maintained and perhaps fatally flawed in design, the ship capsized and sank in a raging gale, taking 852 unsuspecting people to a watery grave. Langewiesche painstakingly details the botched accident investigation—complete with bureaucratic incompetence, backpedaling elected officials and the persistent efforts of a German journalist with conspiracy on her mind. In the end, no conclusion was drawn, and the Estonia sits at the bottom of the Baltic, a silent monument to the cost of a free market gone awry. Equal parts incisive political harangue and lyrical reflection on the timelessness of the sea, this book brilliantly illuminates a system the world economy depends upon, but will not take responsibility for. Agent, Chuck Verrill. (May)