The best books on 18th century mariners

Thomas M. Truxes Author Of Defying Empire: Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York
By Thomas M. Truxes

The Books I Picked & Why

Sailors: English Merchant Seamen 1650 - 1775

By Peter Earle

Book cover of Sailors: English Merchant Seamen 1650 - 1775

Why this book?

Sailors — among my favorite books — is a vivid account of the lives of English merchant seamen in the 17th and 18th centuries. These were the years when England rose to dominance in global commerce and became the greatest naval power in the world. Acclaimed historian Peter Earle explores every aspect of the sailor's life: conditions of service, wealth and possessions, life aboard ship, the perils of the sea, discipline and punishment, sickness, desertion, mutiny and mortality, and the role of the sailor in times of war. Evocative, scholarly, and colorful, this story of England's "bravest and boldest" reveals how life on the waves was not all storms and conflict, tyranny and revolt, but also one of comradeship, adventure, and love of the sea.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy

By N.A.M. Rodger

Book cover of The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy

Why this book?

This is by far the best book on the British Navy in the Age of Sail.  Meticulously researched and written in easily accessible non-technical language, N. A. M. Rodger — the foremost authority on this subject — draws the reader into this complex world with vivid, entertaining characters and rich detail on life above and below deck. The Wooden World offers the most complete portrait of naval life in any age.  For readers hooked on Patrick O’Brian’s fabulous 21–volume “Aubrey/Maturin” series, Rodger will be an indispensable guide for understanding the Royal Navy and how it functioned, as well as how English society functioned in the era of the Napoleonic Wars.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700 1750

By Marcus Rediker

Book cover of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700 1750

Why this book?

The common seaman and the pirate in the age of sail are romantic historical figures who occupy a special place in the popular culture, but they remain little known to us.  But their lives are not beyond recovery.  Rediker tours the sailor's North Atlantic, following seamen and their ships along the pulsing routes of trade and into rowdy port towns. He recreates life along the waterfront, where seafaring men from around the world crowded into brothels, alehouses, and city jails. And Rediker explores the natural terror that inevitably shaped the existence of those who plied the forbidding oceans of the globe in small, brittle wooden vessels. The mariners in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea are working men, struggling to overcome the exploitive tendencies of the age in which they lived.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Young Men and the Sea: Yankee Seafarers in the Age of Sail

By Daniel Vickers, Vince Walsh

Book cover of Young Men and the Sea: Yankee Seafarers in the Age of Sail

Why this book?

The sea figured prominently in early American life.  Westward expansion is a dominant theme in American history, but as historian Daniel Vickers demonstrates, the horizon extended in all directions. For those who lived along the Atlantic coast, it was the East — and the Atlantic Ocean — that beckoned. In Young Men and the Sea, seafaring is a normal part of life. Drawing on the records of thousands of mariners sailing from Salem, Massachusetts, Vickers offers a fascinating social history of early American seafaring.  In what sort of families were sailors raised? When did they go to sea?  What were their chances of death? Whom did they marry, and how did their wives operate households in their absence? This book is destined to become a classic of American social history.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Evil Necessity: British Naval Impressment in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World

By Denver Brunsman

Book cover of The Evil Necessity: British Naval Impressment in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World

Why this book?

In total numbers, impressed seamen were second only to enslaved Africans as the largest group of forced laborers in the eighteenth century. In The Evil Necessity, Denver Brunsman describes in vivid detail the experience of impressment for Atlantic seafarers and their families. Forced service robbed approximately 250,000 mariners of their livelihoods, and, not infrequently, their lives, while also devastating Atlantic seaport communities and the loved ones left behind. Press gangs, consisting of a navy officer backed by sailors and occasionally local toughs, often used violence or the threat of violence to supply the manpower necessary to maintain British naval supremacy. But impressment helped to unite Britain and its Atlantic coastal territories in a common system of maritime defense unmatched by any other European empire.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Closely Related Book Lists

Distantly Related Book Lists