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

Who am I?

Since the publication of my first book in 1988, my emphasis has always been on history as “story.” That is, the stories of men and women in past centuries with whom we share a common humanity but who faced challenges very different from our own. My goal is to bring their stories to as wide an audience as possible. Whether they describe Newfoundland fisherman in the 17th-century North Atlantic, expatriate Irish men and women in 18th-century Bordeaux, or colonial New Yorkers defying British authority on the eve of the American Revolution, the common theme is the impact of trade and the sea on the lives of ordinary people.


I wrote...

Defying Empire: Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York

By Thomas M. Truxes,

Book cover of Defying Empire: Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York

What is my book about?

Defying Empire reveals the story of the bold New York City merchants who engaged in forbidden trade with the French enemy during the Seven Years’ War — together with the fate of the lone informer who dared challenge them. Ignoring British prohibitions designed to end North America’s wartime trade with the French, New York’s merchant elite conducted a thriving business in the French West Indies, insisting that their behavior was protected by long practice and British commercial law. But the government in London viewed it as treachery, and its subsequent efforts to discipline North American commerce inflamed the colonists. Through fast-moving events and unforgettable characters, historian Thomas M. Truxes brings eighteenth-century New York and the Atlantic world to life.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

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.

Sailors: English Merchant Seamen 1650 - 1775

By Peter Earle,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sailors as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A social and economic history of the lives of English merchant sailors in the 17th and 18th centuries, when England dominated the world in commerce and power. Drawn from primary documents and diaries, all aspects are examined, including conditions of service, discipline, mortality and war.


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.

The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy

By N.A.M. Rodger,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Wooden World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Meticulously researched, Rodger's portrait draws the reader into this fascinatingly complex world with vivid, entertaining characters and full details of life below the decks. The Wooden World provides the most complete history of a navy at any age, and is sure to be an indispensable volume for all fans of Patrick O'Brian, English history, and naval history.


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.

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

By Marcus Rediker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea focuses upon the seamen's experience in order to illuminate larger historical issues such as the rise of capitalism, the genesis of free wage labor, and the growth of an international working class. These epic themes were intimately bound up with the everyday hopes and fears of the common men who toiled upon the deep.


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.

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

By Daniel Vickers, Vince Walsh,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Young Men and the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Two centuries of American maritime history, in which the Atlantic Ocean remained the great frontier.

Two centuries of American maritime history, in which the Atlantic Ocean remained the great frontier Westward expansion has been the great narrative of the first two centuries of American history, but as historian Daniel Vickers demonstrates here, the horizon extended in all directions. For those who lived along the Atlantic coast, it was the East-and the Atlantic Ocean-that beckoned. While historical and fictional accounts have tended to stress the exceptional circumstances or psychological compulsions that drove men to sea, this book shows how normal a…


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.

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

By Denver Brunsman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Evil Necessity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A fundamental component of Britain's early success, naval impressment not only kept the Royal Navy afloat-it helped to make an empire. In total numbers, impressed seamen were second only to enslaved Africans as the largest group of forced labourers in the eighteenth century.

In The Evil Necessity, Denver Brunsman describes in vivid detail the experience of impressment for Atlantic seafarers and their families. Brunsman reveals how 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 who were left behind. Press gangs, consisting of a navy…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in sailors, the Atlantic Ocean, and World War 2?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about sailors, the Atlantic Ocean, and World War 2.

Sailors Explore 17 books about sailors
The Atlantic Ocean Explore 34 books about the Atlantic Ocean
World War 2 Explore 1125 books about World War 2

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like In the Heart of the Sea, Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570-1740, and Pirates! if you like this list.