The best nautical novels transporting the reader into the lives of seafarers, their adventures and the dangers of the sea

Why am I passionate about this?

Two events happened around the same time, 1950-51, that made me want to go to sea. One was seeing the movie Down to the Sea in Ships and the second was a 30-minute boat ride on the sea. I was about 9-years old at the time. I think I must have identified with the boy (Jed) in the novel and unlike my younger brother, I enjoyed the thrill of the wind and waves and I wasn’t seasick. From then on, I had a lifelong love of the sea, serving with the Merchant Navy, having my own seagoing boat and for 22 years teaching navigation and sailing knowledge to Sea Cadets. 

I wrote...

Fife's Tin Box

By Peter Copley,

Book cover of Fife's Tin Box

What is my book about?

Over 500 boys aged between 14 and 16 were killed at sea while serving in the British Merchant Navy during World War ll. Including John E Atkins, aged 15, of the barge Rosemary, who lost his life while evacuating troops from Dunkirk and Reginald (Reggie) Earnshaw just 14 years old when he was lost at sea. 

Kevin Fife is a 14-year-old who keeps getting into trouble with the authorities. After minor altercations with the police, the magistrates do not agree that his ‘offences’ are only boyish mischief and send Kevin off to sea as an alternative to Borstal (Correction House) under the ‘Jail or Sail Policy’. This novel follows Kevin facing the dangers of the sea and the violence of the enemy between January 1940 and January 1941.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of HMS Ulysses

Peter Copley Why did I love this book?

Although this is a novel about a warship and the convoys, the Artic Convoys to North Russia were very real. Winston Churchill said the artic convoy mission was, "The most dangerous journey in the world." I personally sailed with men who had sailed in these convoys taking food, fuel, and weapons to Russia. I sailed with seamen whose ships had been torpedoed by U-Boats, some men had been torpedoed more than once.

I was only 3 years old when the war ended but I have sailed to the Artic and to Vladivostok in the North Pacific, and I have worked on deep sea trawlers fishing off the north coast of Iceland and I can tell you that working at sea, even in peacetime, can be a very dangerous occupation. In wartime life at sea must have been terrifying at times. Now in the comfort of my central-heated house, I pay tribute to the men and women who go down to the sea in ships.

By Alistair MacLean,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked HMS Ulysses as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The novel that launched the astonishing career of one of the 20th century's greatest writers of action and suspense - an acclaimed classic of heroism and the sea in World War II.

Constant patrols have pushed the crew of the HMS Ulysses beyond the limits of endurance. And now they must be put to sea again, to escort a vital supply convoy heading for Murmansk.

As they head deep into the frozen waters they are faced not only with the fierce arctic weather, but a swarm of airborne attacks, German ships, then the feared U-boats, all hellbent on destroying the…

Book cover of The Old Man and the Sea

Peter Copley Why did I love this book?

I’ve read all of Ernest Hemingway’s books and although it is many years ago since I read The Old Man of the Sea (when I was a young man of the sea). One man alone in a boat on the wide ocean appeals to me as I have been in that situation myself on several occasions. My boat, a 28-foot motor/sailer, berthed in Fleetwood was my refuge from a troubled world. As a fire officer, I may have been involved with a motorway pile-up, cutting casualties out of wrecked vehicles, or a tragic house fire or simply dealing with bolshie firemen on my station. I would go to my boat, wait for the tide, sail out of the harbour alone, clear the shipping channels, drop the sails, make myself a coffee, sit outside on the deck, and unwind in the solitude of the sea.

By Ernest Hemingway,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The Old Man and the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This powerful and dignified story about a Cuban fisherman's struggle with a great fish has the universal appeal of a struggle between man and the elements, the hunter with the hunted. It earned Hemingway the Nobel prize and has been made into an acclaimed film. Age 13+

Book cover of Treasure Island

Peter Copley Why did I love this book?

Treasure Island is my favourite childhood story. I used to dream of finding hidden treasure on some distant tropical island. My mother would wax lyrical about the Isle of Man, she had many holidays there in the 1920s and 1930s. She called it her ‘treasure island’ and told me about its clear harbour water and golden sands. Well, for those who don’t know, the IOM is a small island in the middle of the cold Irish Sea. Talk about a disappointment when I visited the island. It was freezing cold, wet, dismal, and its capital city Douglas was in the advanced stages of decline—a long way from Stevenson’s version of the Hispaniola and pirates of the Spanish Main. However, I still enjoy reading about Black Dog, Billy Bones, Dr. Livesey, Long John Silver, and the cabin boy Jim Hawkins and at the age of 79 I can still dream of digging up Pieces of Eight and Gold Doubloons.

By Robert Louis Stevenson,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked Treasure Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

Penguin presents the audio CD edition of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Following the demise of bloodthirsty buccaneer Captain Flint, young Jim Hawkins finds himself with the key to a fortune. For he has discovered a map that will lead him to the fabled Treasure Island. But a host of villains, wild beasts and deadly savages stand between him and the stash of gold. Not to mention the most infamous pirate ever to sail the high seas . . .

Book cover of Billy Budd, Sailor

Peter Copley Why did I love this book?

On his way into exile on Elba in HMS Undaunted, Napoleon Bonaparte, remarked on the conduct of British sailors, how silently and efficiently they went about their duties. It is true that discipline on British warships was strict, and punishment for offenders was harsh from flogging to hanging. However, contrary to some opinions, British seamen on the whole were happy with their lot. They were well-fed and were fairly treated. The maxim ‘train hard fight easy’ was prevalent with British sailors, this novelette undoubtedly reflects this attitude.

The Billy Budd story, set aboard HMS Bellipotent, is a microcosm of life in general; Duty, Patriotism, Envy, Camaraderie, Conspiracy, Jealousy, Justice, and Punishment. I have faced a similar dilemma that faced Captain Vere myself, although not a life and death decision, but having the choice of turning a blind eye to an offence against the Discipline Regulations or prosecuting the offender resulting in his dismissal from the Fire Service.

By Herman Melville,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Billy Budd, Sailor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Billy Budd, Sailor is a novella by American writer Herman Melville left unfinished at Melville's death in 1891. Acclaimed by critics as a masterpiece when a hastily transcribed version was finally published in 1924, it quickly took its place as a classic second only to Moby-Dick among Melville's works. Budd is a "handsome sailor" who strikes and inadvertently kills his false accuser, Master-at-arms John Claggart. The ship's Captain, Edward Vere, recognizes the innocence of Budd's intent but the law of mutiny requires him to sentence Billy to be hanged. Melville began work on it in November 1886, revising and expanding…

Book cover of Two Years Before The Mast

Peter Copley Why did I love this book?

You do not have to be a lover of seafaring novels to enjoy Dana’s memoir and his vivid descriptions of people and places. Two Years Before the Mast is a masterpiece of writing. As an Englishman, I have always enjoyed reading American prose; Steinbeck, Hemingway, Melville, they seem to write clearly and to the point without the long-windedness of some authors. 

How times have changed since the days when Dana was a seaman, (even when I was at sea in the 1950s 60s, and 70s) to today’s conditions for seafarers. My nephew who is a chief engineer with BP has the same amount of leave as the time he spends at sea, (4 months max) with the internet, skyping, and Netflix. He is highly paid and flown home first class. My contract was for 12 months, no leisure facilities on the ship, a letter now and then, and a train ticket and a ferry journey home.

By Richard Henry Dana,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Two Years Before The Mast as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

‘Two Years Before the Mast’ is a memoir by the American author Richard Henry Dana, published in 1840, having been written after a two-year sea voyage from Boston to California on a merchant ship starting in 1834. A film adaptation under the same name was released in 1946. It is the true story of Richard Henry Dana’s voyage aboard the merchant vessel the ‘Pilgrim’ on a trip around Cape Horn during the years 1834 to 1836. Dana was a student at Harvard when a case of the measles affected his vision. He left school and enlisted as a sailor on…

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Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube

By Kerry Aradhya, Kara Kramer (illustrator),

Book cover of Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube

Kerry Aradhya Author Of Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube

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Why am I passionate about this?

Not long ago, while rummaging through old storage containers in our garage, I came across a board game I had invented during elementary school. But I hadn’t made it for a school project or because anyone had asked me to make it. I had made it simply because I was passionate about creating…and I still am. As a children’s author, science editor, and dancer, I am fascinated by the creative process. I chose these books because they depict many of the ups, downs, and often unexpected outcomes of the creative process, all within the context of inventions for kids!

Kerry's book list on nonfiction picture books with inventions kids love

What is my book about?

This picture book biography of Ernő Rubik, creator of the Rubik’s Cube, reveals the obsession, imagination, and engineering process behind the creation of this fascinating and sometimes frustrating puzzle.

A solitary child, Ernő Rubik grew up in post-World War II Hungary, curious about puzzles, art, nature, and their underlying patterns and structures.

As a young professor of architecture, and in a quest to help his students understand three-dimensional movement, he fashioned a cube made up of smaller cubes that twisted and turned without breaking, unexpectedly inventing the most popular puzzle in history!

Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube

By Kerry Aradhya, Kara Kramer (illustrator),

What is this book about?

This first picture book biography of Erno Rubik, creator of the Rubik’s Cube, reveals the obsession, imagination, and engineering process behind the creation of a bestselling puzzle that will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2024.

In 2023, the world record for solving the Rubik’s Cube was broken by Max Park, who finished in 3.13 seconds!

And then there’s you. Did you ever get so frustrated with a Rubik’s Cube that you wanted to pull it apart and put it back together in order? Were you to do so, you’d see how cleverly one of the world’s most popular toys is…

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Interested in sailors, Pirates, and Cuba?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about sailors, Pirates, and Cuba.

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