The best books to drop the hook and read at anchor

Who am I?

Having sailed the East Coast for over sixty years, from Ocracoke to Gaspe, I know that there’s nothing better than a few days of bad weather - if you`re safely at anchor in a well-protected cove. The wind in the rigging, rain drumming on the deck, the stove fired up, a mug of tea (with or without a tot of rum): add a good book, and that is pure happiness. After a hard day's sail - or just drifting along, becalmed - a good book is a sailor`s best friend.

I wrote...


By James N. McKean,

Book cover of Quattrocento

What is my book about?

Matt O’Brien, an assistant curator and art restorer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has always been passionate about the Italian Renaissance. But when he discovers a long-neglected portrait of a beautiful woman among the museum’s miles of storage bins, he becomes obsessed--and not only because he suspects that the painting is by Leonardo da Vinci. Something about the mysterious woman’s exquisite face stirs his memory, and when Matt finds himself spun across the centuries into Quattrocento, Italy, where he arrives perfectly attired in 15th-century clothing, he appears to be free to pursue her.

A magically woven, richly detailed debut, Quattrocento tells an unforgettable tale of art, and love, and the unexpected places where they meet.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth's Most Awesome Creatures

James N. McKean Why did I love this book?

Everyone loves whales, right? But almost no one knows anything about them (I didn't). As a paleobiologist, Pyenson gives us a compelling view of their world, dating back over ten million years. Using vivid detail and rich narrative prose he shows us just how essential they are to marine ecology, and how our fate is inextricably linked to theirs. I've rarely read a book that so transformed my view of the world. 

By Nick Pyenson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"A palaeontological howdunnit...[Spying on Whales] captures the excitement of...seeking answers to deep questions in cetacean science." -Nature

Called "the best of science writing" (Edward O. Wilson) and named a best book by Popular Science, a dive into the secret lives of whales, from their four-legged past to their perilous present.

Whales are among the largest, most intelligent, deepest diving species to have ever lived on our planet. They evolved from land-roaming, dog-sized creatures into animals that move like fish, breathe like us, can grow to 300,000 pounds, live 200 years and travel entire ocean basins. Whales fill us with terror,…

Book cover of Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris

James N. McKean Why did I love this book?

Some books are worth reading just because the writing is so wonderful. But combine that with the subject matter - dining out in Paris - and you are in for a treat. Liebling, a longtime staff writer for the New Yorker, shares with us the sublime art of enjoying a good meal. He also wrote some of the best reporting on the Second World War, landing with the Allies in Morocco and accompanying the troops on the front line through Europe (available as WW2 Writings, Library of America).

By A.J. Liebling,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

New Yorker staff writer A.J. Liebling recalls his Parisian apprenticeship in the fine art of eating in this charming memoir, Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris.

“There would come a time when, if I had compared my life to a cake, the sojourns in Paris would have presented the chocolate filling. The intervening layers were plain sponge.”

In his nostalgic review of his Rabelaisian initiation into life’s finer pleasures, Liebling celebrates the richness and variety of French food, fondly recalling great meals and memorable wines. He writes with awe and a touch of envy of his friend and mentor Yves…

Book cover of Parting the Waters

James N. McKean Why did I love this book?

In this trilogy, Taylor Branch does a masterful job of illuminating the long and hard post-war struggle for racial justice in America. He brings an immensely diverse cast of characters to life, most of them ordinary people called upon to do extraordinary things. He puts us right in the midst of the action: riding buses, crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, gathered in the Oval Office, standing on a motel balcony in Memphis. Gripping, personal, tragic, and heroic: a monumental account of the most important social movement of our time (Parting the Waters, Pillar of Fire, At Canaan`s Edge).

By Taylor Branch,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Parting the Waters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Parting the Waters, the first volume of his essential America in the King Years series, Pulitzer Prize winner Taylor Branch gives a “compelling…masterfully told” (The Wall Street Journal) account of Martin Luther King’s early years and rise to greatness.

Hailed as the most masterful story ever told of the American Civil Rights Movement, Parting the Waters is destined to endure for generations.

Moving from the fiery political baptism of Martin Luther King, Jr., to the corridors of Camelot where the Kennedy brothers weighed demands for justice against the deceptions of J. Edgar Hoover, here is a vivid tapestry of…

Book cover of Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War

James N. McKean Why did I love this book?

In these two volumes, Massie shows how the naval arms race Kaiser Wilhelm undertook with his grandmother Queen Victoria led inexorably to the Great War and a century of conflict. The rise of a young power, contesting control of the seas with the established global empire: sound familiar? The stakes could not have been higher - as Churchill said of Admiral Jellicoe, commander of the British fleet: "He is the only man who could lose this war in a single afternoon." Jellicoe prevailed when that fateful afternoon came at Jutland, but Massie shows us the long drift to war that started decades before on a different afternoon: a yacht race at Cowes.

By Robert K. Massie,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

With the biographer's rare genius for expressing the essence of extraordinary lives, Massie brings to life a crowd of glittering figures: the single-minded Admiral von Tirpitz; the young, ambitious Winston Churchill; the ruthless, sycophantic Chancellor Bernhard von Bulow; Britain's greatest twentieth-century Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey; and Jacky Fisher, the eccentric admiral who revolutionized the British Navy and brought forth for the first true battleship, H.M.S. Dreadnought. Their story, and the story of the era, filled with misunderstanding, missed opportunities, and events leading to unintended conclusions, unfolds like a Greek tragedy in this powerful narrative. Intimately human and dramatic, Dreadnought…

Book cover of The Odyssey

James N. McKean Why did I love this book?

To be a sailor without The Odyssey is to be lost at sea. My copy, dogeared and salt-stained, goes with me everywhere. When you’re cruising, it becomes more than an epic poem: a world that you’re a part of. Anyone who’s seen the last light on the ocean waves knows what a wine-dark sea looks like, or the very real peril of Scylla and Charybdis. And how important it is not to anger, (or even draw the attention of) Poseidon, the last of the true gods. Mythical, perhaps, but as real as the sound of the surf breaking on the distant shores.

By Homer, Emily Wilson (translator),

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Odyssey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first great adventure story in the Western canon, The Odyssey is a poem about violence and the aftermath of war; about wealth, poverty and power; about marriage, family and identity; and about travellers, hospitality and the changing meanings of home in a strange world.

This vivid new translation-the first by a woman-matches the number of lines in the Greek original, striding at Homer's sprightly pace. Emily Wilson employs elemental, resonant language and an iambic pentameter to produce a translation with an enchanting "rhythm and rumble" that avoids proclaiming its own grandeur. An engrossing tale told in a compelling new…

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Currently Away: How Two Disenchanted People Traveled the Great Loop for Nine Months and Returned to the Start, Energized and Optimistic

By Bruce Tate,

Book cover of Currently Away: How Two Disenchanted People Traveled the Great Loop for Nine Months and Returned to the Start, Energized and Optimistic

Bruce Tate

New book alert!

What is my book about?

The plan was insane. The trap seemed to snap shut on Bruce and Maggie Tate, an isolation forced on them by the pandemic and America's growing political factionalism. Something had to change.

Maggie's surprising answer: buy a boat, learn to pilot it, and embark on the Great Loop. With no experience, and knowing little about seafaring, diesel motors, or navigation, Maggie, Bruce, and the family dog decided to take on the six-thousand-mile journey down inland rivers, around the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, and across the Great Lakes. They would have to navigate canals, rivers, seas, and locks. But along the way, they made new lifelong friends and were forever changed.

For nine months, Bruce and Maggie navigated shallow rivers, bottomless lakes, joy, and loss. Against all odds, they conquered the Great Loop, and along the way, found common cause across political divides with new friends while blowing the walls off their world.

Currently Away: How Two Disenchanted People Traveled the Great Loop for Nine Months and Returned to the Start, Energized and Optimistic

By Bruce Tate,

  • Coming soon!

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