The United States South Seas Exploring Expedition–six ships and 346 men over four years–circumnavigated the globe, mapping hundreds of Pacific Islands, the Oregon Coast, and the Columbia River; discovered that Antarctica was a continent; created navigational charts used as late as World War II; and collected thousands of specimens that formed the basis of the Smithsonian Institution. Never heard of the accomplishments of the “Ex.-Ex.”? Neither had I. That’s in part because the voyage was also marked by leadership problems and a lack of navigational experience, so instead of a hero’s welcome, the commander of the expedition, Lt. Charles Wilkes, returned home to a court martial on a variety of charges. As usual, Nathaniel Philbrick weaves the historical events into a wonderfully readable narrative. You can read more about the U.S. Exploring Expedition here.
Rating: **** Very, very good
Reviewed by: stc
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A champion sailor and maritime scholar, Philbrick won the National Book Award in 2000 for In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. His history of the Pilgrim settlement, Mayflower, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In his latest book, The Last Stand, Philbrick offers a compelling new look at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the legendary clash between the cavalry forces of George Armstrong Custer and the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors led by Sitting Bull. Philbrick’s stunning account of the battle that forever altered the West is a must-read for American history buffs.