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Final Voyage: A Story of Arctic Disaster and One Fateful Whaling Season Putnam Adult 1St Edition edition Peter Nichols


31st January 2012 History Books 0 Comments

“Peter Nichols has crafted a terrifyingly relevant historical narrative…A terrific read.”
-Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In The Heart of the Sea


In 1871, America’s last fleet of whaling ships was destroyed in an arctic ice storm. Miraculously, 1,218 men, women and children survived, but the disaster was catastrophic at home.

Oil and Ice is the story of one fateful whaling season that illuminates the unprecedented rise and devastating fall of America’s first oil economy, and the fate of today’s petroleum industry.

In the summer of 1871, thirty-two whaling ships, carrying 12-year-old William Fish Williams, son of a whaling captain, and 1,218 other men, women, and children, were destroyed in an Arctic ice storm. In a rescue operation of unparalleled daring and heroism, not a single life was lost, but the impact on America’s first oil industry was fateful and catastrophic.

The harvesting of whale oil, which grew from occasional beachcombing into a multi-million dollar industry, made New Bedford, Massachusetts, the wealthiest town in the world. Quaker brothers George and Matthew Howland, the town’s leading whaling merchants, believed they were toiling in a pact with God. As whale oil lubricated the industrial revolution and turned New Bedford into the Saudi Arabia of its day, this belief only grew stronger. But as their whaleships pushed ever farther into uncharted seas in putsuit of a fast-diminishing resource, this oil business was overtaken by new paradigms. When the search for cheaper energy sources produced a new and apparently inexhaustible resource–petroleum oil–the Howlands and many others did not see the change coming, or the devastating effect it would have on an industry that has flourished for two centuries. Almost overnight, it seemed, the world changed. Business and financial institutions collapsed. The Howland brothers saw their fortune vanish and ended their lives as paupers.

For Willie Fish Williams, and the whalers and their families in the Arctic who watched as their floating community was crushed by the ice closing around them, that change came more swiftly.

Drawing on previously unpublished material, Final Voyage splices together two compelling narratives: the Howland brothers’ unprecedented rise and sudden fall with the fortunes of America’s first oil industry–which eerily prefigures today’s modern economic collapse– and a 12-year-old boy’s vivid observation of a maritime disaster set against the world’s harshest seascape.

Starred Review. Chronicling the downfall of the vast whaling industry developed in New England over the 18th and 19th centuries, author Nichols (A Voyage for Madmen) presents both an illuminating portrait of Quaker life and industry, and a heart-pounding tale of danger on the open sea. Nichols has a rich understanding of the whale oil (“oyl”) industry, and recreates the atmosphere of whaling voyages and villages, particularly wealthy New Bedford, Mass., in sensuous detail: “Emissions of greasy particulate settled over the town like a glaze and gave it the permanent odor of burnt flesh and fat.” A collection of ships’ logbooks and letters from whaling captains give character to the phenomenal victories and challenges the seamen-and their family-faced. There is a lot to admire in the whalers; their captains “were master mariners and navigators, among the canniest and most skillful in human history,” and their task enormous. Although death and loss were common in the hunt, the 1871 season recounted here marked the beginning of the end for the oyl industry, a major disaster in which an entire fleet was caught in a diabolical arctic weather system.

In the summer of 1871, thirty-two whaling ships, carrying 12-year-old William Fish Williams, son of a whaling captain, and 1,218 other men, women, and children, were destroyed in an Arctic ice storm. In a rescue operation of unparalleled daring and heroism, not a single life was lost, but the impact on America’s first oil industry was fateful and catastrophic.

The harvesting of whale oil, which grew from occasional beachcombing into a multi-million dollar industry, made New Bedford, Massachusetts, the wealthiest town in the world. Quaker brothers George and Matthew Howland, the town’s leading whaling merchants, believed they were toiling in a pact with God. As whale oil lubricated the industrial revolution and turned New Bedford into the Saudi Arabia of its day, this belief only grew stronger. But as their whaleships pushed ever farther into uncharted seas in putsuit of a fast-diminishing resource, this oil business was overtaken by new paradigms. When the search for cheaper energy sources produced a new and apparently inexhaustible resource–petroleum oil–the Howlands and many others did not see the change coming, or the devastating effect it would have on an industry that has flourished for two centuries. Almost overnight, it seemed, the world changed. Business and financial institutions collapsed. The Howland brothers saw their fortune vanish and ended their lives as paupers.

For Willie Fish Williams, and the whalers and their families in the Arctic who watched as their floating community was crushed by the ice closing around them, that change came more swiftly.

Drawing on previously unpublished material, Final Voyage splices together two compelling narratives: the Howland brothers’ unprecedented rise and sudden fall with the fortunes of America’s first oil industry–which eerily prefigures today’s modern economic collapse– and a 12-year-old boy’s vivid observation of a maritime disaster set against the world’s harshest seascape.

In the summer of 1871, thirty-two whaling ships, carrying 12-year-old William Fish Williams, son of a whaling captain, and 1,218 other men, women, and children, were destroyed in an Arctic ice storm. In a rescue operation of unparalleled daring and heroism, not a single life was lost, but the impact on America’s first oil industry was fateful and catastrophic.

The harvesting of whale oil, which grew from occasional beachcombing into a multi-million dollar industry, made New Bedford, Massachusetts, the wealthiest town in the world. Quaker brothers George and Matthew Howland, the town’s leading whaling merchants, believed they were toiling in a pact with God. As whale oil lubricated the industrial revolution and turned New Bedford into the Saudi Arabia of its day, this belief only grew stronger. But as their whaleships pushed ever farther into uncharted seas in putsuit of a fast-diminishing resource, this oil business was overtaken by new paradigms. When the search for cheaper energy sources produced a new and apparently inexhaustible resource–petroleum oil–the Howlands and many others did not see the change coming, or the devastating effect it would have on an industry that has flourished for two centuries. Almost overnight, it seemed, the world changed. Business and financial institutions collapsed. The Howland brothers saw their fortune vanish and ended their lives as paupers.

For Willie Fish Williams, and the whalers and their families in the Arctic who watched as their floating community was crushed by the ice closing around them, that change came more swiftly.

Drawing on previously unpublished material, Final Voyage splices together two compelling narratives: the Howland brothers’ unprecedented rise and sudden fall with the fortunes of America’s first oil industry–which eerily prefigures today’s modern economic collapse– and a 12-year-old boy’s vivid observation of a maritime disaster set against the world’s harshest seascape.

Final Voyage: A Story of Arctic Disaster and One Fateful Whaling Season










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