Saturday, September 6, 2008

Ambassador to the Penguins: A Naturalist's Year Aboard a Yankee Whaleship by Eleanor Mathews

First sentence:

"History could not have stirred a more unlikely mix: two museums, a blubber hunt, an irascible captain, a steward with an actual peg leg, several million birds, and Robert Cushman Murphy reading Shakespeare on deck during his spare time."


"In 1912, a young museum curator named Robert Cushman Murphy was offered the opportunity of a lifetime -- to spend a year on one of the last Yankee whaleships out of New Bedford, on a voyage to he Antarctic. Only recently married, Murphy had many regrets at leaving his wife Grace so early in their life together, but he saw that the chance to journey to the end of the world, to bring back new specimens, to record what he saw, was also the chance to launch a stellar career.

During the voyage, Murphy kept a journal, packing it with observations of his experiences on board, both as a naturalist and as a witness to a disappearing way of life. When he was not taking photographs and developing them in seawater, or skinning birds to take back to the American Museum of Natural History, he was watching his shipmates raid penguins' nests or harpoon wahles and boil down their stirpped carcasses. this journal, recorded in the voice of a man who relished the world around him, was later published as the critically acclaimed Logbook for Grace. Murphy himself went on to become a world authority on oceanic birds."

Eleanor Mathews, his granddaughter, has now taken this extraordinary diary, updating and supplementing it with never-before-published information and his own original photographs. She presents his voyage in a compelling third-person narrative, maintaining his voice while expanding the tale for modern readers. As a story of seafaring life, a portrait of the whaling industry still under sail, an account of a natural history expedition, and a love letter to an absent wife, it was described as 'a book to set on the shelf beside Moby-Dick and Two Years Before the Mast.' Logbook for Grace has disappeared; but we can proudly offer Ambassador to the Penguins to replace it." -- from the inside flap

My thoughts:

This book combined many of my interests - ships, Antarctica, the naturalist's wonder and interest in the animal world. I liked following Murphy's voyages both literal as he learned about the ways of whaling on the brig Daisy and emotional as he wished to get home to his new wife, Grace.

Date read: 8/24/2008
Book #: 56
Challenges: Non-Fiction Five Challenge 2008, What an Animal! Challenge, Unread Authors Challenge 2008
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Nonfiction

ISBN-10: 1567922465
ISBN-13: 9781567922462
Publisher: David R. Godine
Year: 2003
# of Pages: 352
Binding: Hardcover
LibraryThing Page

No comments: