Shipwrecks, an Encyclopedia of the World’s Worst Disasters at Sea

By David Ritchie, review by Per Åkesson

Checkmark Books, Facts on File, New York, 1999. 292 pages. Softcover edition ISBN 0-8160-4056-7 $18.95 U.S. Hardcover edition ISBN 0-8160-3163-0 $40.00

This book is written by a popular science journalist. It’s a fact-filled reference of shipwrecks, mainly from the last few centuries. Here you can read the stories of the Wilhelm Gustloff, Titanic, Central America, and others.

The cover is global but the focus is on American wrecks and wrecks from the last two centuries. The book does not cover warships sunk in battle. Hundreds of ships are listed alphabetically and described. There is also a chronology and a keyword index. All this makes the book a useful reference.

The illustrations are few, consisting of simple drawings and black and white photos. More illustrations and a few colour photos would have made the book better.

A few comments:

  • On keyword sheathing, the book gives the impression that lead sheathing of Spanish ship hulls ceased in 1567. That is not true. In 1999 I was diving on the remains of San Pedro de Alcantara. It was Spanish, lead sheathed and built on Cuba in 1770.
  • On keyword Grand Congloue, the ancient wreck site is described as one wreck. But today's archaeologists agree that it's actually two wrecks on top of each other. The author refers to a book from 1971, which may explain why the text is out of date.
  • On keyword Magna Carta, there is no mention that this famous document is from the 13th century AD. That is a pity. Readers who don’t know about Magna Carta might get the impression that it's a modern text.

Despite these complaints, the general impression is good. The author has assembled an impressive amount of information in an easy light style. The book is a straightforward and useful reference for both professionals as well as for school kids. It is useful for readers anywhere, but considering the lack of ancient and European wrecks, the book may be best suited for American readers.

Per Åkesson, December 1999

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