Books: Sailing the Seas of Sand

A true tale of mariners marooned in the Sahara

Abraham Lincoln once made a list of the books that had influenced him. Mostly he went for the heavy hitters--Plutarch, the Bible, The Pilgrim's Progress--but one of his choices sticks out for its total obscurity: James Riley's An Authentic Narrative of the Loss of the American Brig Commerce, a memoir by a luckless sea captain who was shipwrecked on the Saharan coast of Africa, where unspeakably horrible things happened to him. Dean King, the author of a biography of Patrick O'Brian (of Master and Commander fame), stumbled on a copy of Riley's memoir and decided to produce a thoroughly researched, authoritative...

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