am 16. Juli 2000
This well-research and generally well-written book tells two very different and equally fascinating tales, the sinking of the Steamship Central America in deep water off the Carolinas in 1857, and the efforts by Tommy Thompson to locate and salvage the vessel in 1989. Both stories are skillfully told, and for a book whose outcome is known by reading the book jacket, the suspense remains high.
First, the shipwreck. Anyone who, like myself, had ever visited the U.S. Naval Academy and watched plebes hopelessly trying to climb the impressive Herndon Monument will appreciate the true story of Capt. Herndon and his gallantry aboard the Central America, as he supervised rescue efforts to incredibly save the women and children in the deep Atlantic while valiantly remaining with his ship, laden with Gold Rush loot.
The other half of the story focuses on Thompson, a skilled engineer who managed to do something the United States Navy was unsuccessful doing, namely designing and building a workable, unmanned, deep sea salvage vessel. When one fully learns the difficulties presented in this task, and the monumental odds of even locating the Central America, the achievement becomes truly remarkable.
The book is not without its faults however. First, even though the salvage efforts struck gold in 1989, there were no photographs at all. I would've loved to have at least gotten a glimpse of the treasures brought from the ocean floor. ( I understand Thompson has now written a "coffee table" book which might be read as a companion to Kinder's book, complete with wonderful pictures).
I also disliked the awkward order of the chapters, in which, in the midst of the shipwreck when you can't put the book down late at night, the action suddenly jumps to the 1980's and Thompson's meticulous efforts at building a salvage vessel, before returning to a conclusion of the Central America drama later. I would have preferred a more chronological approach. And while I'm griping, I think I might have preferred a little less of Thompson's life story. One needn't know about his odd jobs as a teenager to appreciate his accomplishments later.
All told this was a very entertaining ride, and I am looking forward to getting Thompson's book to fill in the pictoral blanks. If Amazon gave me the option I'd give it 3 and 1/2 stars.
am 28. April 2000
The stories concerning the sinking of the S.S. Central America and the eventual recovery of its treasures and artifacts would be enough to sell this book; but, I want to put in a plug for the writing---it is exceptionally good. Kinder weaves mountains of research notes and reels of interview tapes into a smooth, flowing, sometimes poetic narrative---without fictionalizing! The descriptions of the storm-tossed steamer and the violent sea could qualify this book as literature; these descriptions are well researched, very detailed, and wonderfully evocative.
The subtext of this book is a rather profound meditation on the scientific, or empirical, method and problem solving in general (it's not a biography of Thompson, and is mainly concerned with his approach to solving problems). This aspect of the book never becomes a lecture, however; it is exemplified unerringly and unobtrusively throughout the recovery effort and in the writing of the book itself. If this aspect of the book interests you, try reading James Gleick's "Genius", Richard Feynman's "The Character of Physical Law", Richard Hamming's "The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn", John Dewey's "How to Think" and "Democracy and Education", and William Beveridge's "The Art of Scientific Investigation". If this aspect of the book does not interest you, some portions of the book may seem like digressions, which other readers have noted.
My only criticism of the book is that after setting up the intriguing problems inherent in deep-sea recovery, almost nothing was said as to how these problems were solved. This may be understandable, but it was still disappointing. Since Kinder could not go into any detail describing the scientific and engineering aspects of the recovery effort, the book veers off into the legal aspects and the structure of the book suffers.
When hunting for treasure, it's the hunt---not the treasure---that is the real reward.
am 24. April 2000
Really three books in one; the harrowing, white- knuckle, real-life adventure of a prolonged shipwreck; the agonisingly meticulous search for the remains; the multi-million dollar rescue ... each one different, but inextricably entwined with the others. Without the clues from the diaries and memoirs of survivors, plus ships' logs, and the tenacious convictions of the salvor, this story would never have unfolded. As it is, the first third of the book had me on the edge of my seat for hours - what a tension-filled ride that was! I can recommend the book on the strength of that story alone and give it 5 stars.
What follows is less nail-biting, but nontheless exciting, as the clues unfold from information gleaned from all over the US, patched together by a man with a single-minded ambition to recover the richest prize ever recovered from the sea.
The fact that it lay in 8,000 feet of water takes up the final third of the book with the almost insuperable technical difficulties, but we are still left hanging, for we don't yet know the full value of the prize. The meticulous recovery methods employed ensured that the treasure was in pristine condition - other quick and dirty methods would have been much cheaper and faster, but would have transformed the coins from 'gem' quality to 'fine' or less, depriving them of a another 2 or 3 times their worth, in a collectors' market. This market has probably still not been fully exploited, so there may still be millions waiting to be recouped ... and they deserve it!
A bonus is that the story of the ill-fated Captain Herndon's previous trip down the Amazon is to be released later this year (July 2000); 'Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon' written by the same Gary Kinder, promises to be another spellbinding tale.
More like this, please!
am 29. Juli 1998
NOTHING that the ingenuity of man has permitted him to do is more unnatural than working as a diver in deep water. As a result of this, if a vessel sinks a few hundred feet beneath the surface of the sea, she becomes as inaccessible as if transported to a distant star. - Commander Edward Ellsberg, 1928, On the Bottom
Kinder tells the remarkable story of the salvage of the SS Central America, sunk in 1857 by a tremendous tropical storm with enough gold from the California Gold Rush that it is thought to have contributed to the financial Panic of 1857. In his telling, Kinder combines the intrigue of early salvage stories with the best of tales of bravery, death, and survival at sea, then adds technological innovations reminiscent of Victor Appleton's original Tom Swift novels and legal maneuvering in the bizarre world of admiralty law. Much has changed in undersea work in the decades between Ellsberg's recovery ! of a sunken submarine from 132 feet of water near Block Island and the attempts of the young engineer Tommy Thompson to find and salvage the Central America in 8000 feet of water 200 miles off of Cape Hatteras, but few of these changes have improved the chances of detection and recovery of artifacts from deep water. Thompson is a remarkable character whose intellectual lineage is probably best traced to Thomas Edison. He and his team rapidly and inexpensively solve problems akin to those of work and exploration in deep space.
The only disappointments in this wonderful account are the lack of photos (and we are treated to gory detail about just how many photos were taken) and, ultimately, few details on the total worth of the recovered treasures. Some photos may be seen in a recent Outside magazine
am 12. Juli 1998
It is difficult to imagine a subject better suited to photographic documentation than the search for, and recovery of, gold from the bottom of the sea. "Ship of Gold" is brimming with biographical information about the man who discovered the SS Central America and its cargo of gold coins, gold bars and gold dust (more biography than this reader wanted to know), and describes in detail how the search partnership was assembled and managed. Toward the end, we learn how the treasure trove was documented with hundreds of photographs, before, during and after the loot was removed.
Except for a period print of the wreck and one page of ship's plans at the front of the book, "Ship of Gold" is entirely devoid of photographs, maps or drawings. We don't know where she went down. We know the discoverers took thousands of photographs, but not a single one is reproduced in the book. There are no drawings showing the debris field, the location of the gold, and the structure of the wreck. Of the recovered gold, there is not a single picture.
Such an omission is inexplicable and inexcusable. Did the author attempt to obtain rights to the photos? Did the finders make any drawing of the wreck site and, if not, why not? Was the author unable to meet the discoverers' demands for royalties for the photos? We know that great secrecy attended the removal of treasure from the submersible and its handling on the recovery ship. Has the same obsession with secrecy continued now that the discovery is more than a decade old? Or is there still unrecovered treasure at the bottom of the deep blue sea?
For this reader, the lack of photos and drawings spoils the book. However good the tale, the lack of images disappoints greatly.
am 9. Juni 1998
Ship Of Gold In The Deep Blue Sea recounts the 1857 voyage of the SS Central America and its return from the California Gold Rush en route to the Carolina coast. Gary Kinder's book reads more like a novel than a piece of non-fiction. The author traces the events leading up to the voyage and then describes the ill-fated journey, the principal participants, and eventual shipwreck. Still, the excessive dialogue causes the historical events to seem superficial. Moreover, Kinder uses comparisons with the Titanic shipwreck and other superfluous data. In addition, Kinder intertwines the SS Central America disaster with the 1980s engineering expedition to inspect and recover gold and artifacts from the old submerged vessel.
Kinder describes the young engineer, Tommy Thompson and the Columbus-America Discovery Group, and their efforts to unearth the buried treasure deep under the sea. As a result, the historical journey gets lost in a morass of superficial and superfluous details. Accordingly, the author ruins the book's continuity. For instance, Kinder devotes an early chapter to the SS. Central America, then a chapter about Tommy, and back to a chapter about the Central America. Poor continuity! The book might have been improved if the author had written the first half about the SS Central America and the second half about Thompson's expedition.
Kinder's most interesting chapter deals with the Central America's sinking on September 12, 1857. Here, Captain Herndon talks with Thomas Badger and they decide how to bring the ship down. The author descriptively uses dialogue to illustrate the disaster at sea. For example, one exchange between Dr. Harvey and a young man went as follows: "I told him to let his chair go and share with me on my floating substance, and that we would sink or survive together." (p.134) Despite these interjections, the prose leaves the reader wanting more of the author's analysis instead of mere dialogue. END
am 21. Juni 1998
This is a truly incredible book ‹ the more so for being non-fiction. I literally "couldn't put it down." A number of published reviews have complimented the author, Gary Kinder, for "weaving together" a number of story lines, and this he does. But you're really getting four books for the price of one! The title suggests that it's about an ancient ocean tragedy and a treasure hunt. Just as you get used to reading this rousing adventure story, you discover it's turned into a description of the thought processes of an inventive genius. You settle in to have your philosophic consciousness expanded and suddenly you're in the midst of a tale of piracy and conspiracies worthy of the X-Files. With quickening pulse, you race ahead ‹ and stumble over episodes of humor that INSIST on being read aloud to any one within earshot. The author writes very well, with inventive turns-of-phrases )"...Tommy liked to retreat to the point where technology branched and all thought on the matter had shuffled off down the path that led to Conventional Wisdom. He liked to travel back to the fork and take another look at the landscape. Perhaps somebody missed something.") and did a fantastic amount of research, with many direct quotes from the large cast of characters, adding to the book's three-dimensional nature. Both the tangible and intangible products of the treasure hunt, adventures, inventions and conspiracies are still unfolding, so perhaps there'll be a sequel. My only slight disappointment was the complete absence of illustrations; I kept wanting to see the many unique characters and locales "in person."
am 19. August 1998
I read this book at night during my circumnavigation of Vancouver Island this summer. I appreciate a good adventure, and Tommy Thompson took on a great one. But unique to most, he was seeking sunken treasure not in a shallow, foolish way, but with very keen and tough methods that are employed today in the world of high-tech private entrepreneurial field. In other words, here in Seattle, the successes are the guys who think, keep the government out of the way, and don't worry about any past or future conventions. They are purely feeling what the situation is and responding with the highest talent possible. This is what I picture Tommy Thompson doing with his band of mavericks. They didn't pay retail, they were practical, their investors weren't pigeons, but treated as part of the team. This is a great story, and anyone can learn from this when solving a puzzle, or taking on a new venture or challenge. Thompson doesn't care about the money, he is into the adventure of employing everything he knows, feels, thinks, anything, into finding a way to unlock the puzzle. His ego is refreshing. Who knows, he is probably living in Monte Carlo now, becoming very obnoxious. Oh well, it doesn't matter, this was a very romantic thing he did, the thing that dreams are made of. If it hadn't have been the Central America, it would have been something else. And we probably would never have heard of Tommy Thompson, or the discovery, but it woudl not have mattered. Tommy Thompson lived his dream, and that's all that really counts.
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am 26. Juli 2000
I read this book for 18 hours straight. This is the coolest book on treasure hunting I've ever read. The Columbus America group's strategy for finding the Central America and the ingenious methods that they devise to retrieve the treasure make this book highly engrossing. Great for a beach read, or just any time of the year. Fantastic!
am 9. Dezember 1998
Mary Swan (age 18), along with her first child Samantha (16mo.)were rescued. Her husband Sam wasn't. Every 5 years my family has a reunion and this story is told. She had crossed the plains in 1854 and met up with Sam. They had ten thousand dollars in a gold mined from Rough and Ready California. Sam strapped some of the gold on her in a gold belt as she left the ship. She fell into the sea 3 times getting into the lifeboat. In New York she and Samantha stayed at the Waldorf Astoria for one night. She was interviewed by several news papers. The next morning she slipped out the back door and made her way to her Sam's relatives in Pennsylvania. She remarried a man named Cook and went back to Willits California. She had 7 more children. No one from Columbus America Discovery Group knew the rest of this story. They lost track of her in New York. It has been a wonderful tale to bring back to our family and share with Columbus America Discovery Group. As I read the sections of the book that recount the 4 days of bailing I noted that it took place on the same 4 September dates that I was currently living in. I read only the accounts that fit each day then thought about what she must have been thinking. Mary lived well into her 80's. I have no idea what happened to the rest of the family gold but I am much richer through the reading of this book. I'm sure interested to see what they bring up from the luggage compartment.