by Jeremiah Driscoll, Bookseller

There are plenty of ways to get around Boston and see the sights. The MBTA, for all its woes, has a certain charm. Biking down the Esplanade; meandering along the Freedom Trail; duck boats; and electric scooters number amongst your other options. In my earliest years, my preference (by a mile) was being carried around on my Dad’s shoulders.

Those expeditions are some of my clearest memories of my family’s time in Charlestown. Towering six extra feet above the ground is quite the experience at an age when you are used to being eye-level with mid-sized dogs. I remember how the sense of being a giant melted away as I stared up at the Bunker Hill Monument. Not once did a carton of raspberries make it all the way home from the farmer’s market. Most fondly, I remember snippets of the songs my Dad would sing as he carried me; a Clancy Brothers song about a big ship sailing on the ocean was my favorite.

One of those expeditions saw us wind our way down to the Charlestown Navy Yard. My first encounter there with the U.S.S. Constitution was unforgettable. Even to a child’s eye the ship stood out; a sleek, black painted hull tied to the pier, with a dizzying canopy of masts and rigging above. A sailing frigate has an otherworldliness that grips you, an improbable creation of wood, rope, pitch, and canvas. If you’ve not seen the oldest commissioned warship in the world still afloat in person, I recommend taking the trip. Of the original six frigates authorized by Congress in the 1790s, only the Constitution remains.

Long after my childhood fascination abated, I continue to find maritime histories of the Age of Sail to be profoundly comforting. Opening a book about sailing ships, and the people that crossed the world in them, is like uncorking a bottle filled with that childhood sense of wonder. Added bonus: reading about sailing is a lot cheaper than doing it, and comes with much-reduced chances of seasickness.

If the genre has any appeal to you, here are three books I’d like to recommend:

Six Frigates

Six Frigates

Ian W. Toll’s Six Frigates is my favorite book about the U.S.S. Constitution and her five sister ships. It's a biography, not only of shipwrights and captains, but of the six ships themselves. Toll recounts the iconic naval engagements against Algerine slavers and British warships that earned the American ships their hallowed place in maritime history. He also touches on the fiery political debate of whether the nascent American Republic should even have a navy.
Barons of the Sea

Barons of the Sea

Steven Ujifusa tells the story of the Yankee mercantile dynasties in New York and Boston that emerged from the China trade in the first half of the 19th Century. It is also the story of the innovative shipwrights like Donald McKay, whose shipyard was the beating heart of East Boston and whose radical clipper ship designs became the fastest sail-powered vessels ever to carry cargo across the oceans. What Six Frigates does for America’s pioneering men-of-war, Barons of the Sea does for America’s most iconic sailing merchant ships.
In the Heart of the Sea

In the Heart of the Sea

Nathaniel Philbrick masterfully recounts the tragic 1820 wrecking of the Nantucket whaling ship Essex. The hardships and horrors of the survivors’ ordeal are difficult to read for even the least squeamish of people. I’m pretty squeamish, and trust me, it gets gross. An excellent piece of history writing and an incredible true story.
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