Books to pack

31st July 1998 at 01:00
If you are the sort of person who makes feverish checks on the lifejacket stores, bow-doors, and emergency assembly points during cross-Channel ferry trips, avoid The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger (Fourth Estate Pounds 6.99) until you return to Dover. The adjective "perfect" in the title is used in the meteorological sense of elemental forces combining to create a tempest of epic proportions.

Junger's book is a meticulous reconstruction of the devastation wreaked by a freak gale off the northern coast of the US in October 1991, when 100-foot waves crippled huge container-ships and sank a sturdy swordfishing boat, the Andrea Gail, before the crew could send out a Mayday. All six men, some of whom are said to have experienced premonitions of doom before they left, vanished without trace.

Junger has interviewed sailors who have narrowly escaped from the teeth of this and similar storms. The result is a chilling insight into the experience of dying at sea.

An experienced sailor himself, Junger maintains a detached tone and counterposes the mechanics of deep-sea fishing, the physics of wave height and wind speed, to the human tragedy of men forced to work in routinely awful conditions. A lesson for those of us who use the shipping forecast as a lullaby.

Ffyona Campbell's On Foot Through Africa (Orion Pounds 5.99) is an inspirational bible for anyone planning a walking holiday. Ms Campbell took a lot of flak after her epic journey from people who doubted that she had really walked every step of the way from the Cape to the Mediterranean coast. Her book convinced me.

The author lives to walk; she has the driven, obstinate courage of adventurers through the ages and admits that she only really feels at home in a tent besieged by malarial mosquitoes in the middle of a dangerous wilderness.

Her writing reflects her pragmatic, very physical personality - descriptions of diarrhoea and tropical ulcers outnumber tropical sunsets (the latter are, apparently, a bit of a myth anyway as the sun sets so fast in the tropics).

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