The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea

The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea

by Sebastian Junger


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"There is nothing imaginary about Junger's book; it is all terrifyingly, awesomely real." —Los Angeles Times

It was the storm of the century, boasting waves over one hundred feet high—a tempest created by so rare a combination of factors that meteorologists deemed it "the perfect storm." In a book that has become a classic, Sebastian Junger explores the history of the fishing industry, the science of storms, and the candid accounts of the people whose lives the storm touched. The Perfect Storm is a real-life thriller that makes us feel like we've been caught, helpless, in the grip of a force of nature beyond our understanding or control.

Winner of the American Library Association's 1998 Alex Award.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393337013
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 06/29/2009
Pages: 248
Sales rank: 33,573
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Sebastian Junger is the author of A Death in Belmont and Fire. He has been awarded a National Magazine Award and an SAIS Novartis Prize for journalism. Most recently, he has been reporting on the war in Afghanistan for Vanity Fair. He lives in New York City.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

January 17, 1962

Place of Birth:

Boston, Massachusetts


B.A. in Anthropology, Wesleyan University, 1984

Read an Excerpt


It's no fish ye're buying, it's men's lives.

--Sir Walter Scott

The Antiquary, Chapter 11

A soft fall rain slips down through the trees and the smell of ocean is so strong that it can almost be licked off the air. Trucks rumble along Rogers Street and men in t-shirts stained with fishblood shout to each other from the decks of boats. Beneath them the ocean swells up against the black pilings and sucks back down to the barnacles. Beer cans and old pieces of styrofoam rise and fall and pools of spilled diesel fuel undulate like huge iridescent jellyfish. The boats rock and creak against their ropes and seagulls complain and hunker down and complain some more. Across Rogers Street and around the back of the Crow's Nest, through the door and up the cement stairs, down the carpeted hallway and into one of the doors on the left, stretched out on a double bed in room number twenty-seven with a sheet pulled over him, Bobby Shatford lies asleep.

He's got one black eye. There are beer cans and food wrappers scattered around the room and a duffel bag on the floor with t-shirts and flannel shirts and blue jeans spilling out. Lying asleep next to him is his girlfriend, Christina Cotter. She's an attractive woman in her early forties with rust-blond hair and a strong, narrow face. There's a TV in the room and a low chest of drawers with a mirror on top of it and a chair of the sort they have in high-school cafeterias. The plastic cushion cover has cigarette burns in it. The window looks out on Rogers Street where trucks ease themselves into fish-plant bays.

It's still raining. Across the street is Rose Marine, where fishing boats fuel up, and across a smallleg of water is the State Fish Pier, where they unload their catch. The State Pier is essentially a huge parking lot on pilings, and on the far side, across another leg of water, is a boatyard and a small park where mothers bring their children to play. Looking over the park on the corner of Haskell Street is an elegant brick house built by the famous Boston architect, Charles Bulfinch. It originally stood on the corner of Washington and Summer Streets in Boston, but in 1850 it was jacked up, rolled onto a barge, and transported to Gloucester. That is where Bobby's mother, Ethel, raised four sons and two daughters. For the past fourteen years she has been a daytime bartender at the Crow's Nest. Ethel's grandfather was a fisherman and both her daughters dated fishermen and all four of the sons fished at one point or another. Most of them still do.

The Crow's Nest windows face east into the coming day over a street used at dawn by reefer trucks. Guests don't tend to sleep late. Around eight o'clock in the morning, Bobby Shatford struggles awake. He has flax-brown hair, hollow cheeks, and a sinewy build that has seen a lot of work. In a few hours he's due on a swordfishing boat named the Andrea Gail, which is headed on a one-month trip to the Grand Banks. He could return with $5,000 in his pocket or he could not return at all. Outside, the rain drips on. Chris groans, opens her eyes, and squints up at him. One of Bobby's eyes is the color of an overripe plum.

Did I do that?



She considers his eye for a moment. How did I reach that high?

They smoke a cigarette and then pull on their clothes and grope their way downstairs. A metal fire door opens onto a back alley, they push it open and walk around to the Rogers Street entrance. The Crow's Nest is a block-long faux-Tudor construction across from the J. B. Wright Fish Company and Rose Marine. The plate-glass window in front is said to be the biggest barroom window in town. That's quite a distinction in a town where barroom windows are made small so that patrons don't get thrown through them. There's an old pool table, a pay phone by the door, and a horseshoe-shaped bar. Budweiser costs a dollar seventy-five, but as often as not there's a fisherman just in from a trip who's buying for the whole house. Money flows through a fisherman like water through a fishing net; one regular ran up a $4,000 tab in a week.

Bobby and Chris walk in and look around. Ethel's behind the bar, and a couple of the town's earlier risers are already gripping bottles of beer. A shipmate of Bobby's named Bugsy Moran is seated at the bar, a little dazed. Rough night, huh? Bobby says. Bugsy grunts. His real name is Michael. He's got wild long hair and a crazy reputation and everyone in town loves him. Chris invites him to join them for breakfast and Bugsy slides off his stool and follows them out the door into the light rain. They climb into Chris's twenty-year-old Volvo and drive down to the White Hen Pantry and shuffle in, eyes bloodshot, heads throbbing. They buy sandwiches and cheap sunglasses and then they make their way out into the unrelenting greyness of the day. Chris drives them back to the Nest and they pick up thirty-year-old Dale Murphy, another crew member from the Andrea Gail, and head out of town.

Dale's nickname is Murph, he's a big grizzly bear of a guy from Bradenton Beach, Florida. He has shaggy black hair, a thin beard, and angled, almost Mongolian eyes; he gets a lot of looks around town. He has a three-year-old baby, also named Dale, whom he openly adores. The Perfect Storm. Copyright © by Sebastian Junger. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

Georges Bank, 18963
Gloucester, Mass., 19915
God's Country37
The Flemish Cap65
The Barrel of the Gun95
Graveyard of the Atlantic117
The Zero-Moment Point136
The World of the Living147
Into the Abyss166
The Dreams of the Dead202

What People are Saying About This

Patrick O'Brian

One feels the absolutely enormous strength of the hurricane winds and the incredibly towering mass of the hundred-foot waves.

Dava Sobel

A terrifying, edifying read. . . . Readers . . . are first seduced into caring for the book’s doomed characters, then compelled to watch them carried into the jaws of a meteorological hell. Junger’s compassionate, intelligent voice instructs us effortlessly on the sea life of the sword-fisherman, the physics of a sinking steel ship, and the details of death by drowning.

Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
With its nail-biting suspense and nonstop action, The Perfect Storm has the makings of a superb thriller. But this story of a once-in-a-century meteorological occurrence, the lives it changed, and the lives it claimed is achingly real. Sebastian Junger's account of the fate of a group of swordfishermen battling a storm off the Newfoundland coast opens a door into the world of commercial fishing, historically among the most dangerous of occupations. Junger reveals how a finite supply of fish forces boats farther out to sea, and in increasingly hazardous conditions. He explains the unique set of circumstances that led to a storm of unpredictable strength and how even the most advanced technology cannot warn or prepare us for the whims of nature. And he shows us the sea in all its power: the gray horizon at dawn; the maelstrom of wind, water, and rain that make up a nor'easter; and the precise structure of a tidal wave the size of an office building as it curves and falls, playing havoc with any ship that dares to cross its path.

For some the life of a fisherman is a necessity; for others a necessary challenge. Junger profiles with compassion and empathy the people whose lives intersected with that incredible storm: those lucky enough to dodge it, those who fought it and won, and those who disappeared. The crew of the Andrea Gail left no message in a bottle, no clues about their final thoughts and actions. But Junger's careful piecing together of similar experiences, and his vivid depictions of a storm the likes of which had never before been witnessed, place us in the moment and in the hearts and minds of these doomed men. We know the fate of the AndreaGail's crew before we turn the first page, and yet we find ourselves hoping they'll survive. Such is the power of Junger's account--and we find that fact is often more incredible, more thrilling, and more affecting than fiction.

Topics for Discussion
1. Throughout the book, Junger writes of complicated and risky rescue missions in which the danger to the victims is weighed against the danger to those charged with rescuing them. How do you make a decision to go ahead with an "increased risk" mission that also imperils the lives of the rescuers? What are the issues surrounding rescuing those who knowingly venture out into risky situations?

2. What did Junger's profile of the Gloucester fishing community teach you about the commercial aspects of this field? Do you think there should be more or fewer restrictions on commercial fishing? Is it up to the government to regulate these methods?

3. What qualities does it take to be a sword fisherman? How would you characterize such people as Bobby Shatford, Billy Tyne, and other members of the Andrea Gail crew? How many of these men embarked on this voyage by choice, as opposed to obligation? Does this distinction affect the way you feel about their fate?

4. Instead of "fictionalizing" the parts of his book about which he had no first-hand information or knowledge, Junger made use of accounts from people who had been in similar situations to those he was writing about. How effective is this "second source" material? Does it make the last moments of the Andrea Gail's crew--and others who perished in the storm--more or less real to you? Would you have preferred that Junger create imagined scenarios to fill in the gaps in his story?

5. Did knowing the fate of the Andrea Gail affect your reaction to The Perfect Storm? Had the book been a novel, how do you think the author would have approached the story differently? Did any parts of the book seem like fiction to you?

6. Originally, Sebastian Junger wrote the account of the Andrea Gail as a chapter to be included in a book about hazardous occupations. How differently do you think people who risk their lives "on the job" approach life from those in relatively safe occupations? How does facing death change the way you face life? If you have ever been in a life-threatening situation, how did it change you, either temporarily or permanently?

7. Have the technological advances of the last century made us any more powerful against the forces of nature? Do you think we have developed a false sense of security when faced with the possibility of storms or other natural disasters such as earthquakes, avalanches, or forest fires? Do you think the crew of the Andrea Gail and other boats caught in the storm relied too much on their navigational equipment and not enough on common sense?

8. In recent years, books about real-life adventure have become bestsellers and "extreme" sports are the hottest recreational trend. How do you explain our increasing fascination with dangers of all sorts? What's happening culturally, socially, and economically in our country -- and in the world -- to compel us to take enormous, often death-defying risks?

For more information write to:
The Perfect Storm Foundation
P.O. Box 1941
Gloucester, MA 01931-1941
(978) 283-2903


Before the live chat, Sebastian Junger agreed to answer some of our questions:

Q: What is your opinion on the recent popularity of "extreme games" (bungee jumping, skydiving, snowboarding)?

A: I think the recent popularity of extreme games is, in part, a reaction to the incredibly insulated conditions in which we live. Starting in the 1950s, more and more Americans have achieved middle-class status and, as a result, have wound up living in the suburbs. Many of the extreme-sports enthusiasts are college-educated people with professional parents who stared suburbia in its bland face and realized they didn't want any part of it. It's interesting to note that there are very few, say, sons of loggers or fishermen who are bungee-jumping off of bridges. (They're too busy trying to achieve a life in the suburbs.) In addition, there was a very strong environmental movement in the '70s, and again in the '90s, that focused people on the wild areas of this country -- and the fitness industry explored in the '90s as well. Extreme sports dovetails nicely with both these trends.

Q: Are there any movies or books that you would personally recommend for someone who loved your book?

A: Movies that I would recommend for people who loved my book: "Das Boot," "Apollo 13," "Zero Kelvin," "Black Robe," and "Rounding Cape Horn." (These are not all directly related to fishing or the sea, but they all influenced me tremendously.)

Q: What are a couple things that truly stick out in your mind, in regards to your experience in Bosnia?

A: In Bosnia I was working as a freelance radio correspondent. I guess what sticks in my mind was how little most people wanted to be fighting. Very few people I met actually hated the other side -- in fact, many had friends across "enemy" lines. They were forced to fight out of fear that a few extremists would kill them if they didn't. In an unstable country, it doesn't take many nationalists with guns to start a war -- were things a little different, the exact same thing could happen in this country. Don't kid yourself that it couldn't.

Q: What dangerous occupation do you have the most respect for?

A: I don't know if I could really say I respect one dangerous occupation more than another. I respect any occupation that is necessary for society to thrive, whether its farmers in the Midwest or loggers in Oregon. I'd eliminate the stock brokers and ad men before I'd eliminate the garbage collectors, in other words. (It's ironic that, in a completely capitalistic society, some of the most necessary trades -- teaching for instance -- are paid the least. I'm not even saying that's wrong; but it is curious.) The hardest job may well be offshore fishing; in that sense, perhaps I respect that the most. Who are some of your favorite authors?

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The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 172 reviews.
Bill_in_LA More than 1 year ago
I read this book shortly after it first came out on hard cover, I then reread it several years later. Junger did an excellent job in getting most of the details right. He told it like it was. I served aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Tamaroa (the cutter that rescued most of the Air National Guard helecopter crew) starting shortly after this event took place, I knew many of the key players ivolved in all that took place. I have met many others that were involved as well. (The Tam's decommissioning ceremony was a very emotional event in 1994). If you're looking for an acturate portrailal of what could and sometimes does happen on the open sea, this is a good book for you. It's also good for those who have ever wondered about what the U.S Coast Guard and the Air National Guard deal with on a daily basis. over all an excellent book
Guest More than 1 year ago
Nonstop action from page to page. The comepletly factual book actualy makes the Andrea Gail and the six men aboard come to life along with a monsterous sea with the power of God.
Aimee_Leon More than 1 year ago
The Perfect Storm was a gripping and tragic true story of the struggle between man and strong elements. This non fic novel is about the swordfish ship 'The Andrea Gail' and its crew on the rugged seas. The rare conditions that led to three seperate storms to merdge into one dagerously violent storm is known as the perfect storm. This storm produced waves as high and ten stories high and 120 mile-an-hour winds. Talk about crazy weather. The Andrea Gail is caught right in the worst part of this storm and the crew struggles to survive, the crew's friends and family worry anxiously to hear news of their loved ones. A touching love story and an excellent adventure. The writing was outstanding and very descriptive. Sebastian Junger got all of the setting detailed well and got great point of view of all family members & friends of the victims. The Perfect Storm, was a great and suspenseful non fiction novel. It was the perfect read.
Bookworm1951 More than 1 year ago
This was a well written book. Not just about the Andrea Gail but how this epic storm affected the entire fishing industry, their towns, families, friends, those on the rescue teams, etc. Lots of history regarding the fishing industry. The author explained in great detail how things are handled on the varous fishing boats as well as great meteorological detail about the storm and it's development. I felt that some of this great repetitive detail eventually made parts of the story a little boring - therefore the 4 star rating rather than 5 stars. Overall, a great book that makes you realize it's not just about the Andrea Gail as depicted in the movie. Would recommend this book to any history buff.
svsu More than 1 year ago
The perfect storm book tells what its like to be a sword fisherman on the east coast. I can tell you it is a grueling job with weeks out at sea and little sleep. This book really tells you everything. Watch the movie then read the book. I purchased The Perfect Storm in ebook format.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Greatest story of the monster storm at sea and the people affected.
Anonymous 8 months ago
kenno82 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In my opinion, The Perfect Storm is a benchmark for outstanding non-fiction writing. The way Junger has pieced together this horror story from scientific evidence, local history, and third party accounts of the storm is amazing. I read this while on holiday, looking out from a holiday apartment watching charter boats leave a harbour. Every paragraph I read was one too close to finishing. I'll read this book many times again.
ViGl0721 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I chose to read this book because it has action in it. it had some challenging parts and words, but other than that i highly recommend this to readers who like action packed books.
Schmerguls on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
3035 The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea, by Sebastian Junger (read 16 Nov 1997) This is a stunning and perfect book. It tells a true story of a storm in late October 1991 in which a swordfish fishing vessel, the Andrea Gail, and its crew six perished. The book is flawless and even I, who have no real at sea experience, was absorbed in the account of the storm and its fury. I was totally bowled over by this excellent, excellent book. The storm was in the vicinity of Sable Island--a place which I have long had an interest in. This book is a gripping gripping read. I presume it is the best book I'll read this year. {But it wasn't--on Dec 21 I read Back to the Front, and it won out, probably mistakenly, over this book to be the best book read in 1997.]
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A best seller that truly deserved to be a best seller! Excellent story! (Much, much better than the movie)
countrylife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In my own world, this book was unread, the movie based on it was unseen. But not so in my mother's world - and then she must get to Gloucester. We arranged flights, met at the airport, rented a car and drove to Gloucester, Massachusetts. We spent a lot of time at the Fishermen's Memorial, which made vivid the epigraph in this book: It's no fish ye're buying, it's men's lives. - Sir Walter Scott, The Antiquary, Chapter 11. We drank cokes at the Crow's Nest, walked around the piers and the museum, and contemplated such a life as lived by Fishermen. It was a very moving experience; I determined to read the book.The Perfect Storm covers the hundred-year storm of October 1991 and centers its story on the sword boat fleet that was caught in it. Sword boats are called long-liners because their main line is up to 40 miles long. The author's descriptions of life on a sword boat will cause you to suddenly appreciate whatever job you have. Mr. Junger has created a harrowing sense of place on the seas during a monster storm, and in his setting of Gloucester. A real-life nightmare well-written. 3.8 stars
linedog1848 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the last couple years I've read two other maritime disaster books: In the Heart of the Sea by Nethaniel Philbrick and In Harm's Way by Doug Stanton, and although this book was a fast read and engaging, I didn't find myself as involved with the characters as in the other books.Perhaps it was simply aptly titled. It was, to me, indeed a book primarily about a storm, more than it was a book about the people in it. Though they figured prominently in the telling of the story, the other two were stories of survival and death. . .this book read like it was just a story of a sinking.
Jenners26 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book documents the fates of several people who had the misfortune to be at sea during the "perfect storm" -- a storm that became unexpectedly big and powerful due to the alignment of several weather systems. The primary story is the fate of the Andrea Gail, a fishing vessel that gets lost in the storm. Other stories of those who encountered the storm -- including a thrilling Coast Guard rescue -- are also chronicled. Junger does a good job of telling a true story in a novelistic way, and his description of what probably happened to the crew of the Andrea Gail is haunting. Like Alive described above, this book was made into a movie (this one starring George Clooney -- swoon)!
HvyMetalMG on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really did not enjoy this book too much. I thought it went way too in-depth about fishing and sea life. I understand they have to paint a picture of what these men faced at sea, but I erally did not care.
winecat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was an amazing book. The writing fairly leapt off the page.
cvlibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Historical fiction is always an interesting read and this story is exceptional. Junger has the reader relive the experiences of the men on the Andrea Gale as they fight against their demise in one of the most powerful storms in our history. It also delves into the history of fishing dating back to the 1800¿s and gives the reader a sense of what the life of a fisherman is like today. An excerpt of this novel is included in our ninth grade textbook for English and is part of Coachella Valley High School¿s core literature requirement.
rsolimeno on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this book way back in the summer of 1999, and just after finishing the book took a family vacation to Cape Cod, and later drove up to visit Gloucester, MA. Junger's description of the town was so well done it almost felt like I had actually been there before.Admittedly, the really riveting story is the storm and the ship at sea. But even the details of the coast guard rescuers, their training, and raw bravery are so well told that this book can consume you. It did me, and it still is one of the most enjoyable books I've ever read.
Griff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A well told, true tale of the dangers of the sea, focusing on the tragedy of the Andrea Gail and her crew. A book for all, those nautically inclined or not. The story is engaging - you will keep turning the pages.
miketroll on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sebastian Junger's utterly compelling account of a hurricane at sea. "The Perfect Storm" is a meteorologist's term for the theoretically worst storm possible. In 1991 theory became reality off the New England coast. Such is the power of the writing, the movie spin-off with the same title stirs the imagination weakly in comparison. This is a book to keep you awake at night.
usnmm2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is another case where the movie has almost nothing in common with the book. The book is very readable even when explaining changes in fishing laws, and how changes in boat design can change its bouyency to the training of the Air force rescue jumpers.
Library_Mole on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When the narrative stays at sea, the story is captivating; when it hits land, though, it really bogs down.
bibliovore on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fascinating and well-written piece of nonfiction. Junger does an excellent job of filling in the unknowns with the recollections of others in similar circumstances and interviews with experts, avoiding the docu-drama pitfall. Much superior to the movie, which mashed up characters and events beyond recognition.
ngennaro on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I never saw the movie but the book was a good read. Read this and then watch Discovery's Dangerous Jobs showing the crab fishermen and you will have a whole new respect for the type of work these men do out on the sea. One hopes that the new regulations will prevent people from taking chances and shortcuts just to survive. These men live a hard life and put it on the line every day that they go out.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book The Perfect Storm was a very good book. It had very descriptive and captivating tales of not only the Andrea Gail in, but many other ships and coast guard men. It was interesting to read and I learned a lot from it. I would recommend this for older reads, probably high school or older. It was a good book.