Tuesday, March 3

Wreck of the Medusa, a Review

A mini book review by Tony Gerard

Wreck of the Medusa- 
Mutiny, Murder, and Survival on the High Seas 
by Alexander McKee.

While technically outside the time period we portray (occurring in 1817), the wreck of the Medusa is an interesting and tragic story.  The Medusa was carrying a load of passengers, soldiers and dignitaries to Senegal at the end of the Napoleonic wars. Through a combination of inept leadership and poor judgment the ship ran aground on an extended sandbank off the coast of the Sahara desert. Through more poor judgment the ship is abandoned and about 150 people end up on a hastily constructed raft and are then abandoned. Fifteen of this group survive to be rescued two weeks later. The incident becomes an embarrassment for the new French government, which attempts an unsuccessful cover-up.

While I found the chapters about the voyage, wreck and the survival stories very interesting I have to confess I got bored with the politics of the coverup and only skim read most of this section. McKee also devotes a chapter to an English ship, the Alceste, which wrecked shortly after the Medusa and had many similarities. In this case the Captain made all the right decisions and didn't loose a man. I found this chapter really interesting. Another chapter is devoted to Savigny Gericault's painting of the Medusa raft survivors. Strangely the final chapter compares the Medusa case to a WWII shipwreck survivors, Airplane hijack victims in Jordan in the 1970s and even the famous soccer team airplane crash in the Andes. It was like the book tried to change from a story about history to a psychological analysis in mid stream. I kept waiting for some really relevant connection to be made here which, at least for me, never happened.

The Raft of the Méduse was painted by Théodore Géricault in 1819,
and is now displayed at the Louvre.'


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