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Editorial Reviews

This is a classic account of life at sea in the 1830s, written by a Harvard dropout determined to set sail and experience the "real world". Author Richard Henry Dana said his goal with the book was to "to present the life of a common sailor at sea as he really is - the light and the dark together." Performer Jim Killavey's deep voice and Yankee accent is a great match for these vivid stories, which don't shy away from the many cruelties and hardships experienced by sailors. While this is an older recording that lacks the precise sound quality of newer works, sailors and those who wish they were will appreciate its salt-drenched charm.

Publisher's Summary

Richard Henry Dana called this book a "a voice from the sea". It had an influence on both Joseph Conrad and Herman Melville, both of whom sang its praises. Dana was a law student at Harvard College who decided, in 1834, to take a break from his studies in order to experience the "real world" by signing on as a common sailor for a two year voyage from Boston around Cape Horn to California. He kept a journal which he turned into a book after the voyage. In it he gives a vivid and detailed account of his fantastic voyage. The book is many things: a history, travelogue, a social documentary and an adventure story. W. Clark Russell, one of the best writers of sea-stories in English, called it "the greatest sea-book that was ever written in any language", and Ralph Waldo Emerson said, it "possesses...the romantic charm of Robinson Crusoe".
© and (P)1988 Jimcin Recordings

Critic Reviews

"Possesses...the romantic charm of Robinson Crusoe." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall

great yarn

This book listens well if yo know something about the rigging of a sailing ship. If you are new to this world you will probably get lost in the incredible detail and and miss the truly hard, yet amazing, life of a sailor.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Sailing to Mexican California

Being a native Californian, I've read several histories of the area and many of them cite passages from Richard Henry Dana's "Two Years Before the Mast". I hesitated to buy the audiobook since I found the English rather archaic, the original book having been published in 1840. But I took the plunge and was pleasantly surprised.

Dana's later, distinguished career as a maritime lawyer came through in his scholarly prose and I came to enjoy his writing style. Why did the Harvard educated son of a prominent Boston family ship out as a common sailor? His book answers this question and hints of his later advocacy for the oppressed and as a foremost abolitionist.

Dana's "Before the Mast" is a vivid account of life aboard a merchant ship from a deckhand's perspective. His descriptions of sail and rigging handling get a bit technical but he does it so well that even I, a landlubber, generally understood the varied and often dangerous tasks of a seaman. And I could see Mexican California as Dana described it.

The narrator, Jim Killavey, did a superb job of conveying Dana's brilliant grasp of events and sensitivity to the human condition. This book is truly a classic.

29 of 30 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Michiel
  • Harderwijk, 0, Netherlands
  • 09-30-07

Spectacular book

I am a leisure sailor and I found this book truly amazing. It gives an incredible insight in a sailor's life in the mid 19th Century. It also gives an intriguing perspective on an important but obscure part of America's history: the start of the colonisation of California by US American inhabitants. I am not a native English speaker so I cannot assess the quality of the accent used by the narrator, but I was very happy with the style of the audiobook.

20 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Glenn
  • Assonet, MA, USA
  • 06-13-06

Timeless yarn

This book gives incredible insight into what it was like to be a common sailor back in the days of the "tall ships." A must listen for anyone into history - or sailing. Read very well in what sounds like an authentic "Yankee" voice.

19 of 20 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Daniel
  • EUGENE, OREGON, United States
  • 05-11-17

Unexpected disorder

Would you try another book from Richard Henry Dana and/or Jim Killavey?

Dana was one of my favorite authors in the Harvard Classics or Five Foot Book Shelf and will remain so. Listening to this narrator is like listening to pigs playing Mozart, and be payed to do so.

What did you like best about this story?

The authors descriptive narration is dragged down by the reader.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

From page one or was it simply his first mono tonal attempt at ruining a literary classic.

Was Two Years Before the Mast worth the listening time?


Any additional comments?

I have noted the narrator as one to never listen to again and I will delete the purchased book, it is to bad that someone such as Marsters or Brick could not have narrated the book I would buy it again

  • Overall
  • Kyle
  • poway, CA, United States
  • 06-27-06


But for the horrible narration, this book might have been a five out of five. The narrator has a strong New England accent, and his reading of the text is painfully choppy, with a long pause after every sentence. He also mispronounces all of the sailing terms, which is annoying to any veteran of sea terminology. This book should be read in print to preserve the real and plentiful virtue of the narrative against such inept narration.

5 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


I gave this book a three star rating because of the abismal reading, probably on a par with a seventh grade student. The reader had obviously not done any research into correct pronunciation and gave the impression of being thoroughly bored by his job. This spoils an excellent historical document which is well written and more than worth the read, but not the listen.

5 of 24 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Frank
  • Omaha, NE, USA
  • 06-07-09


I had read this years ago as a child and now wonder how I ever got through it. I think what truly kills this book is the awful narration. Think of all of the boring teachers, professors, or instructors you have suffered through and then think of this narrator, who I think was going for a "matter of fact" tone, but instead merely achieved excruciatingly boring.

3 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • John
  • San Diego, CA, United States
  • 12-04-10

Boring text, worse reader

If you are looking for action and adventure, this is not the book. The book is much more about mundane daily life. The reader's deadpan style is irritating.

0 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

High on nautical jargon

If you sail or have sailed or been a sailor, you probably will love this book. It is an adventure story set in the early 19th century, focusing on a sailing voyage and the difficulties the men on board faced. Many of the difficulties were caused by the demands of the few officers in charge.

The book is full of nautical jargon, to the extent that a non-sailing person will at times be lost trying to keep up. And the story loses a lot of interest as a result of all the jargon...I wish the author had focused more on the human interest aspect of the voyage, because when he did, he wrote an interesting narrative. But then he was back to talking jargon again...and I finished only half the book.

0 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • Overall
  • Nigel
  • 11-20-06

A great book ruined by dreadful narration

I read the printed book some years ago and loved it. However I could not get past the first 15 minutes due to the expressionless deadpan voice of the reader. Lets hope a better version can be found in the future.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful