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Publisher's Summary

One of the last unheralded heroic stories of World War II: the U-boat assault off the American coast against the men of the US Merchant Marine who were supplying the European war, and one community's monumental contribution to that effort.

Mathews County, Virginia, is a remote outpost on the Chesapeake Bay with little to offer except unspoiled scenery - but it sent one of the largest concentrations of sea captains and US merchant mariners of any community in America to fight in World War II. The Mathews Men tells that heroic story through the experiences of one extraordinary family whose seven sons (and their neighbors), US merchant mariners all, suddenly found themselves squarely in the crosshairs of the U-boats bearing down on the coastal United States in 1942.

From the late 1930s to 1945, virtually all the fuel, food, and munitions that sustained the Allies in Europe traveled not via the navy but in merchant ships. After Pearl Harbor, those unprotected ships instantly became the U-boats' prime targets. And they were easy targets - the navy lacked the inclination or resources to defend them until the beginning of 1943. Hitler was determined that his U-boats should sink every American ship they could find, sometimes within sight of tourist beaches, and kill as many mariners as possible in order to frighten their shipmates into staying ashore.

As the war progressed, men from Mathews sailed the North and South Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and even the icy Barents Sea in the Arctic Circle, where they braved the dreaded Murmansk Run. Through their experiences we have eyewitnesses to every danger zone in every kind of ship. Some died horrific deaths. Others fought to survive torpedo explosions, flaming oil slicks, storms, shark attacks, mine blasts, and harrowing lifeboat odysseys - only to ship out again on the next boat as soon as they'd returned to safety.

The Mathews Men shows us the war far beyond traditional battlefields - often the US merchant mariners' life-and-death struggles took place just off the US coast - but also takes us to the landing beaches at D-Day and to the Pacific. "When final victory is ours," General Dwight D. Eisenhower had predicted, "there is no organization that will share its credit more deservedly than the Merchant Marine." Here, finally, is the heroic story of those merchant seamen, recast as the human story of the men from Mathews.

©2016 William Geroux (P)2016 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"Vividly drawn and emotionally gripping." (Daniel James Brown, number-one New York Times best-selling author of The Boys in the Boat)

What members say

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  • Gillian
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 04-22-16

Engaging Read Not About Brothers, but Men

"The Mathews Men" is a fine tribute to merchant mariners and to the sacrifice of one small county. While the subtitle to the book says it's about seven brothers, it isn't really. Don't expect something about one valiant family and seven brave brothers; don't expect "Unbroken" with seven young men to root for. Rather, it's a compilation of the heroic endeavors of a community of men and their families, a history of the heroic endeavors of the merchant mariners.
This is research at its humane best. What happened to these young men is extraordinary, and Geroux writes so well we're right there with them as horrors and heroism and freak coincidences of man and nature occur: torpedoes slamming into the boat, oil slicks causing the sun to scorch skin, surviving a harrowing blockade run only to be engulfed in a more harrowing storm, one mariner giving up his place on a lifeboat so that another, desperately injured, has a place out of the water.
There are lifeboats galore in this book because the mariners were at the mercy of the U-boats, forsaken by the military, forsaken by Congress. They went by the book, "How to Abandon Ship" as their guide (seriously, it's scary), and went by the leadership of their captains.
While the text is utterly fascinating and engaging, I found Arthur Morey's narration to be a tad grating, as in slow and plodding. He works MUCH better at x1.25 speed, the book flows much better, the action is more breathless. Plus, he has an annoying tendency to attempt accents that are laughably halfhearted, or unfortunately offensive (see: Filipino nurse...). But at least he doesn't detract from a really good story.
And, yes, this is a good story, and I feel ashamed that neither I, nor my nation, has honored these men.
Until now... Fine job, Mr. Geroux. Thank you...

20 of 23 people found this review helpful

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Sadly, this history was quickly!

Sadly, too, our government has not done right by these brave men and their families.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Historically heroic story

What a intriguing story of families that helped in a huge way to overthrow and defeat Hitler. Many many unsung heroes.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Mary Mo
  • Redlands, CA United States
  • 05-03-16

Good History Book

if you like history, you will like this book. who knew the battle of the Atlantic was so brutal.. We only hear about the Pacific battles.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great History of Merchant Seamen

An eye-opening look at the tremendous loss of life, ships and what they carried during WW II. Book circles around one family in particular, but speaks to the men and their families of Matthews County whose profession was ocean shipping around the world. Another aspect of the war that one rarely hears about. Very well written and narrated.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great subject, but is drawn out.

What did you like best about The Mathews Men? What did you like least?

The book covers a great subject and really does a great job giving you a look into what the merchant marines dealt with in WWII. I felt the book was bit drawn out. It probably could have been about 2/3 the length and still gotten the story and point across.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Too much

Reads less like a story, and more like a spreadsheet. Would like more character development and less scattershot history lesson.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Wonderful account of the price paid by this community

The author captured the overall price this community paid in service to the country and illustrates it well. Matthews should be proud of the legacy and we should realize the level of our indebtedness to them.

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History truth and people brought together

Outstanding book of courage, persistence and family in a well informed story of a particular group of Virginians.

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Very interesting read

The book is not what I expected but rather something better. It starts slow but is definitely worth finishing. Depicts life of a community of folks with generations of Merchant Marines trying to survive Hitler's Uboat war.