Summary and book reviews of The Bounty by Caroline Alexander

The Bounty

The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty

By Caroline Alexander

The Bounty
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2003,
    512 pages.
    Paperback: May 2004,
    512 pages.

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Book Summary

More than two centuries have passed since Master's Mate Fletcher Christian mutinied against Lieutenant Bligh on a small, armed transport vessel called Bounty. Why the details of this obscure adventure at the end of the world remain vivid and enthralling is as intriguing as the truth behind the legend.

In giving the Bounty mutiny its historical due, Caroline Alexander has chosen to frame her narrative by focusing on the court-martial of the ten mutineers who were captured in Tahiti and brought to justice in England. This fresh perspective wonderfully revivifies the entire saga, and the salty, colorful language of the captured men themselves conjures the events of that April morning in 1789, when Christian's breakdown impelled every man on a fateful course: Bligh and his loyalists on the historic open boat voyage that revealed him to be one of history's great navigators; Christian on his restless exile; and the captured mutineers toward their day in court. As the book unfolds, each figure emerges as a full-blown character caught up in a drama that may well end on the gallows. And as Alexander shows, it was in a desperate fight to escape hanging that one of the accused defendants deliberately spun the mutiny into the myth we know today—of the tyrannical Lieutenant Bligh of the Bounty.

Ultimately, Alexander concludes that the Bounty mutiny was sparked by that most unpredictable, combustible, and human of situations—the chemistry between strong personalities living in close quarters. Her account of the voyage, the trial, and the surprising fates of Bligh, Christian, and the mutineers is an epic of ambition, passion, pride, and duty at the dawn of the Romantic era.

PRELUDE
SPITHEAD, WINTER 1787

His small vessel pitching in the squally winter sea, a young British naval lieutenant waited restlessly to embark upon the most important and daunting voyage of his still young but highly promising career. William Bligh, aged thirty-three, had been selected by His Majesty's government to collect breadfruit plants from the South Pacific island of Tahiti and to transport them to the plantations of the West Indies. Like most of the Pacific, Tahiti--Otaheite--was little known; in all the centuries of maritime travel, fewer than a dozen European ships had anchored in her waters. Bligh himself had been on one of these early voyages, ten years previously, when he had sailed under the command of the great Captain Cook. Now he was to lead his own expedition in a single small vessel called Bounty.

With his ship mustered and provisioned for eighteen months, Bligh had anxiously been awaiting the Admiralty's final orders, which would allow him to ...

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Media Reviews
The New York Times - Verlyn Klinkenborg

A sea mist hangs over this age-old tale. Alexander dispels it, to the reader's fascination. But when all the facts are told and the fates of the cast are duly chronicled, the sea mist settles in again, as impenetrable and yet more interesting than it has ever been.

The Washington Post - Jonathan Yardley

As Caroline Alexander argues in this meticulously researched and smoothly readable revisionist history, the central part of the Bounty legend -- that William Bligh was a tyrannical captain and Fletcher Christian a heroic rebel -- simply is not true.

Kirkus Reviews

Blending a smooth interpretation of events with primary-source material, Alexander profiles history's most famous mutiny in the same stylish manner she brought to Shackleton's Antarctic expedition (The Endurance, 1998, etc.).

Publishers Weekly

Alexander's work is destined to become the definitive, enthralling history of a great seafaring adventure.

Booklist - Joanne Wilkinson

Starred Review. A rollicking sea adventure told with enormous confidence and style.

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