Seasons of Triumph, Season of Disaster | Book Review

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This past decade was a triumphant era for New England sports fans. Their professional baseball, football, and basketball teams brought six championship trophies home for a celebratory Boston duck boat ride, a now-traditional tour of the city in World War II-vintage amphibious vehicles.

Two of those parades took place in a mere eight months between the fall of 2007 (a Red Sox World Series victory) and the summer of 2008 (an NBA title for the Celtics). Only a miracle catch in the 2008 Super Bowl prevented the Patriots from completing the sweep, but they added three titles of their own during the decade. In Wicked Good Year, Steve Buckley, a Boston sportswriter (and Yankee contributor) gives a sparkling and offbeat account of those glory days and the athletes, coaches, managers, and owners who made them possible. He also includes vivid portraits of New England fans, the real owners of the teams.

New England’s whaling fleet could have used some duck boats in the summer of 1871, when sea ice in the Arctic Ocean trapped 32 whaling ships, threatening the lives of 1,219 sailors, their wives, and even some children. Their only hope of avoiding death by freezing or starvation was to abandon the capacious ships for open boats, hoping to reach other whalers, as yet not frozen in, 40 to 60 miles away. Peter Nichols’s Final Voyage tells the gripping story of the impossible journey, through heavy seas and gale-force winds, that saved every man, woman, and child.

But more than that, Nichols takes a broader look at the history of the New England whale fishery–the world’s first oil industry, “the Saudi Arabia of its day.” When disaster overtook the Arctic fleet in 1871, the losses of ships and cargo were crippling. But petroleum, gushing from underground, was already replacing whale oil. In a decade or two, Nichols points out, “New Bedford’s most hidebound merchant tycoons, and the world they had created, were swept away like sand castles in a hurricane.”

Wicked Good Year: How the Red Sox, Patriots & Celtics Turned the Hub of the Universe Into the Capital of Sports by Steve Buckley (It Books; $14.99)
Final Voyage: A Story of Arctic Disaster and One Fateful Whaling Season by Peter Nichols (Putnam; $26.95)


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