In Search of Robinson Crusoe

In Search of Robinson Crusoe

by Tim Severin
Publisher: Basic Books
Trade Paperback, 352 pages
List Price: $16.95 Sale Price: $14.41

Tim Severin has long been one of the most extraordinary travel writers in the English language. His skills as an explorer and world traveler have given birth to some remarkable books, and his highly individual odysseys are quite unlike those of any other writer (while still a student at Oxford, he made his first expedition by motorcycle tracing the route taken by Marco Polo). His books (such as the recent In Search of Moby Dick) have won him a whole slew of awards, and this fascinating volume is worthy of the same kind of success.

In Search of Robinson Crusoe is a compelling voyage of discovery, synthesizing history and myth to create a picture of the man whose very name is synonymous with the desert-island castaway. In attempting to find out who was the real Robinson Crusoe, Severin takes us to many strange places, from islands where sailors were shipwrecked or cast adrift in the days of the buccaneers to the coast of Chile. It is here that Severin begins his journey, on Más a Tierra, an island in the Juan Fernandez archipelago. And it was here the Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk (who many consider to be the prototype for Daniel Defoe's immortal hero) was marooned. Severin is interested, too, in the descendants of Friday's tribe: we are shown the lives of Miskito Indians carving out a difficult existence in the Nicaraguan swamps.

Of course, Daniel Defoe is a significant character in Severin's investigation, and he tracks down (as did his predecessor Defoe) the English buccaneer surgeon, Lionel Wafer, who had a bloody run-in with pirates and is also a significant element in the fabric of this highly unusual (and highly memorable) book. Finally, Severin compares Crusoe's experiences with those of surgeon-turned-castaway, Henry Pitman, on the Isle of Tortuga, just NW of the mouth of the river Oroonoko. 

Severin's final conclusions are certainly different than commonly held assumptions about Defoe's inspirations, and his analysis is compelling. While we may never know the complete truth, this book offers much to consider. Plus, the characters you'll encounter on this journey are quite as exotic as the many locales, all filtered through Severin's distinctive authorial voice. —Adapted from a review by Barry Forshaw on

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