Monday, March 29, 2010

Tales of the Seven Seas: The Escapades of Captain Dynamite Johnny O'Brien

Dennis M. Powers
Taylor Trade Publishing (2010)
ISBN 9781589794474
Reviewed by Richard R. Blake for Reader Views

"Tales of the Seven Seas" describe the colorful career of Captain Johnny O'Brien and gives the reader new insights into the risks of full sail ships and twentieth century steamers of the later half of the 19th century and the early 20th century. Dennis M. Powers introduced Captain Dynamite Johnny O'Brien in his earlier book "Taking the Sea."  Powers became fascinated with the colorful accounts of a diverse group of men drawn together in a pursuit of peril, bonded together by their ability to survive the fury and vengeance of the sea. The idea for this book was born out of the myriad of research material used in preparation for the earlier work.

The "early years" picture Captain Johnny as young, impetuous, and as a man determined to pursue his dream of becoming a ship's officer. Although Captain Johnny had several arrests and run-ins with the law over the years he gained a reputation as a man of experience, common sense, intelligence, and honor, a man willing to take command regardless of the circumstances. As his career progressed he gained a genuine respect from his officers and crew.

Power's gives accounts of the many facets of Captain O'Brien's career which spanned a period of over sixty years. His sea-faring adventures include the challenges he met as an officer or Captain of the Edwin James, the Alice Dickerman, the Umatilla, the Alden Besse, the Premiere, the Charles W. Wetmore, the Utopia, the Dolphin, the Manauense, the Eureka, the Olympia, the Edith, the Seward, the Victoria and other ships for the Alaska Steamship company.

In contrast to the years of assignments on the waters of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, Johnny became Captain of the Aberdeen and sailed for Hawaii. He later sailed the Matson Steamship Lines on runs between San Francisco and Honolulu, only to return briefly to pilot ships in the Pacific Northwest. He then received an offer to take command of the Buford, a 5,040-gross-ton ship with a long history of uses. His assignment was to carry well-to-do passengers on a cruise in the South Seas.

The adventures of Captain Dynamite Johnny O'Brien read like a novel, and have inspired well-known fiction writers Jack London, Emerson Hough, and others, as well as the Hollywood movie, "The Navigator" starring Buster Keaton. His story is filled with his adventures on the open seas, telling of near death experiences, the romance of wooing his wife Emily, and stories of the Klondike gold rush, After reading three of Power's earlier books I am more than ever impressed with the ambitious undertaking involved in each project. I became engrossed with the Bibliography of "Tales of the Seven Seas" which includes sources going back to the year 1892. The voluminous amount of research and resource material, documents, articles, personal journals and memoirs of Captain O'Brien referred to are evidence of Powers' thorough research. Powers acknowledges the help he received from librarians, other researchers, maritime museum curators, and historical societies. Picture inserts from these same institutions add another dimension to the book, and help the reader visualize the amazing facts of the narrative.

Powers' unique creativity and story telling technique, his character development, meticulous attention to detail, and his definitive background research have established him as an authoritative connoisseur of maritime history and related adventure narratives.

"Tales of the Seven Seas" is another milestone in establishing Dennis M. Powers as an innovator in a unique genre of Maritime History and as an ingenious Biographer.

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