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Last Man Off: A True Story of Disaster and Survival on the Antarctic Seas

     by Lewis, Matt

Last Man Off: A True Story of Disaster and Survival on the Antarctic Seas

In 1998, Matt Lewis was 23 with a freshly-minted degree and an adventurous spirit. So the Scottish marine biologist took a job as an observer on a fishing boat bound for the Southern Ocean, where he would keep a close eye on the crew and its procedures, making sure the fishing didn't compromise other wildlife. Lewis doesn't mince words when he talks about the condition of the boat or the quality of the crew. Both were lacking, and Lewis experiences a growing sense of foreboding as his months on the fishing boat pass. He isn't wrong. A cascade of bad decisions leads to the ship sinking, and its 38 crew members must fight for their lives in the freezing Southern Ocean, hundreds of miles away from any aid. 

This true account of a horrific shipwreck is chilling— both because of the loss of life (only 21 of the 38 crew members survived) and because Lewis skillfully relates what it felt like to be submerged in freezing water for hours with little hope of rescue. Lewis manages to infuse the relatively short book with an incredible sense of place and purpose. He recounts the tragedy in exacting detail, painting a very vivid picture of a tragedy that in part was due to poor judgment and greed on the part of the ship's owners and captains. He does not shy away from relating his own low moments in graphic, though not gory, detail. Lewis's story keeps the reader on the edge of his seat even knowing that he survived to write the story.

Reviewed by ba, 03/16. Other reviews by ba.