InCarry On, Mr. Bowditch, Jean Lee Latham presents the formative years and early adulthood of Nathaniel Bowditch, the man who advanced the science of celestial navigation and who prepared what became the bible of navigation: The Practical Navigator (referred to by sailors simply as “Bowditch”). The biography begins with the young Bowditch living with his family in Danvers, Massachusetts, about to move back to Salem, a port so important during the late eighteenth century that it was thought by some in distant ports to be a country itself. The story depicts the unhappy turn that the family fortunes have taken since the boy’s father, a former sea captain, lost a ship at sea and was forced into another trade. Their misfortunes are aggravated by the difficult economic times that the emerging American nation faces during this revolutionary period. The story then presents the events and people that motivated the intellectual and moral growth of Bowditch.
Latham has a fine sense of the significant detail. By alternating summary with such details, she creates chapters that describe events that both shape and reveal Bowditch’s character. The title of the book itself reflects this approach. “Carry on, Mr. Bowditch,” a frequent order to the young sailor from his first commander, Captain Prince, reflects Prince’s appreciation for the young man’s excessive enthusiasm and independent thinking.
Other details are equally descriptive of character. The young Bowditch learns from his older brother, Hab, that “boys don’t blubber.” This advice and example develop in him a self-composure that enables...
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