Charles Nordhoff Biography


Charles Bernard Nordhoff, the senior member of the writing team of Nordhoff and Hall, was born in London of American parents on February 1, 1887. Brought back to Philadelphia at the age of three, he then grew up in California and Mexico, worked for two years on a Mexican sugar plantation, and attended Stanford University for one year before finally settling down in Cambridge, Massachusetts, long enough to receive a degree from Harvard University in 1909. These peripatetic early years were to set the restless pattern of his entire life. Not waiting for the United States to enter World War I, he enlisted in the French Ambulance Corps in 1916, becoming, later, a pilot in the French Air Service, and serving, finally, in the Lafayette Flying Corps.

Nordhoff met James Norman Hall while both were serving as members of the Lafayette Flying Corps, and their productive collaboration began when they were commissioned to edit the corps’ history. This task completed, they went together to Tahiti. There they wrote independently at first but, becoming interested in the tales they had heard concerning Pitcairn Island, they revived their partnership and under the sponsorship of Ellery Sedgwick, who helped them secure necessary documents from England, they set to work on the island’s history. Their collaborative effort, Mutiny on the Bounty, appeared in 1932, and its success as a novel and as a motion picture cemented their partnership. Two sequels, Men Against the Sea and Pitcairn’s Island, soon followed. The pair produced six further novels, but only one—Botany Bay, about the colonization of Australia—won significant praise from critics.

The smoothness of their teamwork continued to draw comment, but in fact Nordhoff was gradually withdrawing from writing. Plagued by alcoholism, poor health, and personal problems, he eventually moved to California, where he died on April 11, 1947. Hall remained in Tahiti, where he had married the half-Tahitian daughter of a British sea captain. He died on July 5, 1951, while working on his autobiography, My Island Home.


Briand, Paul L., Jr. In Search of Paradise. New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1966. One of the most detailed sources on Nordhoff and Hall.

Roulston, Robert. James Norman Hall. Boston: Twayne, 1978. A detailed source on Nordhoff and Hall. Treats Hall’s many collaborations with Nordhoff.

Sedgwick, Ellery. “James Norman Hall: 1887-1951.” Atlantic 188 (September, 1951). An appreciation by Nordhoff and Hall’s editor.

Sedgwick, Ellery. “Men of the Species.” In The Happy Profession. Boston: Little, Brown, 1946. Recollections by the editor of Mutiny on the Bounty.

Weeks, Edward. “Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall.” In In Friendly Candor. Boston: Little, Brown, 1946. A tribute.