Five prisoners of war during the Civil War escape in a hot air balloon: Captain Cyrus Harding, Neb (Harding’s servant), Gideon Spillet (a reporter), Jack Pencroft (a sailor), and Herbert Brown (a fifteen-year-old boy). The balloon flying off wildly finally lands near an island where the five members of the balloon survive and eventually find each other.
The men at this point are busy making a home for themselves on the island because they do not know when they will be rescued. They name the island Lincoln Island. By all measures, the island flourishes. Harding, as a military engineer, know nearly everything (without exaggeration). Much of the book is devoted to showing the ingenuity of Harding and the other men.
All is well until the colonists (that is what they call themselves) see a pirate ship; a battle ensues. In a mysterious way, the pirate ship explodes, but a number of pirates survive, and they attack the colonists. Herbert is wounded.
While the battle is still going on, the colonists receive a mysterious telegraph to go to a hidden cave. When they get there, they meet the famed captain Nemo. They also find out that he was the one who destroyed the pirate ship. Moreover, they also find out that it was he who mysteriously aided them. Nemo asks the colonists to bury him in his submarine, as he is dying.
The colonists build a boat and escape the island, and eventually they are rescued by a ship called the Duncan.
On March 24, 1865, a balloon carrying five persons escaping from Richmond, capital of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, falls into the sea. Caught in a storm, the balloon had flown some seven thousand miles in five days. The five passengers are Captain Cyrus Harding, an engineer in General Grant’s army; his black servant, Nebuchadnezzar, known as Neb; Gideon Spilett, a reporter; Jack Pencroft, a sailor; and Herbert Brown, the fifteen-year-old orphan son of one of Pencroft’s former sea captains.
The balloon falls near an uncharted island, and Harding, together with his dog, Top, is washed overboard. Once its load is lightened, the balloon then deposits the other travelers on the shore of the island. The next morning, Neb looks for his “master” while the others explore the island. The next day, Herbert, Pencroft, and Spilett take stock of their resources, which consist of the clothes they wear, a notebook, and a watch. They suddenly hear Top barking. The dog leads them to Captain Harding, who, having been unconscious, is at a loss to explain how he arrived at a place more than a mile away from the shore.
When Harding gets stronger, the group decides to consider themselves colonists rather than castaways, and they call their new home Lincoln Island. Harding finds on the island samples of iron, pyrite, clay, lime, coal, and other useful minerals. The colonists make bricks, which they use to construct an oven in which to make pottery. From Top’s collar, they are able to make two knives, which enable them to cut bows and arrows. Eventually, they make iron and steel tools.
Under the brilliant direction of Harding, who seems to know a great deal about everything, the colonists work constantly to improve their lot. After discovering a cave within a cliff wall, they plan to make this their permanent residence; they call it Granite House. They make a rope ladder up the side of the cliff to the door of the cavern, which they equip with brick walls, furniture, and candles made from seal fat.
One day, Pencroft finds washed up on the beach a large chest containing many useful items, including books, clothes, instruments, and weapons. On another occasion, the colonists return to Granite House to find that their home has been invaded by orangutans, who suddenly become terrified by something and begin to flee. The colonists kill all but one, which they domesticate and call...
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