January Book of the Month: A Captain's Duty by Richard Phillips

Despite my hatred of books which are now a major motion picture, here we go again.

In this fascinating, suspenseful first person account of his capture by Somali pirates, which dominated news media for five days in April 2009, captain Phillips brings the growing pirate threat (up 20 percent in 2009's first quarter) to life. An experienced Merchant Marine, Phillips was recently made captain of the cargo vessel Maersk Alabama, and, like all captains, was weary of the threat from pirates: "since 2005... captains had been going out fifty, then one hundred... then six hundred miles" to avoid the Somali coast. His feeling that "if pirates got onboard, it was all over" proves unfortunately correct; it took the armed criminals just five minutes to board the ship and take the bridge. Phillips has a sailor's penchant for the dramatic, which he puts to good use alternating between his own five-day ordeal-replete with Navy SEALs and a daring escape attempt-and the plight of his family in Vermont, watching the drama unfold on cable news. Despite his harrowing experience, Phillips stays afloat with steadfast faith and an unfailing sense of humor that are, ultimately, rewarded. Phillips's story is not just riveting and timely, but also an informative, heartening look at perhaps the least-celebrated branch of the U.S. military, the Merchant Marines.

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