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an american tragedy

On October 1, 2015, Hurricane Joaquin barreled into the Bermuda Triangle and swallowed the container ship El Faro whole, resulting in the deadliest American shipping disaster in thirty-five years. No one could fathom how a vessel equipped with satellite communications, a sophisticated navigation system, and cutting-edge weather forecasting could suddenly vanish—until now.

Relying on hundreds of exclusive interviews with family members and maritime experts, as well as the words of the crew members themselves—whose conversations on the bridge were captured for a remarkable 26 hours leading up to the sinking by the ship’s data recorder—journalist Rachel Slade unravels the mystery of the sinking of El Faro. As she recounts the final hours onboard, Slade vividly depicts the officers’ anguish and fear as they struggled to carry out Captain Michael Davidson’s increasingly bizarre commands, which, they knew, would steer them straight into the eye of the storm. Taking a hard look at America's aging merchant marine fleet, Slade also reveals the truth about modern shipping—a cut-throat industry plagued by razor-thin profits and ever more violent hurricanes fueled by global warming.

A richly reported account of a singular tragedy, Into the Raging Sea takes us into the heart of an age-old American industry, casting new light on the hardworking men and women who paid the ultimate price in the name of profit.

El Faro’s stern on the sea floor, courtesy of the NTSB

El Faro’s stern on the sea floor, courtesy of the NTSB

El Faro’s sister ship, El Morro

El Faro’s sister ship, El Morro

Hurricane Joaquin, October 1, 2015

Hurricane Joaquin, October 1, 2015



"For sheer drama on the water, it’s hard to beat the tragedy recounted in Rachel Slade’s Into the Raging Sea." —Janet Maslin, New York Times

"The depth of research and reporting, and Slade’s skill at pacing and selecting the telling details, produce a richly detailed narrative, tense and sad and true." —The Boston Globe

"This is a staunchly humanistic work, adroitly told, with a wide emotional range that incorporates both a sense of loss and a call for change." —Portland Press Herald

"A powerful and affecting story, beautifully handled by Slade, a journalist who clearly knows ships and the sea." —Douglas Preston, New York Times Book Review

"A taut, chilling, and emotionally charged retelling of a doomed ship’s final days." —Kirkus Review (starred review)

"This well-crafted and gripping account...frames the tragedy with a meticulous review of all the ways in which it could have been avoided...This is a painful and poignant narrative." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Incredible.” Tina Jordan, NYT Book Review staff picks for 2018

"Rachel Slade's mastery of tension will leave your nerves twanging... Into the Raging Sea is an exceptional work." —The Maine Edge

"Slade’s book is a chance to name—via unprecedented firsthand sourcing from the ship’s accident recorder, its black box—and call to the fore the forces that robbed these mariners of their lives, a cry that should be heeded by anyone who cares about a fellow human."Paste

"More than the story of how a ship was overcome by a storm, Into The Raging Sea is an allegory for what it means to be a part of the nation’s largely invisible working and middle class." Longreads

“Rachel Slade's book sucked me in. There's no other way to put it. I devoured it in three days, engrossed by her dramatic re-creation of the worst American maritime disaster in 40 years. In addition to a gripping narrative…Slade explains the fascinating world of commercial shipping and the essential – but often hidden – role it plays in our economy." —Scott Detrow, NPR

"With skillful narrative prose and sensitivity, Slade takes readers on the final voyage of the El Faro... Interwoven with the point-by-point timeline are insightful backstories of America’s shipping industry, the El Faro’s 41 years in service, and, most affectingly, her crew." Booklist

"Slade's account of the El Faro tragedy is a cautionary tale for leaders who think they have all the answers, for employees who choose not to speak up... and for organizations that rely on systems and processes that don't provide the information its people need to make the best decisions." Inc.

"Excellent and gripping...Slade does an incisive and compelling job explaining what happened to the El Faro, cutting between the doomed voyage, the backgrounds of the crew, the story of American shipping, the incompetent and venal owners, and the would-be rescuers and investigators." The Spectator UK

"Slade has assembled a damning book...Market forces have created a shipping industry bent on wringing every penny out of a voyage, leading to an aging fleet, postponed repairs, budget cuts, understaffed crews and stressed captains."Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Slade was able to put together a sea disaster tale unlike any other...All of the small errors of judgment, all of the overconfidence and complacency that led to the disaster are on full display, straight from the doomed mariners’ mouths. It makes for an exciting, terrifying and deeply sad story."  —Gilbert Cruz, Culture Editor, New York Times

"What's the 'it' book of summer going to be? Rachel Slade's Into the Raging Sea." —Tina Jordan, New York Times

"A riveting sea story of disaster and death. Many readers will likely leave it at that, but Into the Raging Sea is so much more. It speaks to the struggles and challenges faced by all mariners making a living on the sea, and the impact our society has on people when it makes cold, detached decisions and laws based solely on economics and return on investment." —GCaptain

"Into the Raging Sea successfully, and very powerfully, navigates the difficult channel between insiders and outsiders. Slade's writing style will appeal to readers of nautical thrillers, interspersing a fast-paced narrative of what was actually happening aboard the vessel...with a rigorously researched backdrop covering commercial and regulatory issues." —Seatrade Maritime News

"Even for those who deal with these issues on a daily basis, this stirring book still shocks with the scale of the problems that it exposes. This is an important title, with lessons that extend far beyond the terrible tragedy that it describes." —Nautilus International

"Slade tells this sad story with enormous energy and quotable inventiveness. Her long experience as a journalist shows on every page of her account, with her prose bringing every aspect of the El Faro saga to colorful life." —Open Letters Review

"If I could sum up this book in one word, it would be 'honest'; I don't believe a more accurate account of this story exists or will ever exist." Capt. Christopher J. Edyvean, National President of the American Merchant Marine Veterans

"A Perfect Storm for a new generation, Rachel Slade's Into the Raging Sea is a masterful page-turning account of the El Faro's sinking, one that leaves you profoundly moved by the crew's dedication and grit, and infuriated at the disturbing conditions that led to this tragedy."   —Ben Mezrich, bestselling author of The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook

"With gripping prose and edge-of-the-seat momentum, Rachel Slade takes the reader aboard the final, fatal voyage of El Faro. Into the Raging Sea imparts a profound message about the power of nature and the fallibility of human judgement even in our digitized era."   —Peter Stark, author of Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire

"Rachel Slade's bracing Into the Raging Sea is a story as old as seafaring itself. Only Slade isn't guessing here at the fate of the El Faro. This minute-by-minute account illustrates in chilling detail exactly what happens when the near-infinite might of the ocean plows broadside into the hubris of men."   —Brantley Hargrove, author of The Man Who Caught the Storm

"An extraordinary piece of reporting. I tore through it like a novel but with the inside knowledge of how insulated the shipping industry is, how well it protects its secrets, and of the countless nets it deploys to entangle journalists. Slade pushes through the waves, heavy seas, and military court imbroglio in the same way the El Faro faced hurricane Joaquin: dead on at Full Speed Ahead."   —John Konrad, editor of GCaptain and author of Fire on the Horizon: The Untold Story Of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster

“Rachel Slade mashes up The Perfect Storm with a suspenseful, page-turning thriller, cutting through the corporate double-speak to shine a light on how it was that thirty-three men and women sailed into Hurricane Joaquin. Superbly written, this deserves a place on the bookshelf of modern maritime classics. Even those who have followed El Faro closely will find major surprises here.”   —Robert Frump, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Until the Sea Shall Free Them: Life, Death, and Survival in the Merchant Marine

"Rachel Slade's Into the Raging Sea made me miss my subway stop and cancel at least one appointment. It's a gripping, moving account of a nautical tragedy, told with equal parts verve, gusto, and compassion. Don't miss it." —Sarah Weinman, author of The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World