The Desert And The Sea

Not only the definitive book on Somali pirates, but a remarkable work of literature, too.

Ben Rawlence, author of City of Thorns

An international bestseller

Winner of a Nautilus Award for Journalism & Investigative Reporting

Amazon Editors’ Pick: History

First published by Harper Wave in 2018

In early 2012 Michael traveled to the Horn of Africa to research a book about Somali piracy and ways to end it. He was kidnapped and spent 32 months in Somalia as a hostage. Here he chronicles the full story. Written with dark humor, candor but also a literary journalist’s clinical distance and eye for detail, The Desert and the Sea reads like Catch-22 meets Black Hawk Down.

Michael weaves his own experience—including physical injury, starvation, isolation and terror—with a larger examination of the world around him. He explores the economics and history of piracy (going back to America’s own colonial history), the effects of postcolonialism (Italian, British); the politics of hostage negotiation and ransom; the legalities of industrial fishing (he spent more than five months aboard a hijacked tuna long-liner — the only Western author to experience life aboard a ship hijacked by Somali pirates); and the role of Islam among the pirates.

Michael writes movingly about grappling with the idea of ending his own life, as well as his search for meaning during his darkest hours. During a long 18-month period when his feet had to be chained at night, he wondered: “I had flown to Somalia with curiosity and compassion; I had wanted to show, as far as I could, how Somalis lived and what pirates thought. With the chains on, I instead struggled every night with hatred and debilitating rage. What helped was a paradoxical attitude of forgiveness toward the guards. I also remembered the ancient idea, from Epictetus, that a victim suffers only by his own consent. Self-pity does nothing but heighten the pain. The appropriate answer to the question, ‘Why me? is the other question, Why not me?’”

He also found help in reading a Bible aboard the fishing boat, and yoga helped to calm his churning mind. One of the most heart-wrenchingly funny moments in the book occurs when the author, to keep his muscles from weakening, starts to do yoga. Before he knows it he’s conducting a makeshift yoga class for pirates.

A riveting, thoughtful and emotionally resonant exploration of foreign policy, religious extremism, and the costs of survival.

Michael Scott Moore’s book turned me inside out. Congratulations is far too pallid a word.

William Finnegan, author of Barbarian Days

When a young man who is good and brave, keenly intelligent and observant, with a lively mind and a learned sense of human and historical complexity, is kidnapped by pirates and kept as a hostage for three years in Somalia’s harsh and violent bush, the result is The Desert and the Sea. However much you wish Michael Scott Moore had never had cause to write it, this book could not be more engrossing, harrowing, suspenseful, wrenchingly humane and illuminating.

Francisco Goldman, author of The Art of Political Murder and The Long Night of the White Chickens

His elegant, 450-page account of his life in Somalia's hostage machine conveys suffering on an epic scale, a hotter, dustier version, perhaps, of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

Colin Freeman, The Daily Telegraph

If you read Michael Scott Moore’s book, first clear your schedule, because you won’t put it down until you’ve finished it. The Desert and The Sea is an astonishing and harrowing story, told with great humanity, by a writer who ventures where few will ever go.

Susan Casey, author of Voices in the Ocean: A Journey Into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins

Highly addictive reading material….Michael Scott Moore delivers an amazing true-life thriller, one of the most suspenseful books written in recent years, that tracks across oceans and underworlds, culminating in a very rewarding, deeply profound end.

Jeffrey Gettleman, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Love, Africa

Sympathetic but also sharp-edged ... There’s plenty of gallows humor as Moore settles in for his long spell of unhappiness. When his young captors, “stoned on narcotic cud,” blast music from their cellphones, he asks a senior to get them to turn it down. “They’re soldiers,” he’s told by way of explanation, to which he replies, “ask them to be quiet soldiers.”

Kirkus (starred review)

Moore’s talent for dark observational humor is used to great effect and leavens what might, in another writer’s hands, have been a relentlessly bleak book.

Tristan McConnell, The Los Angeles Review of Books

His account of his nearly three years of captivity is a testament to the strength of one man’s indomitable spirit and Moore’s great gift of observation, his humor, wits and evident gifts as a storyteller. Thank heavens he lived to tell the story, which everyone should now read and cheer.

Tom Barbash, author of The Dakota Winters and Stay Up With Me

A fascinating page-turner. [Moore] walks the tightrope of inviting readers to have empathy for the pirates whose national history includes brutal colonialism while demonstrating the pirates’ capacity for torture ... Having faced an experience no one ever should, Moore constructs a narrative that makes readers’ heart beat faster.

Booklist (starred review)

Intense…harrowing…this exceptional memoir will attract many readers.

Library Journal (starred review)

Michael Scott Moore is a journalist and a novelist, author of a comic novel about L.A., Too Much of Nothing, as well as a travel book about surfing, Sweetness and Blood, which was named a best book of 2010 by The Economist. He’s won Fulbright, Logan, and Pulitzer Center grants for his nonfiction, as well as a Silver Nautilus Award in Journalism and Investigative Reporting; and Yaddo, MacDowell, and DeWitt Wallace–Reader’s Digest fellowships for his fiction.

He’s been a visiting professor at the Columbia School of the Arts and UC Riverside. He worked for several years as an editor and writer at Spiegel Online in Berlin. Michael was kidnapped in early 2012 on a reporting trip to Somalia and held hostage by pirates for 32 months. The Desert and the Sea, a memoir about that ordeal, became an international bestseller.

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Speaking Events

My review of a book about the drone war, Hellfire from Paradise Ranch, is up at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

While I was in Somalia a man called Geoff Carter wrote about a picture of Indian men surfing on stand-up boards around 1800 off Chennai, which altered the known history of surfing a bit, even though the picture was hiding in plain sight at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

My review of Ingrid Betancourt's first novel, The Blue Line, is up at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

The men from the Naham 3 are all friends of mine — a crew of 26 sailors from southeast Asia who worked on a tuna long-liner flagged in Oman but owned by a company in Taiwan, which abandoned them after Somali pirates hijacked the ship in 2012.



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