Cover image for Selkirk's Island : the true and strange adventures of the real Robinson Crusoe
Selkirk's Island : the true and strange adventures of the real Robinson Crusoe
Souhami, Diana.
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harcourt, [2001]

Physical Description:
246 pages : illustrations, maps ; 22 cm
General Note:
Originally published: London : Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2001.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
G530.S42 S68 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
G530.S42 S68 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Piracy and betrayal frame the epic story of solitary endurance that inspired Daniel Defoe's classic novel.

Who was the real Robinson Crusoe? And what did he really experience during his solitary stay on a remote island in the Pacific? Diana Souhami's revelatory account of Alexander Selkirk's adventures on the high seas and dry land leads us to the answers to both these questions, and explores the reality behind the romance of privateering on the high seas.

Born to a poor Scottish family, Selkirk signed on with an ill-fated quest to sack the famous Manila galleon, one of the richest prizes on the southern seas. After a series of misfortunes and disagreements among the crew, Selkirk was put ashore on an island three hundred miles west of South America, where he spent four years learning to survive with little more than his bare hands.
Acclaimed biographer Diana Souhami evokes all the strangeness and wonder of his story and interprets the haze created by three centuries of literature and legend. The result is a brilliantly lucid and lyrical recovery and discovery of a forgotten man and his unforgettable experience.

Author Notes

Diana Souhami is the author of many acclaimed books including The Trials of Radclyffe Hall (short-listed for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography and winner of the Lambda Literary Award), Gertrude and Alice, Gluck 1895-1978: Her Biography, Greta and Cecil, and the bestselling Mrs. Keppel and Her Daughter. She lives in London.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

This is an enthralling portrait of the man who was the source for Defoe's most famous novel, Robinson Crusoe. Souhami employs a poetic style that instantly transports readers. They are taken back to a time, the heyday of British privateering on the high seas, and to an existential question--could I survive being marooned? Alexander Selkirk's survival story has been popular ever since it was first publicized in 1712 by the ship captain who found him on an island west of Chile. The tale generated the publicity Souhami draws on, but her recounting is quite original. Selkirk was stranded on the desert isle as punishment for mutinous behavior. But as Souhami relates, English readers felt "cheated" by the rescuing captain's spare account of how Selkirk managed to survive alone for four years; so responding to demand for embellishment were, first, pamphleteer Richard Steele, and second, novelist Daniel Defoe. Souhami's wonderful continuation of the story's lineage will satisfy readers' extraordinary appetite for shipwreck sagas. Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

Daniel Defoe based his 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe on the trials and tribulations of Scottish seaman Alexander Selkirk. Souhami (The Trials of Radclyffe Hall) draws on journals, maritime histories, and ship and parish records to detail his engrossing story. Born the seventh son of a poor cobbler, Selkirk fought violently with his brothers and dreamed about the "adventure, gold and escape" that the sea seemed to promise. In 1703, at the age of 23, he joined a looting expedition led by William Dampier, an experienced pirate who plundered the treasures of French and Spanish ships on the South Seas. But appalling conditions on the journey scurvy, hunger and a leaky ship (worms ate through its wooden hull) led to mutiny against the drunken and belligerent Dampier. After quarreling with a new captain, Selkirk (who was very belligerent himself) was put ashore on Juan Fern ndez, an uninhabited island hundreds of miles off the coast of Chile. Souhami provides arresting descriptions of the island and the life Selkirk lived on it for more than four years, when hunger and thirst were "diversions" from his solitude. He survived, in part, by eating goats (with whom he also found sexual release), fish and vegetation. Rescued by another Dampier expedition, at first Selkirk was a wild man who had almost lost the power of speech. He did, however, recover from his ordeal: he took two wives, continued to sail and died at sea in 1721. Complete with detailed comparisons between Defoe's novel and Selkirk's life, Souhami's account is a well-researched investigation of a forgotten antihero.(Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



1. The IslandMolten Stuff1702Defined by the vast South Sea, The Island from a wooden craft, far out, was a destination, a place of refuge. At first sight it looked no more than a gray blur. Plying the sea against strong tides and capricious winds, the blur turned to jagged mountains looming form the water. Dark clouds hung over the eastern end. They promised clear streams, meat, and respite from the journey's storms. Ranging beneath the lee, searching for anchorage, the broken, craggy precipices revealed forests, cut by lush valleys, watered by cascades and streams. The bays of boulders and shingle became harbours of society.Spewed in the earth's heat, once The Island had been molten stuff beneath the earth's crust. Formed of columns of basalt, it was a causeway of mountain peaks, the highest, shaped like a huge anvil, rising three thousand feet above the ocean. Its rocks were grey, scoriaceous, slaggy, veined with olivine and picrite, coded with skeleton crystals of feldspar, aluminium, potash, lime...Its coast escarpments, high forested ridges and the dry seaward slopes of its valleys, were lava beds, relics from a magmatic flow: magma from the Greek 'to knead". By its shores were lumps of black porous lava, like burnt-out clinker, like a dead fire.The fire could rekindle. The Island changed with the scudding clouds, the waxing moon, a fall of rain. Sounds that cracked in echo round the mountains, warned of its awesome energy. Mariners told of the earth's explosion, of "A Vulcan casting out Stones as big as a House', of a column that spouted from the sea filled with smoke and flames, of how the sea swept back in great rollers that left the bay dry, then surged in at such a height that trees uprooted and goats drowned.Classifiers gave their views on geotectonic connections between The Island and the continent of South America and the movement of continental plates. They picked up pieces of rock, sailed home with them in boxes, identified the grains of colour these rocks contained as augite, magnetite and ilmenite and speculated on when the volcano had erupted and the manner in which time turns one thing into another. Their analyses made The Island less remote. If they named it, classified it, they could in a sense possess it and tame it to their will.Mountains and Gorges1702In the scheme of things it was a chip of land - twelve miles long, four across, thirty-four miles round, four million years old. At the low parched western end only dwarf trees grow (Dendroseris litoralis and Rea pruinata). * By a headband was a rocky bay shaped like a horseshoe, where a small boat might land on sand and shingle.The eastern cliffs rose sheer from the sea. Moss and algae grew where surf drained from the talus' edge. The sea undermined the coastal wall and hollowed it as caves. Along the south-east shore were tufted grasses with high culms (Stipa fernandeziana). Waterfalls washed soil to the sea that stained the surf sepia. Beside a small ba Excerpted from Selkirk's Island: The True and Strange Adventures of the Real Robinson Crusoe by Diana Souhami All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

1 The Islandp. 17
2 The Journeyp. 27
3 The Arrivalp. 87
4 The Rescuep. 119
5 London Scribblersp. 167
6 Homep. 187
7 The Islandp. 211
Endnotesp. 225
Indexp. 237