Bitter Waters: America's Forgotten Mission to the Dead Sea (starred review)
David Haward Bain (Author)
Aug 2011. 384 p. Overlook, hardcover, $30.00. (9781590203521)
The 1840s were a decade of global exploration for the U.S. Navy, whose officers charted the seven seas, plus the Dead Sea. Strangely true, a naval expedition to the Holy Land in 1848 is the tale Bain tells. The idea for it germinated in the mind of Lieutenant William Lynch, who nurtured unrealized ambitions for command, a fascination with travel literature, and aspirations to the writing life. His mission approved, out he went, launching his crew in two rowboats onto the Sea of Galilee and thence down the River Jordan into the Dead Sea. Transported by Roman ruins, Crusader battlements, reputed sites of Jesus’ ministry, and remnants of God’s wrath against Sodom and Gomorrah, Lynch in his journals and published account exulted in the region’s religious nimbus as much as in applying his men to their ostensible cartographic
Integrating those aspects of the adventure and Lynch’s wary relations with Bedouin tribes, Bain produces an engrossing narrative of the expedition that richly positions the mission’s incidents within Lynch’s Western perspective on the Near East. Wonderfully realized, Bain’s account will enthrall seekers of history off the beaten path.