Skip to Content

17 Captivating Shipwreck Books

Travel across the seas with the best fiction and nonfiction shipwreck books to teach you more and transport you to new places, real and imagined.

There certainly is no shortage of books about shipwrecks, including true accounts, historical fiction, and contemporary and classic literature.

However, if you only have a short time to choose one shipwreck book, which one should it be? We have a few ideas to get you started.

Below, explore shipwreck stories that promise to teach you more about history and take you back in time, including showcasing the lives of famous people and ships as well as those that are lesser known.

We’ve all heard of the Titanic and Lusitania, but are you familiar with the Wilhelm Gustloff?

Then, learn about the role of ships in society juxtaposed with the dangers hiding in the sea – and even on board. What makes the perfect storm?

Plus, the best stories of shipwrecks also promise to include themes of friendship, innovation, and survival. Quite a few are inspiring too.

Don’t forget to share your top book about shipwrecks in the comments. Let’s get started!

Shipwreck Books with image of sunken boat under water with diver
Travel across the testy seas with these shipwreck books.

Grab the most riveting books about shipwrecks here:

1. Book of the Month: Get the month’s hottest new and upcoming titles from Book of the Month. You might snag an early release or debut author. Along with selecting a book a month, find terrific add-ons, both trendy and lesser-known titles.
2. Audible Plus: From Amazon, listen to Amazon Originals, podcasts, and audiobooks. They add new titles every week.
3. Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans: With over 1 million titles, enjoy unlimited reading and listening. Kindle Unlimited also features magazine subscriptions and books to borrow.
4. Amazon Prime: Don’t miss Amazon First Reads – early access to Kindle books. Get fast delivery as well as movies, music, Originals, shows, and more.

17 Best Shipwreck Books

By Dagney McKinney

Author’s note: Ships are always referred to as “she,” and I have done so throughout this article.

Nonfiction Books About Shipwrecks

Black Man on the Titanic: The Story of Joseph Laroche by Serge Bilé book cover with image of Titanic ship with different blue-hued colorings and black and white portrait of a person

Black Man on the Titanic: The Story of Joseph Laroche by Serge Bilé

Translated by Logan Masterworks

Shipwreck books about the Titanic are hardly in short supply, but most don’t mention – let alone focus on – Joseph Laroche, one of only three Black passengers on board the ill-fated ship.

So who was Joseph Laroche? And where was he going?

With racial tensions what they were in 1912, how did a Black man wind up on board a luxury liner ship traveling second class?

In Black Man on the Titanic, Ivorian-French journalist, Serge Bilé dives into Joseph’s history to uncover what happened to Joseph and his family traveling with him onboard the Titanic.

This is a fascinating and engaging biography that often reads like a novel.

Bilé provides a window into the race relations and politics of the time, life onboard the Titanic, and the terror of the shipwreck while always keeping the focus on Joseph.

Read Black Man on the Titanic: Amazon | Goodreads

A History of the World in Sixteen Shipwrecks by Stewart Gordon book cover with sinking ship

A History of the World in Sixteen Shipwrecks by Stewart Gordon

From canoes to corporate oil spills, from the Nile to the Atlantic Ocean, A History of the World in Sixteen Shipwrecks tells the unfortunate stories of all manner of crafts.

Detailing shipwrecks from 6,000 BC right up to the present day, we see that trying to transport goods and/or people across large bodies of water is a consistently dangerous activity.

In addition to the stories of shipwrecks themselves, ranging from the famous to the infamous, Gordon traces the history of the world through its ever-changing maritime borders.

Through these sixteen shipwrecks, Gordon draws conclusions about the development of the world, including the true role of naval navigation and shipbuilding in the progress of society.

He also examines how oceanic technology and the desire for exploration across the seas push the boundaries of scientific innovation.

This is a great shipwreck book for armchair historians who want to dip their toes into the topic.

Read A History of the World in Sixteen Shipwrecks: Amazon | Goodreads

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides book cover with ice and snowy mountains

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides

A group of American sailors attempt to be the first nation to reach the North Pole in the late 1800s – what could go wrong?

Well, ice is the answer!

With their ship sunk without a trace following an encounter with impassable pack ice, these aspirational explorers dreaming of conquest must now trek hundreds of miles.

To find the nearest point of human contact, they’ll avoid polar bears and storms as well as stave off snow blindness and starvation.

Hampton Sides also served as a consultant to the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation’s efforts to locate the wreck of the USS Jeannette, which lies on the seabed about a thousand miles north of Siberia.

His retelling of the crew’s struggle to survive in the bleakest of environments has all the elements of a real-life thriller, making this one of the most riveting shipwreck books.

Read In the Kingdom of Ice: Amazon | Goodreads

Sinking the Sultana: A Civil War Story of Imprisonment, Greed, and a Doomed Journey Home by Sally M. Walker book cover with ship on fire in water

Sinking the Sultana: A Civil War Story of Imprisonment, Greed, and a Doomed Journey Home by Sally M. Walker

Designed to carry only 376, the Sultana was packed well past capacity with 2,137 passengers – most of whom were recently released POWs – when the boat’s boiler exploded on April 27, 1865.

In the chaos that ensued, 1,168 passengers and crew either died in the fire, were impaled by flying boiling objects, or drowned in the Mississippi River.

What exactly happened on the Sultana has baffled and captivated historians for over 150 years.

It was this fascination that led Sally Walker to dig deeper and find the real cause behind the worst maritime disaster in US history.

Although anyone can enjoy this fantastic shipwreck book, Sinking the Sultana is written with younger audiences in mind.

This makes it perfect for children interested in reading more books about shipwrecks without getting bogged down by too much technical language.

Despite some of the horrific deaths onboard the Sultana, there also is also very little graphic detail about injuries.

Read Sinking the Sultana: Amazon | Goodreads

Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett book cover with ship with sails on blue sea with waves

Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett

What are the odds of two crews being shipwrecked on the same island, in the same year?

Pretty slim, yet that’s what happened to the men serving aboard the Grafton and the Invercauld in 1864.

They found themselves marooned on opposite ends of Auckland Island, almost three hundred miles south of New Zealand and in one of the most remote parts of the world.

The two remaining groups are tasked with finding the resources needed for both survival and escape.

But while one crew manages to do both, the other manages neither.

As the survivors of the Grafton build a forge and start making the tools they need to leave the island, the men of the Invercauld descend into despair, madness, and cannibalism.

A story of the contrasting extremes to which isolation can take a group of people, Island of the Lost is almost two nonfiction shipwreck books in one!

Uncover more books set around New Zealand.

Read Island of the Lost: Amazon | Goodreads

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson book cover with wake of water in blackish sky with light shining on it

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

Erik Larson is one of the best nonfiction narrative writers, and it’s not hard to find yourself devouring Dead Wake.

The RMS Lusitania, which sank just three years after the Titanic and sent nearly 1,200 people to watery graves, is one of the most famous shipwrecks in history.

The ship was on its way to Liverpool, England when she was tragically hit by a German U-boat off the southern coast of Ireland.

But what exactly happened on May 1, 1915? Why was the Lusitania traveling in water declared an active war zone?

And, could anyone have prevented the tragedy that befell the Lusitania, her passengers, and crew?

As usual, Larson brings the history alive, making us feel as though we’re on board the luxury liner reliving the horror of its untimely sinking in this riveting shipwreck book.

Read Dead Wake: Amazon | Goodreads

The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger book cover with stormy weather and boat on ocean

The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger

An incredibly rare combination of factors must come together to make “the perfect storm.”

And so it was in the events detailed in Sebastian Junger’s tragic retelling of the story of the fishing boat Andrea Gail and her crew.

In 1991, the crew found themselves at the center of a lethal maelstrom of 100-foot-high waves off the coast of North America.

The first part of the book follows the fishermen and their families as they go about their daily lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

This gives the reader more emotional weight to the reconstruction of their doomed voyage into the storm in the second half.

Sadly, neither the ship nor any of the crew was ever found, which is why this is one of those books that will probably make you cry.

For books about shipwrecks, The Perfect Storm very effectively showcases just how helpless humans can be in the grip of the true forces of nature.

If you love movies based on books, The Perfect Storm was also made into a film in 2000 with George Clooney as the Captain of the Andrea Gail.

Read The Perfect Storm: Amazon | Goodreads

Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II by Robert Kurson book cover with blue underwater scene with bubbles or airstream floating up to the surface

Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II by Robert Kurson

This is one of the few nonfiction shipwreck books with a mystery!

In 1991, a team of divers investigating an unknown object sixty miles off the coast of New Jersey find that it is in fact a WWII German U-boat … which is surely a historical impossibility.

The team decides to keep the find a secret until they can claim ownership of the discovery.

But before long, the secret is out and the race is on to authenticate this historic find. Both the United States and German navies are denying the possibility of such a find in that area.

Author Robert Kurson covers the seven years from the discovery to the identification of the mysterious shipwreck.

As time wears on, the members of the exploration team change and altercations and rivalries begin to surface.

But while the undertaking would lead to the loss of the lives of three members who worked on the project, cooperation also leads to the foundation of lifelong friendships for others.

Shadow Divers is one of those books about shipwrecks that will leave you feeling like you were a part of the salvage mission yourself.

Read Shadow Divers: Amazon | Goodreads

The Terrible Hours: The Greatest Submarine Rescue in History by Peter Maas book cover with ship on dark sea with dark sky

The Terrible Hours: The Greatest Submarine Rescue in History by Peter Maas

On May 23, 1939, off the coast of New Hampshire, the Squalus (later renamed the USS Sailfish) suddenly sinks while running test dives.

26 crew members drown along with the sinking of the ship, but there are still 33 men stuck inside.

What caused the Squalus to sink? And more importantly, were the 33 crew members still alive?

The Terrible Hours recounts the disaster from two sides: those trapped within, and US Navy submariner and diver Charles “Swede” Momsen, who is determined to save them.

Author Peter Maas’ expert storytelling brings to life a historical figure seemingly forgotten in one of the best shipwreck books for submarine enthusiasts.

Having witnessed two sunken submarines where the trapped crew were left to die, Swede was horrified and became intent on finding a better solution.

Using innovation and his extensive knowledge of deep-sea diving, Swede risks his own life to do what he believes is the right thing.

If you’re disheartened by all the tragedy found in shipwreck books, then The Terrible Hours is for you.

Swede is by far one of the most inspiring characters found in any book about shipwrecks – and he was real! Everything in this book really happened.

Read The Terrible Hours: Amazon | Goodreads

Fictional Shipwreck Books

Dancing the Death Drill by Fred Khumalo book cover with ship on dark gray and blue water half sinking with cloudy sky

Dancing the Death Drill by Fred Khumalo

This exciting South African novel opens with a sudden and brutal murder in 1958 in Paris, France.

The head waiter of a restaurant – a Black man – kills two white patrons after one of them seemingly recognizes him.

As a reporter begins to investigate his motive, we are transported back to 1900 South Africa where we learn about the Boer War and the extraordinary story of Pitso Motaung’s birth and childhood.

When Pitso is sixteen, he volunteers to fight for the British in WWI and shortly after, boards the SS Mendi with several hundred fellow Africans.

A year later, off the coast of the Isle of Wight, the SS Mendi collides with another ship and 646 people die, nearly all of which are Black African volunteers.

Pitso survives and joins the fight in France once he’s fully recovered. But what he witnesses that night will haunt him for the next several decades of his life.

Clearly a true labor of love from author Fred Khumalo, this is one of the most beautifully written shipwreck books on this list.

Dancing the Death Drill is also one of our favorite books about ships in general – shipwrecks not guaranteed!

Read Dancing the Death Drill: Amazon | Goodreads

The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor by Gabriel García Márquez book cover with illustrated person's head and compasses with green and blue background

The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor by Gabriel García Márquez

Translated by Randolph Hogan

While author Gabriel García Márquez is usually able to write concise and gripping novellas, the full title of this story is a bit absurd and basically sums up the full story:

The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor: Who Drifted on a Liferaft for Ten Days Without Food or Water, Was Proclaimed a National Hero, Kissed by Beauty Queens, Made Rich Through Publicity, and Then Spurned by the Government and Forgotten for All Time.

On February 28, 1955, eight members of the Caldas military vessel were thrown overboard in rough waters.

Ten days later, Luis Alejandro Velasco miraculously made his way to shore on a liferaft. Of the eight who fell overboard, he was the only survivor.

While initially hailed as a hero, Velasco told the real story to Márquez, then a young reporter for the Columbian newspaper El Espectador.

What followed was a national scandal in Columbia and makes for one of the most scandalous real-life shipwreck stories.

Read The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor: Amazon | Goodreads

The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami book cover with geometric pattern with red, green, and yellow coloring

The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami

“El cuarto se llama Estevanico, es negro alárabe, natural de Azamor.” The fourth [survivor] is named Estevanico, a Black Arab from Azemmour [in Morocco].

This is all Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca wrote of Estevanico, a Black Arab slave, in his expedition notes and journals.

Yet, he was one of only four survivors of the 1527 Pánfilo de Narváez expedition which was shipwrecked in Florida.

In The Moor’s Account, Lalami finally gives Estevanico (Estebanico in the book) a voice.

Here he is Mustafa ibn Muhammad ibn Abdussalam al-Zamori, a young boy from Azemmour, Morocco, before being sold as a slave and stripped of his identity.

The book tells Estebanico’s story both before and after he is enslaved, jumping between Azemmour, the ship, and the United States’ southern coast.

Although relegated to a footnote by history, our Estebanico is a worldly, curious explorer who earns the trust and eventual friendship of the other survivors – his former enslavers – and thus changes all four men forever.

Over the course of eight years, the men battle illness and starvation and are enslaved and befriended by different Indigenous tribes as they attempt to find gold and get back to Spain.

The Moor’s Account is a beautifully crafted book full of friendship and turmoil. This is a must for anyone interested in books about shipwrecks and the aftermath.

Read The Moor’s Account: Amazon | Goodreads

Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura book cover with illustrated wave and landscape of islands and mountain

Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura

Set in medieval Japan, Shipwrecks is a brutal story about nine-year-old Isaku and the other members of his impoverished fishing village.

They fish whatever they can, but the ocean yields very little in their rocky cove.

Instead, desperate for food, they lure in nearby ships, and once shipwrecked, they murder any survivors and raid the cargo.

But one of these shipwrecked vessels might prove more dangerous than any of the villagers could have possibly anticipated.

Shipwrecks is a terrifying shipwreck book, covering themes like hardship, desperation, and loss.

Anyone looking for excellent books about shipwrecks and meditations on life can’t go wrong with this Japanese novella.

Travel to Japan with even more books about, from, and set there.

Read Shipwrecks: Amazon | Goodreads

Join The Uncorked Reading Challenge Today


Travel around the world with the Uncorked Reading Challenge. Get the best book and movie recs straight to your inbox. Sign Up Now.

The Sea Wolf by Jack London book cover with ship with sails on stormy water

The Sea Wolf by Jack London

While White Fang and Call of the Wild are author Jack London’s vastly more well-known works, we think The Sea Wolf is possibly his best book and easily one of the best shipwreck books.

The story opens with literary critic Humphrey “Hump” van Weyden aboard the Martinez off the coast of San Francisco.

But when the Martinez collides with another ship one foggy day and both ships sink, Hump suddenly finds himself rescued by captain Wolf Larsen of the Ghost; a seal-hunting ship headed for Japan.

Wolf is a cruel but brilliant captain, ruling over his crew mercilessly. He is joined by his brother, Death Larsen, who despite his name is bullied by his brother with the rest of the crew.

During their journey, Wolf and Hump discuss the meaning of life, although like everyone else on the Ghost, Hump is more than happy to submit to Wolf’s will.

Far more entertaining and ridiculous than the likes of Moby Dick, this and other classic books about shipwrecks are the ones we should have been reading all along!

Read The Sea Wolf: Amazon | Goodreads

When the Night Comes by Favel Parrett book cover with red ship in the water

When the Night Comes by Favel Parrett

The Nella Dan was a Danish ship, part of an arctic fleet of four along with the Kista Dan, Magga Dan, and Thala Dan.

She maintained a largely Danish crew but was leased to the Australian government for 26 years.

During that time, she predominantly sailed back and forth between Tasmania, Antarctica, and various islands along the way, and maintains the longest-serving record of any other Antarctic ship.

Sadly, in 1987, the MV Nella Dan was run aground in Antarctica, and despite numerous protests to preserve the ship, she was scuttled (purposefully sunk) later that year.

Following her parents’ separation, Isla, her brother, and their mother move to Hobart, but Isla carries with her an impenetrable sadness.

However, her life is irrevocably changed one afternoon when she sees a beautiful red ship and a man waving to her. This man’s name is Bo and he is the cook on the Nella Dan.

Bo befriends Isla and shows her the ins and outs of this ship he calls home.

When the Night Comes isn’t exactly one of your typical shipwreck books; instead, it tells the story of the Nella Dan’s final summers in Hobart, Tasmania.

Parrett’s prose is captivating, transporting you to those Australian summers and the interior of the Nella Dan, who is, really, the stand-out character of the book.

Travel to Australia with even more great books.

Read When the Night Comes: Amazon | Goodreads

More Stories About Shipwrecks From Christine

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys book cover with three pairs of different size and sex shoes

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

If you are looking for fictional books about shipwrecks for teens and enjoy World War 2 historical fiction, Ruta Sepetys will shed light on the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff.

It’s 1945, and the Soviet arming is advancing, forcing three teenagers, Emilia, Joana, and Florian, to flee.

The Wilhelm Gustloff is their only hope of safe passage to Germany via the Baltic Sea, and the journey to the ship is treacherous.

Even so, they travel with a newfound community of unlikely and lovable friends. Will all of them make it to the ship alive, and what happens when they do?

Unfortunately, history teaches us that a Soviet torpedo strike will kill more than 9,000 (mostly) women and children aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff.

Salt to the Sea is a strong shipwreck book for young readers looking to learn more about Polish, WW2, and Baltic history.

Plus, Emilia and Joanna are two inspiring young women in historical fiction.

Just keep in mind that the novel focuses more on the journey to the ill-fated ship versus the period after the shipwreck.


Read Salt to the Sea: Amazon | Goodreads | Review | Discussion Guide

Life of Pi by Yann Martel book cover with illustrated tiger on boat in middle of the ocean

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

For shipwreck books, Life of Pi will be one of the most thought-provoking.

A novel that begins in India, Pi Patel is a zookeeper’s son. At 16, he is also embracing many religions, choosing to be a devout Hindu, Christian, and Muslim.

While moving to Canada, Pi survives a shipwreck only to find himself on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, Richard Parker, and a few of the other animals aboard. Well

We watch as Pi and Richard Parker spend 227 days together as they struggle to survive.

A Man Booker Prize award-winner, cat lovers as well as readers who enjoy books set on boats will find something in Life of Pi along with commentary on religion and life.

Read Life of Pi: Amazon | Goodreads

Save The Best Books About Shipwrecks For Later:

Books About Shipwrecks Pinterest pin with image of sunken skip underwater with scuba diver and book covers including Shadow Divers, Sixteen Shipwrecks, The Moor's Account, The Terrible Hours, Dead Wake, Island of the Lost, The Perfect Storm, and When The Night Comes
Did you find a new book about shipwrecks to read? Save this list for later, and travel across the ocean with The Uncorked Librarian.

Grab these stories about shipwrecks here:

1. Book of the Month: Get the month’s hottest new and upcoming titles from Book of the Month. You might snag an early release or debut author. Along with selecting a book a month, find terrific add-ons, both trendy and lesser-known titles.
2. Audible Plus: From Amazon, listen to Amazon Originals, podcasts, and audiobooks. They add new titles every week.
3. Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans: With over 1 million titles, enjoy unlimited reading and listening. Kindle Unlimited also features magazine subscriptions and books to borrow.
4. Amazon Prime: Don’t miss Amazon First Reads – early access to Kindle books. Get fast delivery as well as movies, music, Originals, shows, and more.

Writer Dagney McKinney white female with light brown hair wearing a purple shirt and smiling

Thank you to TUL contributor, Dagney McKinney

Dagney (pronouns: any) is a neurodivergent writer who loves all things macabre and weird. She likes outrageously spicy food, long walks through graveyards, and historical tangents. You’ll most likely find her wandering around somewhere quiet or underground, buying salt, or whispering to camels.

What shipwreck book do you most recommend?

What shipwreck books do you recommend and why? Let us know in the comments.

More Reading Lists You Might Enjoy:

Books About Mermaids
Island-Based Books

This reading list also pairs well with our 2023 Uncorked Reading Challenge.