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In the opening pages of Moby Dick, Herman Melville called New Bedford, Massachusetts, “the dearest place to live in, in all of New England.” But the old fishing port and manufacturing center—once one of the richest cities in New England—has withered in the modern economy. Its once-prosperous fishermen now struggle with government regulations and fished-out seas, while its empty factories now offer more work to the Fire Department than anyone else.
In Down at the Docks, Rory Nugent tells the “riches to rags” story of this iconic American town through beautifully told and unsentimental portraits of its residents. Their lives inform a eulogy to the distinctive ideas, traditions, and culture that is about to disappear from the waterfront.
“A bare-knuckled, take-no-prisoners account. . . . Filled with some of the finest stories you will ever read in print. . . . Down at the Docks is the song Jimmy Buffett wishes he could write.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Unforgettable. . . . Full of commercial fishing lore, the customs of the sea, and characters who are more than colorful. It celebrates self-reliant individualism among a dying breed.” —National Geographic Adventure
“Powerful. . . . An engrossing and in many ways unorthodox study of the life and times of a city. . . . Nugent’s acute ear and unique voice—now irreverent, now elegiac, always surprising—bring to unruly life not only this tough town but also a vanishing America.” —Boston Globe
“A movingly profane lament. . . . Mr. Nugent speaks with just and salty outrage on behalf of rough men ‘on the wrong side of tomorrow.’” —Wall Street Journal
“Nugent strings together his subjects’ boasts, banter, and laments into an engagingly anecdotal social history, fleshed out by strokes of fine description.” —The New Yorker
“Nugent has a knack for getting people to talk, and their sometimes harrowing, sometimes hilarious stories of late-night marijuana drops, work injuries and weeklong benders capture a world of entrepreneurial independence and fearsome risk.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Gritty. . . . Nugent has a nose for sleaze, and he evokes it with panache. . . . [His] enthusiasm for the disreputable is limitless. . . . [His] style is crisp and muscular.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“There aren’t so many of those closed universes left in America, places where people share skill, custom, vocabulary, ethos, morality. Rory Nugent’s New Bedford is one of the holdouts, and it is described here with compassion and skill and humor. A classic American book.” —Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy
“Nugent’s homage to his adoptive home port, a moving and desperate book, is at once a chronicle, ramble, reminiscence, expose, epitaph and screed. Down at the Docks could only have been written by a lover who lived there, a muscled stylist and visionary of a triumphant sadness.” —The Washington Times
“An extraordinary document, a witnessing of something essential from the inside. It made me think of James Agee, Steinbeck, Joseph Mitchell, Oscar Lewis. . . . It’s a book that will be remembered after the docks disappear, a book people will refer to. The lives are epic and pathetic, the way all of our lives are.” —Michael Greenberg, author of Hurry Down Sunshine
“Unflinching. . . . Dark and richly comic. . . . Nugent is remorseless and brilliant and he uses New Bedford as a briny stage to frame post-industrial America with all its waste, excess and corruption.” —The Standard-Times (New Bedford, MA)
“A hard, unvarnished look at New Bedford today. . . . Melville would have been shocked to see what has become of what he called ‘the dearest town to live in, in all of New England.’ Rory Nugent tells the fascinating story of New Bedford the way it really is, not the way wistful romantics would like to remember it.” —Richard Ellis, author of Men and Whales and Tuna: Love, Death, and Mercury
“Smashing. . . . Writing with an eye for trouble like Raymond Chandler’s, Nugent limns a city that visitors won’t see and probably can’t. . . . What brings this terrific mix of oddballs, goofballs, and tough guys together is Nugent’s great eye for detail and his uncanny way with description.” —Providence Journal
“No writer I can think of, unless it is Sebastian Junger, might have written this obsessed, intrepid, and intelligent book. . . . Poignant and thrilling. Nugent has brought to life a world within a world.” —Alec Wilkinson, author of The Happiest Man in the World
“Unvarnished. . . . A timely look at an industrial city in an increasingly digital world.” —Tucson Citizen
“One of our most intrepid and intriguing traveling writers, Rory Nugent brings to life an incredibly exotic subculture right in our backyard.” —Alex Shoumatoff, author of Legends of the American Desert
“Lively, fascinating, and challenging. Rory Nugent has found the last of New Bedford’s indomitable fishermen, and the past comes roaring back to life just in time to make us think more deeply about the future of the seas.” —Tony Hiss, author of The Experience of Place
“A passionately authentic fish story, as well a modern answer to Moby Dick, Nugent’s language rushes towards the reader filled with dockside lore. . . . Down At The Docks has the attributes of a classic.” —Rudolf Wurlitzer, author of Hard Travel to Sacred Places