Format Hardcover
Publication Date 07/04/23
ISBN 9781639364176
Trim Size / Pages 6 x 9 in / 384

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Completely Mad

Tom McClean, John Fairfax, and the Epic Race to Row Solo Across the Atlantic

James R. Hansen

From the New York Times bestselling author of The First Man comes a sweeping saga involving two extraordinary—and extraordinarily different—adventurers who have only one thing in common: the ambition to cross the Atlantic in a rowboat . . . alone.

In this bracing adventure tale, the story of John Fairfax and Tom McClean are woven together for the first time. Fairfax would set off from the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa with his sights on Florida. McClean charted a course from Newfoundland to Ireland.

The two men couldn’t have been more different. John Fairfax was a golden-haired playboy, gambler, whiskey, gun smuggler, and ex-pirate who blamed his boat often, and who brazenly took time off from his goal of reaching America to hop aboard large ships for a drink, a shower, and good food. He courted the press like a modern-day Richard Branson or Elon Musk.

The egoless Tom McClean was an orphan with a tough, Dickensian childhood, who ran off to become a British paratrooper and later joined the SAS (his training rivaled the U.S. Navy Seals). Tom was a purist who loved his boat Silver and never once took time off from rowing to sun himself on a remote beach or jump aboard a cruise ship. After 70 days, he landed on the rocky coast of Ireland to no fanfare and headed straight to the nearest pub.

Though the two men’s remarkable transoceanic journeys seem pulled from a different era, both finished within days of the first landing on the Moon: July 20th, 1969.

Filled with gale-force winds, backbreaking effort, menacing sharks, playful dolphins, awing natural beauty, great mishaps, failed equipment, hyperthermia, near-drowning, the fighting of mental and physical lethargy, creative problem-solving, phantom illusions on the water, and glorious moments of bliss, Completely Mad stands alongside other classics of ocean adventure.

With gripping and insightful prose, James R. Hansen brings to life Fairfax and McClean's expeditions, from their battle with the elements to their own inner demons. Completely Mad is a nail-biting, epic tale of endurance, and readers will be gripped until the end to find out who won.

James R. Hansen is professor emeritus of history at Auburn University. A former historian for NASA, Hansen is the author of fourteen books involving air and space and exploration. His 2005 book First Man, the only authorized biography of Neil Armstrong, has on two separate occasions appeared on the New York Times Bestseller list and has been translated into two dozen languages. In 1995 NASA nominated his book Spaceflight Revolution for a Pulitzer Prize, the only time the U.S. space agency has ever made such a nomination. His 2009 book, Truth, Lies, and O-Rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster, has been called by reviewers “the definitive study” of the Challenger accident. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama.

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Endorsements & Reviews

"The story of the 1969 race to be the first person to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean. In a page-turning narrative, Hansen shares the personal background of each contender as well as the challenges they faced along their nautical journeys, particularly noting the contrasts between the two men. The remarkable adventures of two men fighting nature and their own demons." Kirkus Reviews
"Hansen’s spirited entry provides a riveting examination of the human will to survive, and readers will be fascinated—if occasionally mystified—by the determination the men displayed. This is perfect for those seeking adventure without leaving their couch." Publishers Weekly
"This remarkable book captures a little known adventure that in many ways was just as amazing—and even more harrowing—than Apollo 11.”
Andrew Chaikin, author of A Man on the Moon
“Hansen's book is the best adventure book I have ever read. Hansen skillfully tells the story of two men who fathomed the unfathomable - to become the first to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean. It is an incredible story: real, enthralling, and absolutely inspiring. I had to discover how these two men rowed through titanic storms and currents and continued on when all seemed lost. I loved this book!" Lynne Cox, author of Swimming to Antarctica 
"James Hansen has proven himself to be a terrific storyteller about voyages and history, and Completely Mad combines both of these notable talents. Here he relates the story of two young men, Tom McClean and John Fairfax, and the sea, both engaged in, yes, mad quests to row across the Atlantic in a time—the summer of 1969—when jets or spacecraft accomplished the journey in hours or minutes. You will travel with them on their competing journeys, tasting salt, fearing sharks, fighting the sea in this skewered mirror of a space race in this wildly engaging narrative." Michael Cassutt, author of Deke! and The Astronaut Maker
"James Hansen is already an acknowledged expert in turning the lives of pioneering loners into gripping and insightful reads. Now he explores the exciting tale of two solo explorers each attempting to cross the Atlantic alone, in a battle with each other, with the elements, and with their own personal limits. Completely Mad is a nail-biting, epic tale of endurance—I was racing to the end to see who won." Francis French, author of In The Shadow of the Moon
Praise for James R. Hansen
“A fine authorized biography brimming with groundbreaking research, fresh anecdotes and fair-minded analysis. Hansen should be commended for decoding the enigmatic Armstrong: a space hero short on words but sky-high on Midwestern integrity.” Douglas Brinkley, The New York Times Book Review
“Hansen's mastery of detail is put to splendid use. The narrative of the moon mission is crisp and dramatic, the science clear. A compelling and nuanced portrait." The Chicago Tribune
"This impressively documented and engagingly written biography will stand the test of time." Library Journal