Book Review – A Captain’s Duty (Richard Phillips)

Posted: January 13, 2014 in Books

Not a title I would have chosen for myself, but it was a Xmas pressie so decided to give it a go. The book is the basis for the film Captain Phillips.  Richard Phillips was the captain of a merchant ship which was captured by Somali pirates in 2009. The book deals with the events just before, during and just after the hijack.


The first person narrative tone takes a bit of getting used to. It’s done in the way as if Phillips was sitting across a table from you telling what went down. That’s got its good and bad points. In some ways the words and language he chooses are very homely and to a non-American at times just plain irritating! But at the same time it also comes across as very natural. There are quite a lot of anecdotes about his life prior to the incident and again its down to the reader whether these are endearing or annoying.

To be blunt about it I found Captain Phillips as a person to be someone with whom I have nothing in common at all.  If we met in a bar we’d struggle to find common grounds for conversation.  So putting Phillips as a person to one side , what’s he like as a captain?

This was where the book really improved. I know nothing at all about merchant ships other than they are the big things on the water moving stuff about. Phillips did a superb job on conveying what was happening on the ship without being too techy, but managing to get his meaning across clearly.  I was slightly apprehensive about the ‘ship’ aspects to the book before reading it. Would I get lost in the detail and end up just giving up? No fear. It was all handled briefly and interestingly.

Phillips the captain is quite a character. He is the hero of the book, yet as he writes  he comes across as a pretty humble guy and that balances up with the homeliness of the more personal chapters. While dealing with the pirates he manages to outsmart them most of the time and it pretty obvious he’s extremely competent as a captain.

I liked that he included details of what his mistakes while dealing with the pirates were and also what he was thinking when he made those mistakes – and oh yes, he made a few. There were certainly a couple of things which seemed blindingly obvious to me which he just didn’t think of. Yet at the same time he came up with some things I’d never have thought of in a million years.

Being so clearly based on an actual incident there is no major surprise in the ending. The intriguing thing is how the journey to that end point was made.  The book is not overly detailed, it comes in at just under 300 pages with some pretty big spacing, so it’s not exactly challenging on either the eye or the brain.

Overall verdict: I’m glad I’ve read it, it was enjoyable but I can’t ever see me reading it again. Quite a page tuner but you get through it pretty quickly. Rating – 3.5/5. Good, worth reading but far from challenging. A pleasant way to spend a couple of hours but it won’t exactly change your life.

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