Author, Paul Stack, makes his debut with this arresting novel which masterfully weaves in historical facts with a fictional narrative.
The Leviathan is based upon actual events and is the result of over 15 years of research.
Set in the mid-1800s, it is a time of great unrest in the United States with the Civil War raging and defining the relationship of the States with Great Britain.
Across the ocean an ambitious project is underway led by the most respected engineers of his time Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The Leviathan was to be the greatest cargo vessel ever built, from its inception to the tortuous launch the project was riddled with obstacles and some would even say was cursed.
The author takes us on a journey where the reader gets a front seat view of how two continents, their leaders and citizens, forge their destiny and that of two nations.
“Leviathan is a historical narrative unlike any other. On the one hand, it presents a rich and illuminating picture of social, political, technological, and emotional life on both sides of the Atlantic at the time of the Civil War. On the other hand, it presents a gripping narrative of an event that – if it happened – made possible the Union victory in 1865, and – if it didn’t happen – brings to imaginative life the obscure human events that combine to produce massive historical change. This is a rare book that is as instructive as it is exciting. “Edward Mendelson, professor of English and Comparative Literature and the Lionel Trilling Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University
“The Leviathan is a very unusual and gripping Civil War novel replete with a richly developed supporting cast of Victorian-era characters. The real protagonist, however, is the iron behemoth, Great Eastern. Launched amidst great fanfare in 1858 and seemingly cursed even before its massive hull floated on the Thames, the steamship was way ahead of its time. Indeed, it wasn’t duplicated in technology or size until the 20th century. Throughout the novel, the black monster looms menacingly, dominating the story until the very last thrilling page.” Jan Herman, former historian of the Navy Medical Department and author of THE LUCKY FEW: The Fall of Saigon and the Rescue Mission of the USS Kirk:
“Riveting: meticulously researched, skillfully constructed, morally wrenching, and deeply sobering as a portrait of the not-so-United States at the outset of the Civil War. This is not only a terrific story, but also one whose thesis about the critical early turning point of the War very well may be true.” Marguerite Shuster, Harold John Ockenga Prof. Emerita of Preaching and Theology, Fuller Theological Seminary, and author of The Fall and Sin: What We Have Become as Sinners
An avid historian, Paul Stack practiced law in Chicago for over forty-six years.
After graduating from Georgetown’s law school, he worked as a law clerk for a federal judge, served as an assistant US attorney, and eventually founded his own firm.
Paul Stack’s impetus for penning The Leviathan originated when his wife, Nia, gifted him a book about The Great Eastern which she purchased at a used books store. From there, it took arduous research and piecing together hundreds of historical content to bring the story of The Leviathan to life.
Stack talked to Gotta Write Network about his experience making his writing debut.
The book weaves a fictional story into actual historical anecdotes. What made you decided to take this approach.
The use of fiction was necessary to make the story comprehensible. When I finally understood the engravings on the trochus shell, it seemed obvious to me that a third man was involved in the events of September 12, 1861. No one had ever written about these events and there was no information as to this man’s identity. Therefore, I gave him a name and a background which I believed was consistent with what he did. The background was necessarily fictional. At no time, however, did I change an established fact. In other words, the fiction was used to fill in blanks, and not to change what actually happened.
What can someone reading your book expect to come away with?
I spent 15 years reading thousands of documents, newspapers, and correspondence written from 1858 to 1861. In the course of that reading, I learned much about that period which I didn’t know. I’ve tried, to the best of my ability, to place the reader in that period and to have the reader understand, from the dialogue of characters and from contemporary documents, the complexity of events then unfolding in both the United States and England. I believe after finishing the book the reader will find the origins and causes of the Civil War more understandable.
When doing research for the book, what three discoveries about the Leviathan surprised you the most?
Its dark history. During its construction two workers, a man and a boy, were widely believed to have been accidentally sealed in the ship’s double hull. In fact, when the ship was broken up many years later their remains were found.
During its trial run a steam explosion occurred which blew one of the ship’s five funnels off the deck and then scalded five coal stokers to death.
Just before the explosion, the ship’s designer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, collapsed on the deck of the ship. A few days later, when Brunel heard about the explosion, he expired.
The original captain of the ship drowned a short distance from the ship as he was taking a skiff to go home for the evening.
These and other catastrophes led to a public perception that the ship was cursed.
Although the ship was designed to carry 4,000 passengers, it carried only 35 paying passengers on its maiden voyage to New York. In 2013, Sting released a song called “The Ballad of the Great Eastern” which is currently on youtube.com. It gives a musical sense of the dark, almost evil, ship which was initially christened “Leviathan,” the name of the sea monster in the Book of Job which represents the forces of chaos and evil.
Its size. If the ship were in existence today, it would be larger than any ship currently in the United States Navy except for aircraft carriers. Its side wheels were six stories tall and its propeller, with a diameter of 24 feet, appears to remain the largest propeller ever built. Its coal bunkers were five times the size of the Titanic’s. It was the first ocean-going ship built entirely of iron and weighed 25,000 tons.
Its designer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, is not well-known in the United States. This is not true in the UK. The BBC did a poll in 2001 to determine the public’s opinion of the 100 greatest Britons. Winston Churchill came in first and Brunel came in second, beating Shakespeare, Princess Diana, Sir Isaac Newton, John Lennon, and Charles Darwin, among others. There are statutes of Brunel throughout the United Kingdom, and a university is named after him. I believe it’s time to introduce him to an American audience.
Who is your favorite character from the book (fictional or actual)?
That’s a tough one. I’m going to hedge and say I ended up with admiration for two characters – William Seward, the US Secretary of State, and Dudley Mann, the former Assistant U.S. Secretary of State who in the course of the story became the Confederate commissioner to the United Kingdom. Seward and Mann were both intelligent and resourceful diplomats who had known and respected each other before the outbreak of the war. Neither man was a slave owner.
After the shelling of Fort Sumter, each man understood how bloody a civil war would end up becoming. Each man in his own way tried to avoid a civil war, Seward by creating an altercation with European powers and Mann by inducing England to lift the blockade and recognize the Confederacy.
Both men failed in their efforts and, as Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, “the war came.” Approximately 700,000 persons, mostly young men, died brutally, from artillery, musketry, disease, and starvation, a result that Lincoln called “astounding.
For more information about the book visit https://theleviathan.info/
Pages: 540, Size: 6×9
Perfect Bound Softcover (B/W)