Usually it takes me a few weeks to read a nonfiction book, but I read this good old-fashioned tale of adventure in just a few days. While its premise alone should be enough to make you want to read this inspiring true story, the details and twists of The Stowaway will leave you shaking your head in disbelief. Exciting, charming, and surprisingly funny, it is both an engrossing portrait of a young man hellbent on living a life of adventure and an insightful examination of a transformative time in American history.
January 2018 Indie Next List
“The story of Billy Gawronski, the young man who repeatedly tried to join Richard Byrd's Antarctic expedition, reads like an adventure novel. The reality of his life is beyond the realm of the wildest imagination. Shapiro brings this resilient and resourceful man to life against the changing world of the Roaring Twenties, and his story perfectly reflects a world undergoing vast change. Combining narrative, science, and portraits of outsized personalities, Shapiro treats the reader to a story that is not only relevant but a total joy.”
— Bill Cusumano, Square Books, Oxford, MS
Winter 2018 Reading Group Indie Next List
“Usually I shy away from nonfiction, but I was riveted by this tenacious young stowaway’s journey to Antarctica. Shapiro wrangles a large cast of characters, and the breadth of her research is astounding. The Stowaway is accessible and intellectually stimulating; I learned so much.”
— Emily Perper, Curious Iguana, Frederick, MD
The spectacular, true story of a scrappy teenager from New York’s Lower East Side who stowed away on the Roaring Twenties’ most remarkable feat of science and daring: an expedition to Antarctica.
It was 1928: a time of illicit booze, of Gatsby and Babe Ruth, of freewheeling fun. The Great War was over and American optimism was higher than the stock market. What better moment to launch an expedition to Antarctica, the planet’s final frontier? There wouldn’t be another encounter with an unknown this magnificent until Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon.
Everyone wanted in on the adventure. Rockefellers and Vanderbilts begged to be taken along as mess boys, and newspapers across the globe covered the planning’s every stage. And then, the night before the expedition’s flagship set off, Billy Gawronski—a mischievous, first-generation New York City high schooler desperate to escape a dreary future in the family upholstery business—jumped into the Hudson River and snuck aboard.
Could he get away with it?
From the soda shops of New York’s Lower East Side to the dance halls of sultry Francophone Tahiti, all the way to Antarctica’s blinding white and deadly freeze, Laurie Gwen Shapiro’s The Stowaway takes you on the unforgettable voyage of a plucky young stowaway who became a Jazz Age celebrity, a mascot for an up-by-your bootstraps era.
About the Author
Laurie Gwen Shapiro is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and journalist. The Stowaway is her first full-length work of nonfiction.
“Shapiro has rescued from oblivion a wondrous tale of exploration. The Stowaway is a thrilling adventure that captures not only the making of a man but of a nation.” — David Grann, bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon
“A high-concept true story for the ages.... Shapiro narrates this period piece with gusto.” — Los Angeles Times
“The Stowaway proves that fact is stranger and funnier and more amazing than fiction. Laurie Gwen Shapiro artfully draws the reader into the tale of Billy Gawronski, a dreamer and adventurer. Through the wild story of his travels to Antarctica, we see history come vividly to life.” — Susan Orlean, bestselling author of Rin Tin Tin
“Laurie Gwen Shapiro wrote The Stowaway like a Jack London novel: with a sense of adventure, wonderful detail, a lineup of intriguing characters, and above all a great story. This is the best of nonfiction.” — Mark Kurlansky, bestselling author of Paper
“A fascinating window into... the exuberant 1920s and the crushing Depression that followed.... A must-read.” — USA Today
“The internet has made many kinds of historical research easier and quicker, but it can’t replace curiosity, diligence, and doggedness — not to mention luck and pluck. Those are human qualities, not e-attributes. And writer Laurie Gwen Shapiro has them all.... [The Stowaway is] small but wonderful... a book that would make a perfect gift for a spirited, adventure-seeking adolescent.” — Washington Independent Review of Books
“Novelistic.” — The New Yorker
“What has the world come to when sled dogs and short wave radio mix, when wooden sailing barks compete with aeroplanes, when ‘Eskimos’ figuratively dance with flappers, and all of this is captured and disseminated by the first public relations hucksters? Laurie Gwen Shapiro’s The Stowaway is magnificent.” — Bob Drury & Tom Clavin, bestselling authors of The Heart of Everything That Is
“The Stowaway tells one of the most engaging, but forgotten, stories from the Age of Exploration. A fascinating and charming book—I highly recommend it!” — Douglas Preston, bestselling author of The Lost City of the Monkey God
“Isn’t this how history sometimes is best told, when a passing curiosity melds with diligent work? The Stowaway is a charming book, a glimpse of history that, by definition, fascinates and delights.” — Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Inspired by [an] engrossing yet little-known case of derring-do, [The Stowaway] evokes the magic of early 20th-century New York.” —The New York Times
“Heady tonic.... [The Stowaway] shows us who we are, and what we’re trying to escape.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Laurie Gwen Shapiro's The Stowaway is full of twists, turns, and moments of pure wonder—both joy to read and a surprisingly insightful tale of scientific exploration at its generous and courageous best.” — Deborah Blum, bestselling author of The Poisoner’s Handbook
“A gripping, gritty, mischievous tale from an age of exploration and wonder. The Stowaway makes real history read like a boy’s adventure novel.” — Kevin Baker, bestselling author of Paradise Alley
“An engaging story, engagingly told, that makes the reader root for Billy... [and] prompts one to ponder the effects of social class on fate, and the special qualities that make some people push themselves to the limit.” — The Wall Street Journal
“Remarkable.” — The Telegraph (UK)
“Every now and then, history presents us with a life that seems almost impossible to believe. Such is the case with Billy Gavronski.... Shapiro offers a detailed look at... perhaps the last time an earthbound explorer was able to so dominate the public’s interest.” — Barnes & Noble (A Best History Book of January 2018)
“A true life adventure that reads like something out of a novel.” — Amazon (A Best History Book of January 2018)
“I read nonfiction almost exclusively... and I’ll be blunt: this has been a depressing year, filled with political works and stories of America’s decline and social disintegration. But Laurie Gwen Shapiro's fascinating book saved my reading year, offering an incredible story, and a reminder that American Exceptionalism once had real meaning.” — Publishers Weekly
“Entertaining as hell. There's no question that this is an adventure story for the ages.” — The Maine Edge
“If sheer gumption is a human trait as honorable as actual accomplishment, then we should build a statue to this bold immigrant son of an interior designer. In Shapiro’s splendid recount of Gawronski’s most famous feat, we’re taken upon a magnificent journey from the vantage of the ultimate outsider.” — The Bowery Boys
“An inspiring, not-to-be missed story. The Stowaway is not only Gawronski’s tale; it also highlights a time in our nation’s history when people thrilled to the excitement of exploration, and daring men and women... rose to unprecedented challenges.” — The Missourian
“Fascinating.... In 1928, explorers were the rock stars of their day.” — The Pilot
“An entertaining book that’s not just a profile of an adventurous teenager, but also a portrait of what it was like to go to edge of the world 90 years ago.” — The Verge
“How [Shapiro] conjures the atmosphere and hardships of seafaring life impresses... [and] Billy is a fascinating central character.” — New York Journal of Books
“Shapiro has revived the history of a once-celebrated stowaway to Antarctica in this well-wrought true tale of a young man who captured the hearts of millions and found adventure at sea.” — Booklist
“The narrative reads like a yarn from that era... [and] ultimately reveals as much about a country’s changing values as it does about one boy’s pluck.” — Kirkus Reviews
“An absorbing tale.” — Book Reporter
“This fascinating and exciting story contrasts the optimism and sense of progress of the 1920s with the devastation of the 1930s. Readers... will find much to delight in here.” — Library Journal