Nugent, whose previous books took him to India and the Congo, describes his sometime home of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Long famous for whaling--Melville set sail from there--the city remains a major fishing port and produces the most valuable annual catch of any in the country. But in the past two decades consolidation and legislation have shackled what Nugent eulogizes as the fleets' "frontier mentality." This canny self-reliance took a variety of forms; Nugent documents two kinds of insurance fraud and a 'night menu' of drugs smuggled to supplement the legitimate catch. Nugent strings together his subjects' boats, banter and laments into an engagingly anecdotal social history, fleshed out by strokes of fine descriptive writing: on a windless day, boat exhaust "flattens as it exits each stack, forming oily pancakes which curl heavenward at the edges."