Paris, 1818. Post-Napoleon, everything’s sliding back into the old ways, including total incompetence by noble appointees. The Medusa, part of a small flotilla of boats sent from France to re-assert control over the western Africa colony of Senegal, founders on a reef due to the blithe incompetence of a nobly-connected pilot. While the nobles set off for the coast in the only decent boat, most of the crew is set adrift on a jury-rigged raft. For harrowing days on the Atlantic searches in vain for rescue. Scandalized by the French court’s indifference to this monstrous injustice, artist Theodore Gericault decides to create a massive oil painting of the peak moment of the ordeal. The author has created scenes in Gericault’s life from sublime to grisly, making this book a must-read for historical novel enthusiasts. The painting, famous in its genre (you've seen it before, probably), is all the more powerful for the recounting in the novel of the actual ordeal by some of the traumatized survivors. If only the ending had been a bit stronger. It’s a 4.