By age 21, Joshua Slocum, a Canadian bootmaker's son, had sailed around the world twice and nearly died as many times. Then, says Geoffrey Wolff in The Hard Way Around: The Passages of Joshua Slocum (Knopf, $26), things got interesting: He became a pioneering cod fisherman; married twice; raised four children at sea and lost three more to disease; fended off three mutinies; killed one of those mutineers; and circumnavigated the globe alone from 1895–1898. His understated account, 1900's Sailing Alone Around the World, remains an adventure-lit classic. But Wolff's book, written in muscular, academic prose, fills in the gaps on either end of that epic, both savory (Slocum was hopelessly devoted to his first wife, Virginia, who died young) and not (he was falsely accused of rape late in life). Wolff does no theorizing about the cause of Slocum's mysterious death, which occurred sometime between 1908, when he set off for the Amazon, and 1924, when the world press finally acknowledged his mortality. Instead, Wolff focuses on the legend at the peak of his powers, portraying Slocum as an underappreciated writer and (mostly) honorable man who fought to uphold a craft threatened by the rise of steamships—not because he chose to but because he had no choice. "A genius at navigation, dead reckoning, calculating lunar tables, and surviving tempests," Wolff writes, "he was frequently lost on land."