The multi-month expedition undertaken by the U.S. Navy to the Holy Land and led by Lt. William F. Lynch in 1848 rates as one of the most exotic the service has ever undertaken. At a time when the navy consisted of only eleven thousand officers and men and in general stayed on well-worn routes, setting off to the Dead Sea, not for any military purpose but in search of Sodom and Gomorrah, ranks as a folly. But the mission had serious scientific purposes, was professionally executed, and provides to this day important information on the Jordan River and its associated lakes. (This author cited Lynch's report at length in a 1988 article.)

Jampoler clearly took great pleasure in writing this very detailed account of the Lynch expedition, gamboling after topics that are not, strictly speaking, essential to his text (such as the marital infidelities of Lynch's wife while he was at sea or the connection between the city of Sodom and the jailing of Oscar Wilde). He satisfyingly tracks down references, provides historical context, and gives those details necessary to make the nearly yearlong trip come alive. But the author's focus is almost exclusively American, so that the Middle East of the time feels more like a colorful and unchanging backdrop than an alive and dynamic foreground. Any reader who would approach Sailors in the Holy Land from the point of view of learning about Palestine a century and a half back will be disappointed; for such readers, there is no replacing the accounts of the participants, including Lynch's two books and those of other participants, John S. Jenkins and Edward Montague.