Dana's reputation rests solely upon a single book. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Dana was the son of the elder Richard Henry Dana, a minor New England poet and a founder of the North American Review. He received a fairly conventional early education in the Boston area and entered Harvard College in 1831. Health and eye problems interrupted his studies several times, and finally, in hopes of regaining his strength, Dana shipped out on the sailing vessel The Pilgrim in 1834 as a common sailor. He remained at sea for two years, much of that time gathering hides off the California coast, which was still under Mexican rule. From these experiences he soon produced his great masterpiece, Two Years Before the Mast (1840). Upon his return to Boston, Dana completed his studies at Harvard and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1840, the same year he completed Two Years Before the Mast. Because of his experiences and his passionate commitment to the rights of the common sailor, he specialized in maritime law, soon earning himself the nickname, "the sailors' lawyer." His work on behalf of sailors in both the courts and the popular press led to important reforms in the conditions of their lives and the terms of their employment. Active also in the still unpopular cause of abolition, Dana alienated himself from the rich and powerful, those proper Bostonians who controlled so much of the world to which Dana was drawn by his political ambitions.