260 of 267 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping story of men lost at sea
There have been many great stories of survival and tragedy on the seas, and this book is one of the best of them. At one time the story of the Whaleship Essex was well known in America, but gradually that story faded into memory. Nathaniel Philbrick brings that memory back to life again with his very well written book. The main events in this book took place in the...
Published on May 26, 2000 by Robert Oliver
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile read for true account fans
First let me say I am a big fan of survival against all odds types of books. I have read and loved Alive, Forever on the Mountain, In Harms Way, etc. This would not rank up to those standards in my opinion. Of course those three books I mentioned had a big advantage - actual survivors for the author to interview. This event took place in 1820 so the author had less to go...
Published on February 3, 2010 by Bob Dennisuk
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260 of 267 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping story of men lost at sea,
There have been many great stories of survival and tragedy on the seas, and this book is one of the best of them. At one time the story of the Whaleship Essex was well known in America, but gradually that story faded into memory. Nathaniel Philbrick brings that memory back to life again with his very well written book. The main events in this book took place in the time period of 1819-1821. The Essex was based on Nantucket Island, and in the first part of the book there is a very interesting history of Nantucket and the Whaling Trade. Enough information is given so that we understand the world that the men of the Essex lived in, and the ordeal that lay before them. The Essex was believed to be a lucky ship, but that reputation of good luck would soon be overwhelmed at sea. After several months at sea, the Essex was attacked and rammed by an eighty-five foot whale. It is fascinating to read about the attack of the giant whale on the ship, and to realize that the attacking whale was the actual basis for the whale in "Moby Dick". The Essex was severely damaged and in danger of sinking after the whale attack, and the crew faced the grim prospect of a desperate journey in open boats across the Pacific Ocean. The story of their battle for survival with little food or hope of rescue will grip your heart. Terrible choices of survival had to be made, and there are graphic accounts of starvation and cannibalism in the book. This is truly the story of a great tragedy at sea, but there is also the hope and endurance that can sometimes be found even in the darkest moments. There are moments of wonder with thoughts and descriptions of whales and the ever changing sea. I recommend this book to everyone that loves the history of the Sea, and the spirit of survival against all odds.
195 of 207 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book that can be enjoyed several ways.,
All too often a book telling a story may also require that the equipment or the vessel used to be described. Much less frequent is the help of illustrations to let a reader who may know little to nothing about the construction (in this case) of a Whaling Vessel, understand the explanations and gain further enjoyment from the book. A further tribute to the Author is that the detail given of the ship The Essex and the implements of the Whaling Trade were of an appropriate length. Too long and the reader would have been lost in a maze of technical jargon, too little and understanding all that happened would not have been possible.
For anyone desirous of going much deeper into the History of Nantucket, or of Whaling, there are 39 pages of notes written in prose form at the end of the book. They are organized by chapter, and they are further supplemented by a Bibliography.
Mr. Philbrick clearly is a man qualified to relate this tale which records one of the more miserable tales of human suffering. It would have been easy and disappointing to let this story turn into a lurid 93 day telling of decisions and actions that no person should ever be forced to make. The Author maintained a scholarly approach, together with objectivity on some points of contention/speculation, of the events and how they may or may not actually have happened. He also offers insight into how these massive creatures communicate, and how that could have played a role in the collission.
The Author also relates modern day medical study and facts about what physical and emotional torments the survivors endured. I thought this was a welcome addition to the understanding of just how horrible this experience was.
This is the only book I have read on the History of the Essex. The book is readable even if your knowledge of ships, like mine, is near zero. And the story told without embellishment is both terrifying and amazing.
A very enjoyable book.
68 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Harrowingtale of survival,
In 1819 the whaleship Essex was rammed and sunk by a very large sperm whale. The ship sank and the crew was forced to sail across thousands of miles of the Pacific ocean fighting thirst and starvation. This was the story that inspired Melville's Moby Dick. It is absorbing, well researched, and reads like a good adventure novel, only it is true. It is elegant from start to finish and I say elegant because of its restraint. Philbrick had every chance to play this one for the bleacher seats, but didn't.
We could have gotten a long saga of castaways dying of thirst and starvation with all of the drama of a potboiler. He could have given us a day by day description of the sea trek, but instead the trek is mercifully taken up in 90 pages. (Don't fret, you will get the anxiety wobblies during this phase of the book.) Philbrick has fully researched the physiology of dying of starvation and thirst and spares us none of the details. To survive, the crew resorted to the drawing of lots, execution and cannibalism. We learn about the history, quite plentiful in fact, of survival cannibalism from the Raft of the Medusa to the Andean plane crash. It is not a book for the squeamish.
It is also a book about Nantucket, whaling, men at sea, celestial navigation, maritime commerce, and more. Never are the facts crammed down us like so many notecards in the author's collection, but are deliciously laid out in the context of the story. It is not a long book, but it doesn't seem to short either. Like most good books, it made me want to learn more about the subject, in this case the fascinating history of whaling.
42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting, harrowing account--terrifying and gripping,
After reading and re-reading Junger's The Perfect Storm last summer, I wondered if it were only a fluke that a land-lover like myself could become so engrossed in a maritime yarn. After reading In the Heart of the Sea, it is clear that this was no fluke. With little to no experience with nautical life, I was quickly caught up in this drama at sea.
Like Junger, Philbrick recounts a historical, nonfiction tale with the drama and tension exceeding much of today's bestselling fiction. His attention to detail gives a documentary feel and paints a vivid portrait of the struggle of survival. Specifically, I was continually impressed with the way Philbrick wove the specific details of whale hunting and sailing with the driving narrative--a narrative that will keep the pages turning quickly.
In addition, Philbrick writes with a keen sense of imagery, pulling the reader into the story by appealing to all senses. As a result, the reader finds him/herself caught up in the drama and excitement of the hunt, filled with dread as the situation looks hopeless, aghast at the suffering, and finally, contemplative of the decisions made.
There are no easy answers to the questions raised by this book. Instead, the drama offers a chance to consider and reconsider the drive of survival and the human spirit. Narratives of life and death situations are almost inherently gripping; however, because of Philbrick's skills as a writer, this book does more than entertain--it provokes thought, raising issues that do not end with the final page.
40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True Adventure of Castaways Battling Nature and Themselves,
"In the Heart of the Sea" is a very good book. Like "The Perfect Storm", to which it will obviously be compared to, the author balances the story with historic and scientific background information. The combination works very well, informing the reader with fascinating tidbits while leaving him or her gripped in the thralls of a great tale.
This is the story of the whaleship Essex, out of Nantucket on a two year voyage to the Pacific in search of the early nineteenth century's liquid gold, whale oil. The unthinkable happens. A usually docile sperm whale, although large enough to sink a wooden ship, does just that. Rammed twice by an 85 foot leviathan of the sea, the crew takes to three whale boats while its ship is crushed and rendered useless. The resulting ninety day journey is a story of hope, discipline, tragic mistakes, and ever present thirst and starvation which leads the men ever closer to having to execute the "law of the sea" in order to survive.
Nathaniel Philbrick weaves first person accounts from survivors, a concise history of Nantucket and the work of catching and rendering whales as well as the physiology of the giant sea mammels and starvation into a first rate book. I read this over three days -- it moves very quickly. The author has a talent for fleshing out his common whalemen so that they are interesting and distinct characters without sacrificing authenticity and fact.
If you liked "The Perfect Storm" or Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air," you'll find "In the Heart of the Sea" very much in the same vein. A story of people under terrible physical and mental assault which the reader could not imagine enduring, coupled with a superbly explained telling of the issues at hand that is well set in its place and time.
Highly recommended -- you may want to finish this one all at once.
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tragic Epic,
I thought this book was a fairly good account of the disaster that took place on the Essex. It was lacking in detail in a few places, but was adequately informative in others. This book was an easy and quick read, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading about real-life adventures.
44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Riveting account of little-known disaster,
This review is from: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (Audio Cassette)
I would recommend without reservation this audio book abridgement of THE HEART OF THE SEA. Anyone who has an interest in suvival stories, or sea yarns would love this one. The tragedy of the Nantucket whaleship Essex was the inspiration for Herman Melville's MOBY DICK. The Essex was destroyed by a whale who, to the awe of the crew, seemed to have malignant intent. The crew was set adrift in the Pacific in small whaleboats with few provisions and little water---resulting in cannibalism and the drawing of lots ending in the death of one crew member.
The portraits of the Essex captain and first mate are particularly well drawn and distinctive for an abridged version, as well as the effects of starvation and dehydration. Unlike MOBY DICK, this abridgement gives just enough information on the whaling industry to be interesting, and focuses on the human dimension of the story. The listener has to wonder whether he or she could behave as well as these men did under equally desperate circumstances.
Edward Herrmann's reading of the book was excellent with one persistent mispronunciation of the name "Bowditch" being the one jarring note. I guess no one associated with the production had ever been sailing!
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, Nail-biting, Page-Turner of a Book!,
Nathaniel Philbrick has created a carefully researched and highly-detailed account of this great tragedy on the high sea for the modern day reader. Being one of the few persons I suppose who had never read or heard about the tragedy of the Essex and having not read Moby Dick either, I was captivated not by the style of writing here, but by the positively compelling events of this voyage which grew increasingly more horrific with each new chapter. It is without a doubt a gripping, nail-biting, page-turner of a book which always brings the reader back to the same gnawing question..."If I was in this situation, would have done the same things these men did?" The answer which each reader must supply to that question is what makes the book so effective.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exemplary Story Telling,
By A Customer
Having never read "Moby Dick", I wondered if this book could hold my interest. Boy, was I wrong! A masterful work of historical narrative that ranks right up there with "A Perfect Storm" and "Into Thin Air", I was spellbound by the story of The Essex and the plight of her crew...highly recommended regardless of your nautical prowess!
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing, enjoyable, easy read,
Wonderful book, really entertaining and edifying. I didn't know much about sailing or whaling but found the book very informative and accessible. Truth IS stranger than fiction. Philbrick didn't need to spin yarns around this story. He beautifully stuck to the accountable facts and put it in a very enjoyable format, well researched. Highly recommended. My only negative is that I felt that I wanted more depth and information at the end--more about the impact of whaling, more about whales and especially more about the emotional lives of the men who hunted them. Oddly, that's what makes this story fascinating--the "why" behind everyone's behavior!
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In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick (Paperback - May 1, 2001)