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The Wreck of the Whaleship Essex Paperback – August 12, 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 106 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt Brace (August 12, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156006898
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156006897
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #410,369 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

On November 20, 1820, a sperm whale repeatedly rammed the whaleship Essex, causing her to sink. The 20-man crew were left in three small, open boats in the middle of the Pacific with little food and only 200 gallons of water. Bereft of charts, the boats sailed due east in the hopes of sighting land. Battered by storms, the boats became separated. Some 90 days later, a few men were rescued--but not before they had been forced to make a terrible decision.
I have no language to paint the horrors of our situation. To shed tears was indeed altogether unavailing and withal unmanly; yet I was not able to deny myself the relief they served to afford me.
This harrowing, first-hand account by First Mate Owen Chase was originally published in 1821, just months after he returned home to Nantucket, and the unfortunate Essex and her crew passed into legend. Twenty years after the wreck, young William Chase, Owen's son, was serving on the Lima when it met another whaler called the Acushnet. The crews spent some time together, and Chase told his father's story to 21-year-old Herman Melville, and lent him a copy of his father's book. The story clearly caught Melville's imagination--"The reading of this wondrous story upon the landless sea, and close to the very latitude of the shipwreck had a surprising effect on me"--and ten years later he published Moby Dick. Literary inspiration aside, The Wreck of the Whaleship Essex is a well-told, truly gripping tale. As Gary Kinder (who, as the author of Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea, knows a thing or two about shipwrecks) notes in his introduction, "As you sit in your chair, the subliminal thought recurs: My god, this really happened." --Sunny Delaney

Review

On November 20, 1820, a sperm whale repeatedly rammed the whaleship Essex, causing her to sink. The 20-man crew were left in three small, open boats in the middle of the Pacific with little food and only 200 gallons of water. Bereft of charts, the boats sailed due east in the hopes of sighting land. Battered by storms, the boats became separated. Some 90 days later, a few men were rescued--but not before they had been forced to make a terrible decision. I have no language to paint the horrors of our situation. To shed tears was indeed altogether unavailing and withal unmanly; yet I was not able to deny myself the relief they served to afford me.This harrowing, first-hand account by First Mate Owen Chase was originally published in 1821, just months after he returned home to Nantucket, and the unfortunate Essex and her crew passed into legend. Twenty years after the wreck, young William Chase, Owen's son, was serving on the Lima when it met another whaler called the Acushnet. The crews spent some time together, and Chase told his father's story to 21-year-old Herman Melville, and lent him a copy of his father's book. The story clearly caught Melville's imagination--"The reading of this wondrous story upon the landless sea, and close to the very latitude of the shipwreck had a surprising effect on me"--and ten years later he published Moby Dick. Literary inspiration aside, The Wreck of the Whaleship Essex is a well-told, truly gripping tale. As Gary Kinder (who, as the author of Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea, knows a thing or two about shipwrecks) notes in his introduction, "As you sit in your chair, the subliminal thought recurs: My god, this really happened." (Amazon.com Review - Sunny Delaney)

'this year's equivalent of THE PERFECT STORM' Christopher Frayling in the Observer The Wreck of the Whaleship Essex was reviewed in the Times Metro 15/16 April

The story of the sinking of the whaleship Essex which became the inspiration for Melville's Moby Dick. First published in 1821 this is an eyewitness account from the first mate of the ramming, by a sperm whale of a Nantucket whaler in the South Pacific in November 1820. Twenty sailors made for a few flimsy boats with only scraps of food. The next 90 days of fear and starvation whittled their number down, driving the survivors to confront a powerful taboo to satisfy their hunger. (Kirkus (UK))

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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The writing is mediocre.
Herm Melville
Their survival, or at least the survival of those who did actually make it, has to be one of the most amazing survival stories in human history.
Alexander L. Brown
This book puts Chase's account of his survival clearly in context with its times.
Joseph T. Reeves

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Mark A. Smiddy on August 20, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There's nothing wrong with this book except that there is a more comprehensive collection published by Penguin Classics titled, "The Loss Of The Ship Essex, Sunk By A Whale." The Penguin Classic includes not only Owen Chase's story in his own words but also contains that of Thomas Nickerson a fellow shipmate of the Essex. Nickerson's account has been lost for decades and reading Chase's account alone would be cheating yourself of a real treat since Nickerson is by far the better storyteller.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 30, 1999
Format: Paperback
Just imagine the unthinkable:- a whale, that most placid animal, suddenly turns on its tormentors with malice apparent in its intent and within a few minutes, reduces the ship, not the boat that harpooned it, to a sinking wreck, a thousand miles from any land. The subsequent journey to safety of the eight survivors is recounted by the first mate in graphic detail and with great literary skill; you have to admire the fortitude displayed by Mr. Chase in keeping an accurate log, even in the extremes of privation and heat exhaustion, as well as the psychological assault of that ultimate horror (at that time) of cannibalism. Put in their position, would I do the same - absolutely! It speaks volumes that very little was said about the Essex party, whereas the Donner party were unjustly vilified for doing exactly the same thing to preserve the remaining members of their company. I can do no better justice to this book than to quote Gary Kinder:- "...settle back into that overstuffed leather chair and let the most amazing story in the annals of the sea transport you to a different time, a different breed, an experience few could believe...".
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Joseph T. Reeves on April 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
"The Wreck of the Whaleship Essex" is much more than just the inspiration for Herman Melville's "Moby Dick." It stands alone as a remarkable account of survival in a hostile environment. It's probably difficult for modern readers to truly grasp the impact First Mate Owen Chase felt when his ship the Essex sank in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, leaving 20 men to fend for themselves in three frail whaling boats. In 1820, the loss of the ship meant that Chase and his men were truly on their own. His account and shock reflect the enormity of what losing a ship meant to these men. The ship was their world and without it, they faced an ardorous journey. Chase also accurately captures the shock of seeing a whale attack his ship twice. An experienced whaler, Chase watched dumbfounded as a creature he always thought to be gentle and placid appear to deliberately sink the Essex.
Chase has managed to balance these feelings of anguish and fear with determination to survive. His story also vividly recounts a bygone time when Nantucket whalers seemed to own the seas, and industry at home depended on the oil these men brought back. We seem to forget that whaling and its fruits were an essential part of early American commerace and life. This book puts Chase's account of his survival clearly in context with its times. Highly recommended.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By LaLoren on June 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent book to take on a plane or read on a day at the beach. At a little over a hundred pages, it can be read in one sitting, yet it's the narrative of an actual event-the ship wreck that inspired the novel, Moby Dick. Best for me was the glossary in the back that explains some of those terms I always read in those old nautical novels, but never understood.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By WILLIAM H FULLER on August 20, 2006
Format: Paperback
Some men die at ebb tide; some at low water; some at the full of the flood.....

Herman Melville, MOBY DICK

On the 12th day of August 1819, the whaleship Essex put out from Nantucket on her last and fatal voyage. Before her two-and-a-half year trip would be done, her bows would be stove in by an unheard-of act of aggression--the seemingly intentional attack by a sperm whale. Her crew of twenty men would find themselves in three small, flimsy whaleboats whose sides rose mere inches above the dark waters of the Pacific Ocean, a thousand miles from salvation. Not all would see the mainland again.

The slim volume of THE WRECK OF THE WHALESHIP ESSEX is the account that Owen Chase, first mate and one of the few survivors, penned of his ship's destruction and of her crew's sufferings in the months following as they tried to survive and strove to reach safety. In it, Chase gives the reader some idea of the wracking thirst, the pitiless burning sun, the destructive waves, the despair, and the deaths that stalked the crew across the trackless wilderness of ocean. When the last morsel of the mercilessly hoarded hard bread finally vanished, the only source of food was the flesh of some of the crew themselves.

Chase's account is a factual, unadorned diary of the crew's travails. He was obviously a literate man but not a professional writer. His book is clearly and grammatically written, although early 19th century English will strike some modern readers as stilted or perhaps quaint. Such a mere recitation of fact, however, cannot adequately convey the sense of desperation, the fear of dying, the loathing at having to eat the flesh of one's companions if one is to live another few hours that these men surely felt.
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