82 of 84 people found the following review helpful
Harrowingtale of survival,
This review is from: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (Hardcover)
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.