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In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex Paperback – May 1, 2001
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Winner of the National Book Award, Nathaniel Philbrick's book is a fantastic saga of survival and adventure, steeped in the lore of whaling, with deep resonance in American literature and history.
In 1820, the whaleship Essex was rammed and sunk by an angry sperm whale, leaving the desperate crew to drift for more than ninety days in three tiny boats. Nathaniel Philbrick uses little-known documents and vivid details about the Nantucket whaling tradition to reveal the chilling facts of this infamous maritime disaster. In the Heart of the Sea, recently adapted into a major feature film starring Chris Hemsworth, is a book for the ages.
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"A book that gets in your bones...Philbrick has created an eerie thriller from a centuries old tale....Scrupulously researched and eloquently written...it would have earned Melville's admiration."--The New York Times Book Review
"[Told] with verve and authenticity...a classic tale of the sea."--San Francisco Chronicle
"Nathaniel Philbrick has taken one of the most horrifying stories in maritime history and turned it into a classic....One of the most chilling books I have ever read."--Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm
About the Author
- Publisher : Penguin Books; Reissue edition (May 1, 2001)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0141001828
- ISBN-13 : 978-0141001821
- Lexile measure : 1210L
- Item Weight : 11.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 7.9 x 5.2 x 1 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #11,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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About the author
Reviewed in the United States on July 27, 2020
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Beyond the vivid account of the whale attack, Nathaniel Philbrick paints a detailed picture of the whaling industry in the early 19th century.
Dramatic and informative.
With one exception, I have never before read a work of historical nonfiction which held my interest like In the Heart of the Sea (the exception was Jeff Shaara's The Glorious Cause). You will repeatedly find yourself on the verge of total astonishment at the plight these men endured. Philbrick builds a mood of unrelenting gloom and horror and the book ends up reading more like a Stephen King novel than a history book. I feel totally comfortable recommending this book on the merits of the writing quality alone, because the writing is exceptional.
So many new history books attempt to modernize the standard historical monograph by giving their books narrative structures, but in so doing, the writers end up taking something important and objective away from the reading experience. Philbrick doesn't do this, and I think he succeeds with his narrative precisely because he has two first-hand accounts of the disaster and because of the sensation this story caused and the flurry of press and ancillary writing generated regarding the Essex at the time. Of course, the existence of a talisman like Moby Dick certainly helped, as was Philbrick's oft-mentioned research into other whaling and sea disasters, most notably Captain Bligh and his troubles with The Bounty. It all comes together to give Philbrick's narrative weaving and artistic license an air of truth and detached journalistic reality, as though Philbrick himself had been present with the Essex survivors.
Appertaining to its value as historical scholarship, In the Heart of the Sea seems to be as rigorously vetted and researched as anyone could expect given the limited information and catatonic delirium which, at nearly all points along the voyage, must have gripped the Chase and Nickerson, the two principle sources of information. In addition to his account of the doomed Essex voyage, Philbrick introduces readers to the unusual economy and personality of Nantucket. As a Folger descendant (the family name is mentioned several times in the book, and indeed, one of the owners of the Essex was named Folger), the geneological value of this brief adumbration about the town is fascinating. Furthermore, at the end of the book, the reader is greeted by what I perceive to be the most lucid, readable notes section that I have ever encountered before in any book and, as a result, this section stands as a useful tool and free bonus to the interested reader.
I am quite hesitant to offer and critical remarks of this book at all, for fear someone reading this review might notice only that I had a criticism at all and would, without reading any details, forego purchase. My only criticism of the book is Philbrick's repeated injection of contemporary survival psychology. This was at times helpful, but I usually found these instances distracted me from the darkness and terror Philbrick had so carefully and successfully drawn me into. I wished he would have simply left the reader to commiserate with the Essex crew instead of, by including this running psychological commentary, being tacitly reminded that this was only a book. Again, not an issue at all. Buy the book.
Great action and historical truth about the whale ship Essex and her crew and their families in Nantucket.In the Heart of the Sea The Tragedy of the whaleship Essex is a page burner. Read it in 1 1/2 day. No boring parts...a fascinating read.
This was the true story Herman Melville based his epic great novel Moby Dick on.
Nathaniel Philbrick wrote a fascinating true historical book on the tragedy that befalls the crew on the whale ship Essex. 1819 the whale ship Essex and her 20 man crew leave Nantucket island for a 1 1/2 year regular whaling voyage. Unfortunately the Essex is rammed twice by an estimated 85ft Sperm Whale. The Essex is capsized and later sinks. The crew abandon ship in 3 small whaleboats with only a few hundred pounds of hardtack for food and luckily several nautical sighting instruments.
LOTs of mistakes are made by Captain George Pollard, first mate Chase and a man named Joy in charge of their respective whaleboats. The captain had originally the right idea to head for an island but was swayed by the other officers because of fears of cannibals on islands to head for South America. We see the tragic dilemma of missing the right winds, missing closer islands with no cannibals and having to travel thousands of miles and running out of food and water. The men are forced to become cannibals and eating their dead friends and one time a young man ( Captain Pollard's nephew) draws a lot and is killed and eaten. Strange and suspect that the first eaten were all the black sailors. INMO the true Nantucket natives kept to themselves and became the hawks to prey on the blacks who seemed to get sicker first. The blacks had the poorer food on the Essex and developed less body fat to sustain them in their hunger and lack of food shipwrecked at sea.
This to me was a very emotional tragedy story not a true adventure story. If you can't feel for these people you have no emotions.
Two partial boats with a few survivors are rescued after a few months at sea...most dead and eaten by the survivors. One boat found with only 4 skeletons. Three men are left on a small island with only their wits to capture the little food on the island and a spring that goes out under the tide so little or no water, are later rescued.
You can imagine what the different families on Nantucket went through after hearing about the Essex sinking and later the survival stories related to cannibalism. Gives me the horrors just thinking about it.
Just look at all the 5 star reviews. Lots of other reviewers thought this was a great book. If you want a book that will pull on your emotions and let you develop deep empathy toward the whalers and their families this is the book for you. Again INMO this is not a true adventure book but a deeply emotional tragedy. Also lots of great nautical whaling history before and after the Essex tragedy. 5 stars
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The book begins with facts, who is who, their backgrounds, details of the ships the recruitment of the crew. The pay they were expected to make and the work they were required to do. I was spellbound with the remedies of treating illnesses, which at times made me physically gip! This was a true history book of facts.
I was introduced to each person that would sail on the ill-fated ship The Essex, what happens was documented by the 14-year-old cabin boy in 1820, as they encountered disaster after disaster in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The whaling ship was not due back home for 2 years and the crew of twenty would be diminished.
For the unlucky crew of The Essex, nature was about to hit back at them when a huge whale attacked the ship causing so much damage that the crew had to take to three rowboats. What follows is an account of how some of the crew managed to survive the 90 days they were at sea.
This is an absolutely engrossing book to read, there is little or no emotion from the author but he certainly stirred up enough in me for both of us. There are glimmers of hope, like a preverbal carrot continually been hung in front of these desperate men, that were just like cruel taunts. An island with no visible water, calculating the wrong direction and what to do when the food ran out?
The book goes on after the investigation of what had happened and the lives of the survivors afterward.
The book Moby Dick was created because of this factual event, a book I must revisit. This book is not just memorable it is unforgettable.
It should be pointed out that this is a tale of woe from the first to last page. The story details Captain Pollard's first command. The Nantucket whale ship Essex on a voyage to hunt Sperm whales in the Pacific ocean. Basically everything that could possibly go wrong, does go wrong and then some. Culminating in absolute unmitigated horror.
Much more than the story of a whale attacking a ship and sinking it, the book is quite an education as well. Eminently readable and compulsive, we get to learn about not just the lives of the whalers and the vagrancies of whaling but the history of the island of Nantucket and societies of the Southern and Pacific oceans, the horrors of starvation and cannibalism, the rise and fall of the whaling industry and the effects on the lives of the people it touches and indeed the flora and fauna that suffers as a result. It really seems to capture the Zeitgeist of an era long gone.
There is so much of interest packed in here that there is not a dull page from cover to cover. An excellent, fascinating and valuable read, I highly recommend it to just about anyone. Although probably not good if you are easily perturbed, as it reaches into the depths of hell and does not return.
I have never read 'Moby Dick' but this is a gripping and informative real-life account of the sinking of the 'Essex' and the awful consequences for its crew. The ship was attacked in the far Pacific by a sperm whale allegedly 85 feet long. Two head butts from the whale sealed the fate of the 'Essex'. The day to day accounts of the voyage, the sinking, and the aftermath are drawn from the writings of those who were there, including Owen Chase. The book also benefits from a recently discovered account written by Thomas Nickerson the youngest boy aboard the ship. He was only 14 when the ship set sail with him as the cabin boy. He survived to tell the tale and like all those who survived he returned to sea.
Initially the entire crew survived the sinking of the ship but only a minority survived the aftermath of 90 days or more in open boats striving to reach land. It is a story of awful things happening to ordinary men. Immediately after the sinking of the 'Essex' the men decided to avoid sailing for the known islands of the Society group or the Marquesas because of rumours of fierce cannibalism amongst their inhabitants. That was a bad decision which had the result of the surviving crew members indulging in cannibalism themselves in order to prolong their lives.
Philbrick's account of the whaling industry and its processes and its economics is very interesting. So too is his account of the role of black (African American) crewmen on the whaling ships. About one in three of the crew of the 'Essex' were black seamen. Philbrick draws a very vivid picture of Nantucket at the beginning of the 19th century as a Quaker dominated, whale-centred society. He also traces the decline in the island's fortunes to faded glory as the whaling fleet withered away later in the century. Finally he brings us up to date with the current up-market style of the place as a tourist magnet. How times change.
All in all, a gripping story well written.