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In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex Paperback – May 1, 2001
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The appeal of Dava Sobel's Longitude was, in part, that it illuminated a little-known piece of history through a series of captivating incidents and engaging personalities. Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea is certainly cast from the same mold, examining the 19th-century Pacific whaling industry through the arc of the sinking of the whaleship Essex by a boisterous sperm whale. The story that inspired Herman Melville's classic Moby-Dick has a lot going for it--derring-do, cannibalism, rescue--and Philbrick proves an amiable and well-informed narrator, providing both context and detail. We learn about the importance and mechanics of blubber production--a vital source of oil--and we get the nuts and bolts of harpooning and life aboard whalers. We are spared neither the nitty-gritty of open boats nor the sucking of human bones dry.
By sticking to the tried and tested Longitude formula, Philbrick has missed a slight trick or two. The epicenter of the whaling industry was Nantucket, a small island off Cape Cod; most of the whales were in the Pacific, necessitating a huge journey around the southernmost tip of South America. We never learn why no one ever tried to create an alternative whaling capital somewhere nearer. Similarly, Philbrick tells us that the story of the Essex was well known to Americans for decades, but he never explores how such legends fade from our consciousness. Philbrick would no doubt reply that such questions were beyond his remit, and you can't exactly accuse him of skimping on his research. By any standard, 50 pages of footnotes impress, though he wears his learning lightly. He doesn't get bogged down in turgid detail, and his narrative rattles along at a nice pace. When the storyline is as good as this, you can't really ask for more. --John Crace, Amazon.co.uk --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
With woody intonation and a suitably somber cadence, Tony Award-winning actor Herrmann reads this chilling tale of the Essex, a whaling ship that was sunk in the middle of the Pacific by an 80-foot sperm whale in 1820. The story would come to mark the mythology of the 19th century as the Titanic did the 20thAHerman Melville, for one, based Moby Dick on certain key elements of the tragedy. In Philbrick's spare, well-paced version, we learn much about how Nantucket's culture was affected by the whaling industry boom, from its economy to its social habits. But the horrific heart of the narrative details the fate of the 20 sailors who attempted to sail several thousand miles back to Chile using only three pathetic open boats. Reaching home 93 days later, only eight sailors survived the ordeal of thirst, starvation and despair. Near the tape's end, Herrmann delivers one of the finest funereal orations ever offered on behalf of seamen. Simultaneous release with the Viking hardcover (Forecasts, Apr. 10). (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
Relegated to whale boats, not suited for long trips on the open ocean, and hampered by trade winds which prevented steering a direct course for South America, the survivors spent three months in their whale boats, suffering through unimaginable bouts with starvation, dehydration, weather and ultimately cannibalism.
This work paints a fascinating picture of the people and the culture of Nantucket and the whaling community, the Essex in particular. It is educational and instructive in both the customs of the era and the trade, as well as the psychology involved in disaster response and leadership. I have read numerous accounts of extreme exploration and the privations associated therewith and this treatment is very good in that genre. There are two very good maps and several photos and illustrations which assist the reader in following the narrative.
The book is very short, at 230 pages with additional notes and reference material. My only quibble is that the endnotes are not associated with the primary text. A reader will finish the entire book, before even discovering that there are, in fact, notes associated with the text. Being able to read the notes in conjunction with the text would have been instructive.
I love novels where I can relate to or simply like characters and this book is all the better because these are actual men who are struggling, who have went to the brink of death, and who have had to slump down to unspeakable acts for survival, do things they would have never thought they would do, all in the name of getting home again.
From the explanation of the whaling culture on Nantucket, to the acts of sailing and whaling, to the destruction of their ship, to being afloat, and everything that happens afterward, this is a great read. Following the story of these men is something that I believe most people will enjoy. The raw telling of their culture, the job of whaling itself, and the acts committed in the name of survival are shocking, amazing, and horrifying in some respects, but the no-holds-barred telling of this event was fantastic.
I will just say that I enjoyed it a lot, I suffered with the guys, I suffered for the butchering of the whale, I rooted for the survivors.
And I was shocked by the totally absurd and unreal way that Captain Pollard was portrayed in the movie of the same name...
Anyway, a gripping reading all the way.