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on January 18, 2016
I'm not here to necessarily review the book - as several people have already expressed what a great story this is - but rather I'm here to say thank you to Nathaniel Philbrick and all other non-fiction writers who have taken the time to research amazing real life events and place that information into a gripping, factual account that somehow still reads like a novel. I'm a high school history teacher who loves all kinds of history, but was never really interested in the whaling culture found on Nantucket Island, per se. But after having read an article about the book in my Smithsonian Magazine, I was instantly gripped. I had no idea that Moby Dick was based on a real event. When I was in high school, my dad challenged me to read Moby Dick. I think he actually said he would give me $100 to finish it - and even with the cash reward - I couldn't do it. I was so bored. But, at 17 years old, I had not yet found my favorite genre: historical non-fiction. Now as an adult, and obviously because I teach the subject, I have become a voracious reader of non-fiction books, and having just consumed this one, I can tell you it was well-written and paced beautifully. In between the story of the Essex were lots of little tidbit type facts about the whaling industry in general as well as other very famous and not-so-famous stove ships and evidences of survival induced cannibalism. Very interesting book. I'll be looking for another Philbrick book to read right after I post this review.
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on November 21, 2015
I knew the outlines of the story of the Essex from reading Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America. What was most interesting to me was the story of how the crew dealt with the event, their tenacity, ability to endure enormous suffering, and willingness to follow leaders, even leaders with very different skill sets. Lots of revealing detail about the community of Nantucket, the construction of the ships, how the crews were assembled of novice and veteran whalers, the sheer enormity of the task of finding, killing, rendering whales and sailing these relatively small, relatively fragile ships thousands of miles into unknown waters. These were courageous, if not desperate, men.
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on January 6, 2014
I myself am a merchant seaman, and chose this book out of a list of potentials for my time at sea. I'm extremely glad I did. This book is very true to life, and will give readers with no knowledge of the maritime professions, as well as readers who have spent a life at sea nearly equal depth into every aspect that this book builds its self upon. The book starts by immersing you in the era of whale fishing, and the lifestyle of those living in, and sailing out of Nantucket on a personal level. Then it builds up characters individually, making you feel like you've actually met them. Next it builds up very graphic depictions of sailing, the hunt, and processing a whale. When tragedy strikes, the descriptions manage to get even more in depth. As a reader, although I did not feel that I would have made the same decisions as the various characters, I felt I could sympathize with them, and understand why they chose the way they did.

I'm not an avid reader, but this book was well worth the read. It really allows the imagination to take over to make the reader feel as though they are right there in the same boat, and part of the same crew.
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on January 11, 2017
Most readers now probably know that the destruction of the whaling ship Essex by a very large whale was a source for Herman Melville's great novel "Moby Dick". Without invidious comparison, it might be said that Mr. Philbrick picks up where Melville left off. He offers a fascinating and very real account -- and aftermath-- of the dramatic and dumbfounding event that actually happens at the end of Moby Dick as a masterwork of American literature. Philbrick draws from the accounts of Essex survivors and the realities of the whaling industry and its wooden ship world. It's a tough world, and Philbrick brings its details and people alive, which they once were, in a straightforward work of reportage as to what happened not only to a ship but to its people suddenly stranded in the middle of an ocean.
If you've read Melville-- either recently or some time ago, as I-- you owe it to yourself to know something more of his source and to find out "how it all ends". If you read Philbrick first you may learn all you want and forego jumping into Melville's turbulent sea, with its
undercurrents of Biblical doubt, human and animal vengeance and much else. But you're more likely to sign onto Melville's fateful voyage better prepared for what might be in store for you along with Ishmael and Quee Queg in Cap'n Ahab's crew. "Heart of the Sea" is fast-moving and thorough, its narrative of real events as strange and dramatic as anything a novelist could imagine -- or make use of.
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on January 29, 2016
Almost from the very beginning, the author spins together letters, partially-written accounts and log book entries-- along with his own research-- into a tale that is difficult to put down. Descriptions of shipwrecked sailors' dehydration and starvation are not for the faint of heart; furthermore, it was difficult not to squirm when attention turned to the grisly matter of 'harvesting' human flesh and doling it out amongst survivors. But a single detail refrains: in almost all accounts listed, sailors and shipmen appeared surprised and indignant when their quarry began to fight back. More than a few were bitter about these retaliations, ruminating upon them as they drifted helplessly in stranded whale-boats. But given the violent and extremely bloody methods used to dispatch a whale during that time period (first harpooning them, then rowing alongside to slash at tender tendons near the tail if they failed to succumb right away), the reason should be obvious: whales are extremely intelligent mammals with complex relationships and the same right to protect their pods and youngsters as any other creature. This tale is filled with horrific suffering, endured by both whales and shipmen alike.
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on January 24, 2016
It is a compelling, well-researched true story, but an emotionally grueling read as one follows the long ordeal of the few survivors of the whaling ship Essex, shipwrecked far out in the Pacific, as they attempt to reach the South American coast. It was tremendously ironic to learn that had they chanced a landing on the mostly unknown “Society Islands,” which were a week’s sail away, they could have recuperated on the now-famous island paradise of Tahiti. Fears of cannibals made the crew overrule their captain’s plan to go there, and instead they became the cannibals themselves. Truly horrible. Captain Ahab is not a simple portrait of any of the men on the Essex, but news of the disaster inspired young Herman Melville to begin work on the greatest novel of his career–to many the greatest in American literature--Moby Dick (Oxford World's Classics). Philbrick’s account of the whaling industry is unsparing and brutal, and it made me admire all the more the way Melville could convey the same facts but transform them into high literary art. If Ahab resembles any of the crew, it may be Owen Chase, the First Mate (played by Chris Hemsworth in the recent film adaptation). Philbrick also wrote Why Read Moby-Dick?
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on September 19, 2017
This is based on a something that really happened. it is not fiction.

It discusses the structure of the society on Nantucket island. The men were gone for 3 years at a time. The women in the colony had to manage things. It also give a great description of what it was like to be in the crew of a whaling ship. Finally, it describes the struggle to survive in 3 whaleboats after the whale ship Essex sinks.

The author Herman Melville used the accounts of the voyage of the Essex to write his fictional novel Moby Dick.
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on March 5, 2014
Does this book grab my attention? Yes. Is it non-fiction? Yes. Does that help its readability? Absolutely. Reading more like a survival log than a history book, In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick is an award- winning adventure tale set in the 1819-1820 South Pacific whaling season. Mr. Philbrick begins his tale in the whale oil-soaked ports of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts; the self-described 'Whaling Capital of the World". Mr. Philbrick is a leading authority on Nantucket and its history, so his analysis is robust and penetrating. Mr. Philbrick structures the book around two eyewitness/survival narratives penned by Thomas Nickerson: a young seaman and Owen Chase: the celebrated first-mate. Mr. Philbrick uses his excellent resources to analyze and disseminate crucial information about the lives of the sailors, the science behind whaling, and the survival it took to cross the South Pacific. Mr. Philbrick frequently references the classic, American novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville throughout the book. Furthermore, Mr. Philbrick cites the 1819 account of an 85-foot albino sperm whale ramming a whaling ship as the inspiration for Melville's legendary yarn. It is my suggestion that, if possible, interested parties should read Moby Dick in conjunction with In the Heart of the Sea. It makes for a more comprehensive understanding of both texts.
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on August 18, 2014
In the Heart of the Sea and its companion The Whale Ship Essex, for younger readers, are fine books about whaling, Nantucket, survival at sea, but more importantly a case study in leadership and outcomes. Depending on your stage in life and interest in maritime history this is a compelling read from a well regarded author.

The reader is taken for a descriptive ride through New England Whaling industry of the early 1800's, then the infamous and devilish journey from which not all return. The author takes you into what it takes to survive, why men did not, the leadership differences that increased the chance of survival, and the key decision that allowed a small group within the crew to all survive.

Philbrick then details some of the leadership lessons and failures of the Captain and First Mate in future voyages. The leadership lessons, industry history, and character development are all well done and thoroughly and enjoyably explored. Sufficient detail of the voyage, the industry past, and present-day Nantucket are supplemented by a few choice photographs for you to come away with a reasonable understanding of the Nantucket whaling industry and the consequences of indecision.

If you have a late summer read left in a shore community this one should be on your list.
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on November 9, 2015
With his book, ''In the Heart of the Sea,'' Nathaniel Philbrick has delivered a riveting historical thriller. In November 1820, the 240-ton Nantucket whaling ship Essex is sunk when an enraged 80-ton sperm whale repeatedly rams the hull. For the 20-man crew, the sinking of their ship was just the beginning. They are left adrift in the vast Pacific Ocean with but three small whaleboats and little food. Philbrick's story, however, is as much about Nantucket as about survival at sea. Philbrick is an uncommonly talented historian with a flair for storytelling. Meticulously researched and wonderfully readable, ''In the Heart of the Sea'' is a masterpiece of maritime history.
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