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In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the…

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (original 2000; edition 2001)

by Nathaniel Philbrick

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4,4501291,564 (4.17)218
Title:In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex
Authors:Nathaniel Philbrick
Info:Penguin (Non-Classics) (2001), Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick (2000)

  1. 50
    Moby Dick by Herman Melville (jseger9000, aya.herron)
    jseger9000: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex tells the true story that inspired Melville to write Moby Dick.
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Showing 1-5 of 123 (next | show all)
A well written account of the almost 3 month and 2,500 mile journey of the crew of the Essex in their attempt to reach Chile in whale boats after being stove by a large sperm whale. This is the basis for Moby-Dick. Learned alot and became very appreciateive of the food on my plate and the firm ground beneath my feet. I also now want to go to Nantucket. ( )
  JBreedlove | Aug 31, 2018 |
The book has a thorough description of life on Nantucket, whaling at that time, and the story of the Essex before, during, and after the destruction of the ship and the endurance of the survivors. The audio version was 10 hours long with one and a half hours of that being Notes! That gives an idea of the research Philbrick did. The story is a tough one, but it is well told and kept me very interested. ( )
  ajlewis2 | Jul 12, 2018 |
Without the Essex, there would have been no Pequod. Without Captain Pollard (or perhaps it was First Mate Chase), there would have been no Captain Ahab. Without the great whale that smashed the Essex, there would have been no Moby-Dick.

Nathaniel Philbrick tells the thrilling story of the tragedy of the whaleship Essex in 1819 and its connection to Herman Melville's great novel (1851) in his book “In the Heart of the Sea” (2000). Along the way he tells his readers much about the whaling industry at that point in history and about the town of Nantucket, then one of the most prosperous communities in North America. It was from Nantucket that the Essex and most other whaling vessels sailed, usually for years at a time.

The story of the Essex, although all but forgotten before Philbrick resurrected it, was well known in the middle of the 19th century. Melville couldn't have helped hearing about it. Yet there was one place, the author says, where the story was rarely told, and that was Nantucket. Residents there were not embarrassed by the loss of the ship (that happened frequently), or the fact that so few survivors made it back alive or even that those survivors survived only by eating their less fortunate shipmates (that wasn't all that rare either). Rather, to their credit, the people of Nantucket were ashamed of the fact that the first men to be eaten were black.

The black whalers were not singled out for consumption before they died, but they did die before their white shipmates, whether because of a poorer diet aboard the ship (the best food was reserved for officers and the men from Nantucket) or less fat content in their bodies. Nantucket had always prided itself on its opposition to slavery and its treatment of black people. There were several black men aboard the Essex, as on most whaling ships. So eating blacks first did not send the message the people of that town wanted to hear.

George Pollard, the captain of the Essex, was in command of his first ship. Unfortunately, he was never truly in command, usually yielding to the wishes of his other officers when they had a different opinion. This trait proved deadly after the whale deliberately crashed into the ship. Pollard wanted the three boats carrying survivors to head west, with the wind behind them, to Tahiti, which was relatively close. His officers, ironically as it turned out, feared being eaten by cannibals and favored sailing east toward South America. Pollard agreed, and the resulting journey took three months and cost most of them their lives.

Melville used the story of the Essex but, to his credit, reinvented it. “Moby-Dick” is a fictional masterpiece. The Essex story as told by Philbrick proves a masterpiece of the nonfiction variety. ( )
  hardlyhardy | May 14, 2018 |
This is such a fascinating book. I’ve never really lived close to a coastline in which the ocean itself is the source of income and sustenance, and have only visited New England once, but this book makes me want to take a trip to Nantucket Island right now to see and experience at least some of the history of this harsh lifestyle.

We are all probably at least somewhat familiar with the story of the Essex, especially with the movie being released just a few weeks ago. Most of us know that it was the basis of Herman Melville's [b:Moby-Dick; or, The Whale|153747|Moby-Dick; or, The Whale|Herman Melville|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327940656s/153747.jpg|2409320]. Some of us may have even read one of the myriad of children’s and young readers’ books in school about this epic tale of survival. Philbrick has taken one of the most tragic events in nautical history and written a gripping, informative book about whaling, Nantucket Island, desperation, courage, weakness, redemption, survival and shame.

Of course, this is a story about shipwreck and survival, and has some fascinating subplots. Captain Pollard, whose voyage with the Essex as his first as captain, faced many personal crises as he was forced to make difficult choices, even jeopardizing the life of his own nephew, crewman Owen Coffin. Philbrick explores the fear of cannibalism that drove the Essex sailors to avoid relatively close South Pacific islands after the wreck (about a thousand miles away), in favor of a very risky and lengthy trip to South America (almost four thousand miles). The harrowing situation only seems to get worse as time goes on (93 days!), as the trade winds push them away from their intended destination, the hunger and thirst which drove the survivors to near-insanity, and the drastic measures taken for their survival.

Along with telling the story of the wreck and the crew’s struggles for survival, Philbrick provides an in-depth background of Nantucket in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, digging into the small island's religious customs (the Quakers dominated life on the Island), and describes what life was like for a sailor on the whaling vessels: where they slept on board, what they ate, how they were disciplined, how they killed and processed whales (while still at sea), and how much money the captain and crew stood to earn from a typical voyage. Philbrick also reveals the class system of life on a whaling vessel: Nantucketers at the top, non-islanders next, then mainlanders. It is interesting to note that there was very little racism (Quakers were among the first abolitionists); the ships’ captains didn’t care what color your skin was, as long as you could work hard and take orders.

All in all, a gripping read. It is written with great compassion and strict attention to detail. The author has obviously done his research. I was particularly impressed with the end of the book, as he followed the careers and lives of the survivors; one crew member even sailed with Captain Pollard again (he lost this ship to disaster, as well). Drawing from the journals of two survivors, the first mate and a cabin boy, whose accounts of the disaster sometimes digress, Philbrick was able to paint a near-complete picture of the entire event and its aftermath. He also drew striking parallels with the actions of Captain Bligh (Mutiny on the Bounty) as he survived himself on the open sea, as well as modern-day medical and scientific studies on the effects of starvation on the human body as well as the psychological effects of cannibalism.

The narrator for the Audible version, Scott Brick, was outstanding. Like a great history professor lecturing on a much-researched topic, he was able to recount the history of Nantucket and the tension of the tragedy perfectly.

Pick up this book! Even if you are not at all interested in sailing, whaling, nautical history, or true-life survival stories under the harshest of conditions, you will not be disappointed. ( )
  ssimon2000 | May 7, 2018 |
In 1820 the whaleship Essex was rammed twice by a sperm whale. Such an attack had never been recorded at this time and the men of the Essex had to try their best to survive on three small whaleboats while in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This story was the inspiration for the final attack in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and was a topic of conversation and curiosity for decades after the sinking.
Philbrick does an excellent job putting the reader right in the ship along with the whalers. We learn about the whaling industry and Nantucket particularly, all while he is relating the story of the Essex. There are several moments throughout the book where the reader just wants to take the captain or the mate by the shoulders and shake them, like why are you making such horrible decisions? So often they were doing the right thing, and yet they changed their minds and men died because of it. The story is an intense one, as all stories of survival against extreme odds are. Anyone interested in stories of peril at sea or survival stories in general will find something to enjoy here. Also, fans of Moby-Dick will likely enjoy learning the true story behind the classic novel. ( )
  Jessiqa | May 1, 2018 |
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And in the greatness of thine excellency thou has over-
thrown them that rose up against thee: Thou sentest
forth thy wrath, which consumed them as stubble. And
with the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered to-
gether, the floods stood upright as a heap, and the
depths were congealed in the heart of the sea.

-EXODUS 15:7-8

This is the end of the whaleroad and the whale
Who spewed Nantucket bones in the thrashed swell....
This is the end of running on the waves;
We are poured out like water. Who will dance
The mast-lashed masters of Leviathans
Up from this field of Quakers in their unstoned graves?

"The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket"
To Melissa
First words
Like a giant bird of prey, the whaleship moved lazily up the western coast of South America, zigging and zagging across a living sea of oil.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Please do not combine with Revenge of the Whale which is an adaptation for younger readers of In the Heart of the Sea.
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In 1819, the 238-ton Essex set sail from Nantucket on a routine voyage to hunt whales. Fifteen months later the Essex was rammed and sunk by an enraged sperm whale. Fearing cannibals on the islands to the west, the 20-man crew set out in three small boats for South America, almost 3,000 miles away. Three months later, only eight were left alive. This book shares a fantastic saga of survival and adventure, steeped in the lore of the whaling tradition, with deep resonance in literature and American history, and in the life of the Nantucket community. - Back cover.… (more)

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