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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 (2000)

by Nathaniel Philbrick

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,1191181,220 (4.17)205
  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.
  2. 30
    Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick (John_Vaughan, aya.herron)
  3. 10
    Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick (John_Vaughan)
  4. 10
    The Dinosaur Hunters: A True Story of Scientific Rivalry and the Discovery of the Prehistoric World by Deborah Cadbury (Moomin_Mama)
    Moomin_Mama: Both books are top-notch examples of popular history and/or science, neither too lightweight nor too dry or academic, and accessible to all. They strike a fine balance between entertaining and informative.
  5. 10
    The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men against the Sea by Sebastian Junger (aya.herron)
  6. 10
    Wreck of the Medusa by Alexander McKee (John_Vaughan)
  7. 21
    Life of Pi by Yann Martel (BIzard)
  8. 00
    A Furnace Afloat: The Wreck of the Hornet and the Harrowing 4,300-mile Voyage of Its Survivors by Joe Jackson (bluetongue)
  9. 00
    Batavia by Peter FitzSimons (kenno82)
  10. 00
    Simple Courage: A True Story of Peril on the Sea by Frank Delaney (John_Vaughan)
  11. 00
    Sea of Glory : America's voyage of discovery : The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 by Nathaniel Philbrick (John_Vaughan)
  12. 00
    Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America by Eric Jay Dolin (mattblank)
  13. 01
    Nightbirds on Nantucket by Joan Aiken (ed.pendragon)
    ed.pendragon: This children's fantasy is a gentle parody based on Moby-Dick and so ultimately on the fate of the Essex.
  14. 02
    Abandon Ship!: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, the Navy's Greatest Sea Disaster by Richard F. Newcomb (mperson)
  15. 02
    Moby Dick [adapted - Moby Illustrated Classics] by Herman Melville (mperson)
  16. 02
    Moby Dick: Or, the White Whale (An Abridged Edition) by Herman Melville (mperson)

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Showing 1-5 of 115 (next | show all)
ALWAYS GREAT. Rereading for a quiz bowl at the whalin museum on nantucket.

One of my favorite historical non fictions. Compellingly written - he does a great job at putting everything in context, historically or other wise.

The task of whaling itself was such an incredible feat.

Writing this on four hours of sleep. ( )
  Abbey_Harlow | Oct 5, 2017 |
I devoured this book. I loved it. Mr. Philbrick does a fine job bringing these mostly forgotten intrepid whalers' to life.

The story is capitivating and moves at a fast clip. I almost found it too short. The livelihood of these men and their journeys are incredibly interesting, and I found myself wanting to know more. Mr. Philbrick does sprinkle in background info on the trade throughout which is welcomed and added to the story immensely.

One can't help feeling sorrow for the hunted whales and for the trials and tribulations of the crew. These were brave men and they held it together. Pollard's and Chase's stories definitely rank up there with any story testing a human's capability to survive in hellish conditons.

Well done Mr. Philbrick. This is one I won't forget. ( )
  Mitchell_Bergeson_Jr | Aug 6, 2017 |
I read this after watching the movie, but I would have preferred to read this first before watching the movie in order to get a more detailed background of what I was seeing. Very well-written and researched. I recommend this to anyone interested in whaling history or the history of Nantucket. ( )
  ktlavender | Jul 17, 2017 |
You can't make this stuff up! What a crazy story and now you know were Herman Melville got the idea for Moby Dick. Some of the decisions they had to make to survive, whew.. I don't know if I could have done some of the things they did. Reminded me of the plane crash in the Andes where they had to resort to cannibalism. Horrific stuff, but I think one doesn't know how they'd react until in that situation themselves. Overall a good, historic read. ( )
  Crystal423 | May 1, 2017 |
I put off reading this book even though it gets great reviews because it is so sad and frustrating to read about the wholesale slaughter of any creature, but especially whales. In the 1990s I had my most profound experience with wildlife on a whale watch off the coast of Maine. The captain got on the loudspeaker and asked us if we wanted to sail a fairly far distance to see some northern right whales that another captain reported seeing. A cheer went up and we took off. There were three whales, two interacted with us continually while another kept its distance and, maybe, acted as lookout. They were amazing and humbling and I’m convinced fully conscious of us, their actions and our responses. They were joyous and displayed behavior rare in right whales; breaching, spy-hopping and flipper-flopping. We stayed with them until it was too dark to see. I think there was sadness on both sides when we parted company.

If the whalemen like the ones in this book had had their way, I’d have never had this experience at all. None of us would and we would have no understanding of these amazing creatures. The sheer bloodthirstiness was appalling and yes, I had to stop reading once because the savagery was too much. I also skimmed a good many parts about killing, butchery and waste. Humans never learn anything. We continue to push nature into a corner, decimating and exterminating things for our pleasure or convenience. Just this weekend I was talking to a neighbor about the much lower numbers of fish he and his buddy pull out of the same lake they’ve been fishing for decades. The days of 50 fish each are over. And they practically were in the time of this book. Vast sections of ocean were fished out and caused the Nantucketers to push further and further into the Pacific. For years and years I couldn’t figure out why it was called Cape Cod. There were no cod there. Hadn’t been for centuries. And people wonder why I think humans evolved to be an extinction trigger.

But let me get to the book. It is well-written with a great sense of drama and pacing. Information is interleaved with action and it balances well. I really liked how he set up the different elements that went into the Essex’s doom. You could see how if any one thing had changed the disaster might have been averted. I also like that it seems he went to some effort not to make the whalers into villains although I did cheer inside when the whale destroyed the ship. They were absolutely dismayed that nature could have “turned on them” and their “rightful prey” be less than placid. Imagine the temerity of a beleaguered creature actually defending itself. At the end Philbrick mentions several accounts of more whales attacking ships toward the end of whaling’s heyday. Good on them.

Life on the ship was hard enough, but damn when they were forced into those little boats it was unreal. Whenever I read a story like this I can’t believe that humans can survive it. Such work. So little food. If they’d had the right number of whale boats they could have brought more supplies with them and maybe survived. If they’d known more about the islands they were near to they might not have tried to get back to the South American mainland. If Chase had harpooned the whale when he had the chance it may not have turned and struck a second, and fatal, blow. If only if only. It was well-told and obviously well-researched. There are two main accounts of the debacle now instead of one and it seems they agree with and clarify each other. Oddly Captain Pollard never wrote his story despite compulsively telling anyone who got within earshot for several years after his return to civilization.

Those squeamish to bloodshed, starvation, animal slaughter, racism and cannibalism might want to avoid this one. Philbrick doesn’t pull any punches and the descriptions are lengthy and detailed. If I ever casually say that I’m starving, I’ll think of this book and realize how very far from it I am.

I was surprised to learn that the women of Nantucket had a good deal more autonomy than their mainland counterparts, even in other whaling towns. It was entirely due to necessity, but the ladies basically ran everything and kept up social and political alliances. No one seems to have been bothered by it in the least given that the men spent hardly any time there at all. They landed, impregnated women and left again. Of course if the women displeased them they were as high-handed and assholish as any man can be, but while they were gone the women had a taste of what it’s like to be fully human not just something else to be exploited by men. ( )
3 vote Bookmarque | Apr 3, 2017 |
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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.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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