In the Heart of the Sea
by Nathaniel Philbrick
Published: May 1, 2001
Format: Paperback (302 pages)
In the Heart of the Sea brings to new life the incredible story of the wreck of the whaleship Essex—an event as mythic in its own century as the Titanic disaster in ours, and the inspiration for the climax of Moby-Dick. In a harrowing page-turner, Nathaniel Philbrick restores this epic story to its rightful place in American history.
In 1820, the 240-ton Essex set sail from Nantucket on a routine voyage for whales. Fifteen months later, in the farthest reaches of the South Pacific, it was repeatedly rammed and sunk by an eighty-ton bull sperm whale. Its twenty-man crew, fearing cannibals on the islands to the west, made for the 3,000-mile-distant coast of South America in three tiny boats. During ninety days at sea under horrendous conditions, the survivors clung to life as one by one, they succumbed to hunger, thirst, disease, and fear.
In the Heart of the Sea tells perhaps the greatest sea story ever. Philbrick interweaves his account of this extraordinary ordeal of ordinary men with a wealth of whale lore and with a brilliantly detailed portrait of the lost, unique community of Nantucket whalers. Impeccably researched and beautifully told, the book delivers the ultimate portrait of man against nature, drawing on a remarkable range of archival and modern sources, including a long-lost account by the ship's cabin boy. At once a literary companion and a page-turner that speaks to the same issues of class, race, and man's relationship to nature that permeate the works of Melville, In the Heart of the Sea will endure as a vital work of American history.
In the Heart of the Sea is an addicting read mostly because I was horrified and had to know what happened next. This story honestly sounds made up but it is not. As nail biting as the story itself was, it was written like a historical textbook. I know this story happened a long time ago, but using “perhaps” a lot dragged the story down. He uses lots of dates and what feels like info-dumping of historical details that don’t seem relevant to the story. Some information felt like showing off how much research he did. Right whales, sperm whales – I learned a lot about whales.
I enjoyed the clever similarities in the history pointed out by the author that I might not have otherwise noticed. For example, the female dominated society in Nantucket from all the missing whalers is similar to the female dominated society of the whales. The whaleship Essex slowly died and sunk just like the whales they hunted did.
Speaking of whales, the description of hunting and killing the whales was very graphic. You don’t have to be an animal lover to find the way that they hunted these whales extremely sad. It was also very disturbing to read about the cannibalism and insanity among the sailors that came from being lost so long at sea. Journaling at sea helped the Captain maintain his sanity, but not everyone was so lucky. I thought it was interesting how much journaling can help people cope with tragedy.
Overall, it was fascinating to see the historical story that inspired Moby Dick that I knew nothing about before reading this book.
Is there such a thing as luck?
The first mate, Chase, was actually the person that Captain Ahab from Moby Dick is based on. He seems to be more likable than the actual Captian, Pollard. Ironically, Chase makes very poor decisions but because of his forceful personality Pollard relents to his decisions even though Pollard’s decisions were usually better. Pollard’s life after the shipwreck is full of bad luck which made me wonder – is there really such a thing as bad luck? Or was it his passive personality and bad decisions that caused bad things to happen to him? Pollard has very sound judgment but he often doesn’t follow it. In my mind, that is a bad decision. Chase seemed to have a happier life because he acted in charge of his destiny but then he suffered from insanity. Watching the differences in both of their lives made it seem like luck, if it exists, has a very small influence on our lives. What do you think about luck?
Content Rating: Medium, for violence and disturbing situations of survival.
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