Book Review, Nonfiction

Book Review: “In the Heart of the Sea”

Rating: 9.2 out of 10.0

Author: Nathaniel Philbrick

Genre: Historical Non-Fiction

About: A New York Times bestseller released in 2000, In the Heart of the Sea is the chilling account of the Nantucket whaleship Essex. The tragedy of the Essex is the very tale that inspired a young whaler by the name of Herman Melville to write the initial failure of a novel (which later achieved great success), titled Moby-Dick. In Philbrick’s own words, “The Essex disaster is not a tale of adventure. It is a tragedy that happens to be one of the greatest stories ever told” (pg. 236).

Likes: Personally, non-fiction is not really my favorite. This book, however, was a grand exception to that preference of mine. This is history that everyone should know, but it is not presented in a boring, tedious way. It is presented in a way in which I am on the boat with those whalers, I am starving to death out at sea, I am going to die too if I do not get water, I am there. Philbrick has achieved what many history writers have failed to do—immerse the reader just as strongly (if not stronger) than a well-written fiction book would do. Philbrick keeps up a good pace while still taking the time to explain various aspects of whaling and life at sea. There is also a dependence on God that is seen in the whalers (many of whom are Quakers) that is credited as one of the primary reason some of them survived.

Dislikes: This book is intense at times and is quite disgusting towards the middle/end of the book, in which several of the crewmates starve, die, and then are cut open and eaten by the other members of the crew. Some of this, as well as the process of dissecting the whales that they have caught, is described in vivid detail. Their starved bodies are frequently described, understandably. Beyond the graphic description of all these unfortunate circumstances that the crew of the Essex withstood, there were not many things to complain about in this book.

Summary: “In 1819, the 238-ton Essex set sail from Nantucket on a routine voyage to hunt whales. Fifteen months later, the unthinkable happened: in the farthest reaches of the South Pacific, 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, the survivors having been forced to eat the bodies of their dead shipmates.” – Taken from back of the Penguin Classics edition

Book Length: 238 pages, without notes (Penguin Classics edition)

Suggested Age: 15+


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