In the Heart of the Sea

By Nathaniel Philbrick,

Book cover of In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

Book description

The epic true-life story of one of the most notorious maritime disasters of the nineteenth century - and inspiration for `Moby-Dick' - reissued to accompany a major motion picture due for release in December 2015, directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker and Cillian Murphy.

When the…


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Why read it?

7 authors picked In the Heart of the Sea as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

A small lifeboat is spotted off the coast of Chile in 1821, below the gunnels skeletal men cling to a pile of human bones. Nathaniel Philbrick opens his National Book Award-winning story with an almost incomprehensibly brutal scene and rarely takes a breath for the remaining 300-odd pages. Considered to be the inspiration for Herman Melville's Moby Dick, In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex is the true story of a ship stove in by a whale in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and the harrowing survival of some of its crew. 

Throughout the 19th century, whale oil made many ship owners wealthy. It was used as lamp oil, soap, lubricant, and candles. It sold as high as $35 a gallon. In 1820, the whaleship Essex, out of Nantucket sailed around the Horn to mid-Pacific. Once there, the brutal killing and processing of whales is described in detail. Essex was rammed and sunk by an angry sperm whale, leaving the desperate crew of twenty-one men to drift for more than ninety days in three tiny boats. I believe the true test of a good book is a reader’s memory retention –…

From Dan's list on stories of the sea.

Like many with an interest in the Age of Sail, I already knew the story of the whaling ship Essex, partly through the novel it inspired—Moby-Dick, one of the foundation works of modern American literature. In the Heart of the Sea offers so much more. It has a fascinating insight into the economic importance of whaling, as well as the process of hunting such enormous animals in tiny rowing boats. I also learnt a great deal about Nantucket Island and the unique community that grew up there in the 19th century. The story of the Essex itself…

Besides Nat Philbrick being a friend who wrote a wonderful blurb for my book, his bestselling book about the whaleship Essex best answers the questions of why whaling had a desertion rate upwards of 40% and why almost 90% of everyone who ever went whaling only went once. The true-to-life tale best introduces the reader to what could happen to those who went ‘a whaling’.

For me, the “Who knew?” of this true tale of the sea cuts through the mists of the past three ways. 1) How the island of Nantucket in the 1800s became an enclave of pacifist Quakers practicing the bloody art of whaling is a story by itself. 2) The whale always swimming under the surface—should you have read Herman Melville’s great novel, Moby Dick—is of Melville being inspired by the story of the Essex taking on the wrong whale. 3) The book also reads like a non-fiction sequel to Moby Dick as it details the desperate ordeal the surviving…

From Brian's list on history to evoke “who knew?”.

Where Moby-Dick ends—with the titanic battle between Ahab and the white whale, and the ramming and sinking of the whaleship PequodIn The Heart of the Sea begins. But, instead of a fictional whaleship, Philbrick focuses on the Nantucket whaleship Essex, which was actually sunk by a sperm whale in the Pacific in 1820 (Melville drew upon this event in crafting his novel). Philbrick presents the grisly tale of the survivors of the wreck of the Essex, who drifted more than ninety days on three whaleboats, and engaged in cannibalism to survive. It is a tragic and…

From Eric's list on whaling history.

By the early 1800s, whalers from Nantucket, Massachusetts had largely decimated the local whale population, so they resorted to sailing around the tip of South America to chase prey in the Pacific Ocean during year-long voyages. One such ship, the Essex, tangled with a whale that resented the new visitors in a big way, butting holes in the vessel until it was reduced to kindling.  (This voyage is believed to be Herman Melville’s inspiration for Moby Dick.) Crew members escaped in two lifeboats, but that was only the beginning of their ordeal. In the Heart of the Sea follows…

From John's list on disaster & survival.

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