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

4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  30,383 ratings  ·  2,059 reviews
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...more
Paperback, 302 pages
Published May 1st 2001 by Penguin Books (first published December 1st 1999)
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Esteban del Mal
There’s one thing you need to know about me: I’ve never listened to a song by Rush all the way through. Really. If Alvin and the Chipmunks were re-imagined as opera singers, the lead singer could be bass. I can’t take them seriously.

Okay, okay. Really there are two things you need to know about me: I distrust people who walk on the balls of their feet. You know, that little bounce? Call it instinct, but I see something morally deficient in it. It’s like Nature is giving the rest of us a heads-up...more
Adrianne Mathiowetz
May 12, 2008 Adrianne Mathiowetz rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Moby Dick fans, the morbid, pirates
Recommended to Adrianne by: Adam Conover
I have never, ever, in my LIFE, met a nonfiction book I was unable to put down before. This may be because I am stupid, but I like to think it's because I'm interested in the details. Most nonfiction I've encountered is either written by:

a.) Someone who experienced something interesting, but who can't write about it in an interesting way, or

b.) Someone who perhaps usually writes about things in an interesting way, but who wasn't able to experience the critical subject firsthand.

Philbrick bridges...more
Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh
Oct 19, 2013 Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Florence (Lefty) by: Michael Edwards
Best piece of non-fiction I’ve read in years – I know it’s a cliché but you can’t make this stuff up! In 1819, a whaling ship is rammed by a sperm whale, not once but twice and the surviving crew drifts for 90 days in three tiny boats, Captain Bligh’s 48 day ordeal pales in comparison. They eventually turned to cannibalism which call me weird I didn’t have a problem with. A card carrying organ donor I figure I’m dead anyway - eat me. When it came down to drawing lots though, that pushed my butto...more
Diane
This book was so engrossing that I felt as if I had worked on a whaling ship and had survived a disaster at sea.

In 1820, the whaleship Essex was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean when a massive whale rammed the ship not once, but twice, sinking it. The crew had to scramble for provisions and escaped into three boats. They set sail for South America, which was nearly 3,000 miles away. They soon ran out of fresh water and food, and eventually resorted to cannibalism. Only eight men out of 20 sur...more
Emily
IMPORTANT UPDATE: The great reader in the sky has answered my prayers and made a movie based on this story - starring Chris Hemsworth - so I already count one ironclad reason to watch this. The trailer states that the Essex goes beyond the known world, which no it didn't, but I'm also fairly sure that Owen Chase's jaw wasn't nearly as square as Hemsworth's, so I'm willing to allow poetic license. Also, I may root for the whale. The first trailer is here.

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This was SO gruesome and weirdly gripp...more
Jason Koivu
WAY more exciting than I expected! Philbrick knows how to resurrect history into a living, breathing present, a present filled with tension and full-immersion. If you have any interest in whaling, the age of sail, and shipwrecks, you'll not do better than In the Heart of the Sea. It's very much like the non-fiction version of Moby Dick, made all the more intense for being the real deal.
Brendon Schrodinger
Also on my blog The Periodic Table of Elephants.

Any reader who has read 'The Life of Pi' and 'Moby Dick' should be all over this as both works of fiction were inspired by the tragic events of the Essex. The Essex was an American whaling ship that was attacked by a disgruntled sperm whale (well the whalers had attacked it with harpoons) and sunk in the south-western Pacific in 1820. All the crew survive the sinking but they are stranded in the middle of the Pacific, in a region desolate of life,...more
Lisa
Aug 22, 2011 Lisa rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who like a good story even if it really did happen
Shelves: nonfiction, 4-star
In the ninth grade I had a world history teacher that made each class seem like a fascinating story instead of a boring lecture that can be the standard fare. Nathaniel Philbrick has brought to life the story of the sinking of the Nantucket whale ship Essex by a ferocious sperm whale.

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An artist's rendition of the revenge of the sperm whale attacking the Essex:

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An actual photo of a sperm whale which is about the size of a school bus:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

In college I was forced to read parts of Herman Melville's cla...more
John
The wreck of the whaling ship Essex in 1819 was a tragedy that haunted its survivors, took on the status of legend in 19th-century America, and inspired Melville's Moby-Dick. Philbrick does a great job not only narrating the wreck and its dire aftermath, but also providing historical context, so that the reader learns quite a bit about both the 19th-century whaling industry and the social history of Nantucket. A solid history that's also a page-turner; quite an accomplishment, and one that's mad...more
Jared
Got this book last year as a gift from G. As a sometime New Englander, frequent visitor to Mystic Seaport, and admirer of Melville, this book was right up my alley. I read the whole thing through on a recent cross-country flight.

At the age of 28, George Pollard set out in command of the whaleship "Essex." He had a brilliant reputation, he had the firm trust of the ship's owners, and he had two dozen able and dutiful crewmen ready to follow his orders for endless months at sea killing whales and...more
Heather
What an engaging read! This fascinating story recounts the tragedy of the whaleship Essex, while also giving an interesting look into the history of Nantucket Island and the whaling business of the early 19th century. I’m always amazed when reading stories like this at the human body and mind's immense capacity for enduring the worst imaginable circumstances and unbelievable suffering. It’s mind-blowing! Very well written, this book held me totally captive from cover to cover. A great read for a...more
Matt
I had a lot of trouble with Moby Dick. Finishing it, I mean. I picked it up and put it back down twice. By the time I finally finished it - a point of honor - I'd probably read 1200 pages of it. About 150 years later, the source material was published. In the Heart of the Sea tells of the whaleship Essex which inspired Melville's opus.

In 1819, it left Nantucket and went a'whaling. An enraged sperm whale (is there any other kind?) rammed the ship in the South Pacific. The Essex sunk and its crew...more
Ruth
First an acknowledgement: I wouldn't have read this book without the review written by my Goodreads friend Florence (Lefty). I have no natural inclination to read seafaring true stories. So, thank you Florence, this one had me gripped from beginning to end.

Not having thought much about 19th century sailing most of my impressions were formerly supplied by 'Treasure Island', which of course has its value (I love it) but is hardly a factual account. I have started 'Moby Dick' a couple of times but...more
Laura Leaney
In the process of telling the story of the whaleship Essex and its crew, Philbrick reveals the mindset of the 19th century whaling industry, which can so easily be extrapolated to the rest of the country. Whales, buffaloes, cod, tortoises, trees.............if you could kill it, cut it, sell it, you were doing God's work. What now seems so disturbing makes so much sense in the context of the times. Even though I love Melville's Moby Dick with a passionate intensity, the realism of its narrative...more
Eric_W
Everyone knows the story of Moby Dick, the great white whale chased by Captain Ahab, that succeeds in sinking Ahab’s ship. Apparently, Herman Melville based the story on a real event, although the sperm whale was not white, merely an enraged, but also seemingly cunning, bull sperm whale. It’s this story of the whale ship Essex, and of the grim events that faced the sailors who left Nantucket in 1820, that Philbrick tells of in rather horrifying detail .

The Essex’s Captain Pollard was on his fi...more
Gerald Kinro
This is the event that gave rise to Melville’s Moby Dick. In 1819, the Essex leaves Nantucket for the South Pacific with twenty crew members aboard. In the middle of the South Pacific, they are rammed by an angry sperm whale and are relegated to survive in their lifeboats. In a story of what ifs, they opt not to go to the Marquesas Islands, the easiest route, for they fear cannibals. They rule out Tahiti, the second easiest route. What if, before this ill-fated journey, they had communicated wit...more
Shaun
This was quite a fascinating read. Aside from providing the inspiration for the classic Moby Dick by Herman Melville, this 93 day fight for survival is downright bone-chilling.

In the Heart of the Sea is the type of true-life tale that needs very little embellishment to get your attention and keep it. I was particularly fascinated by the incidences of cannibalism among the starving and desperate crew, incidences that not only involved those who had succumbed to starvation/sickness, but also thos...more
Michael
Superb rendering of the Nantucket whaling community and the disaster that befell the Essex in 1821. 1,500 miles off the coast of Chile, it was rammed and sunk by a sperm whale. Eight of 20 men survived the 4,500 mile, 3 month journey to safety in whaleboats. Cannibalism is an uncomfortable part of the story and is thoughfully, not luridly, treated. The story helps elucidate some of what it means to be human, our mastery of amazing feats as a collective and the courage and resourcefulness of indi...more
Rachel
Not being much into maritime affairs, I have to admit that I didn't expect much from this book, notwithstanding the National Book Award seal. Fortunately, the history of whaling on Nantucket turned out to be pretty darn interesting, particularly when you throw in an attack by a whale and some cannibalism to boot. The second half of the book was far more interesting than the first. Overall, it would have been more captivating if it was styled as a novel rather a history lesson.
Lauren (the Pink Avenger)

A Nantucket whaling crew gets plunged into disaster. Think Moby Dick IRL.

I would like to take some time out to fantasize what the reaction to the (not yet released) movie of this book would have been like if Tom Hiddleston or Benedict Cumberbatch were in it- which almost happened. I mean, how would their fanbases react to them resorting to...eating peoples? Sadly, we'll never know. But anyway.

A weird quirk of mine: Normally I hate books that take place on boats. My most recent encounter with nav...more
John and Kris
Picture the face of your favorite cousin. Now picture your aunt. Hold their images in your mind for a minute.

Philbrick’s In The Heart of the Sea, winner of the National Book Award, tells the amazing story of the whaleship Essex. The Essex, commissioned out of the Quaker port of Nantucket, was to fill her hold with sperm whale oil in the Pacific. Whaling, while profitable, was a nasty and dangerous occupation with a single hunting expedition lasting up to three years by the Monroe presidency. For...more
Ramorx
Feb 14, 2008 Ramorx rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: cannibals, human rights activists
I have a perennial seafaring thing going on in my life, despite being completely landlocked in the crucible of San Cristobal at a vertiginous 2200m - for, I don't know, oh, interminable years. Once I worked on a banana ship traversing the Atlantic ocean and despite the factory-like conditions, I loved it. So I devour any books dealing with the sea, hoping that the beautiful aroma of the surf two weeks from land can be conjured up in word or prose.
But most sea books are shite and fail to conjure...more
Chelsea
"Hey," I said, to a very sweet and somewhat shy woman I work with. "I just read this great book, and someone else has to read it too, so I can talk to them about it."

"Okay!" She exclaims, enthusiastically. She had recently lent me the first in the The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax series, about a sweet older lady who becomes a spy. We were book friends now! "What's it about?"

"Whaling and cannibalism!"

Because, really, how else do you sell this book? "It's about New England whaling culture! It's about...more
Grace
Feb 16, 2008 Grace rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Becca B - and everyone else
This book is fascinating! It's the true story of a whaling ship destroyed by a whale, and the survival (or death) of the crew. The event was the partial inspiration for Moby Dick. The book starts off a bit slow, and even a little bit condescending at times about nautical terminology, as the ship prepares for the voyage and leaves Nantucket. But once the trouble begins, it's totally gripping. I actually finished reading it as I was *walking* through an airport to visit a friend, and I was actuall...more
Bobbi
What an exciting book! In the early nineteenth century, Nantucket was the whale oil center of the world. They fished out most of the right whales around the area then started on sperm whales which necessitated the ships going around the cape of South America into the Pacific. (The right whale population is still low today but there are several hundred thousand sperm whales left). Most of the trips took 2 to 3 years to fill the ship with oil before returning to Nantucket. The Essex left Nantucket...more
Jeanne
I have been searching for a book like this for a long time. Although I've enjoyed other well known stories of the sea, at the same time, I've been disappointed. In the end, I always feel more of a longing to find a better book. In the Heart of the Sea is the perfect antidote to that empty feeling. It's a more consistently gripping, nonfiction brother of Moby Dick. The author perfectly interweaves a beyond nightmarish tale at sea, with fascinating Nantucket history and whalelore. The book never e...more
Iris
Sep 22, 2013 Iris rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Iris by: Jeanne
Shelves: history
One of the best stories ever told is that of the Essex and its entire crew afloat on the Pacific for three months, trying to make an impossible voyage to Chile. The author reconstructs the day by day experience of the crew from several accounts of survivors, and their story is not just shocking, it's also inspiring: the men were supportive of each other despite the misery and incertitude of their circumstances. The story is bolstered by historical details (about Nantucket, the whaling industry,...more
David
I couldn't put this book down; it is the true story that inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick. A whaling ship from Nantucket was deliberately attacked and sunk by a sperm whale. Never before had such a thing happened. And that's just the beginning of the story. The sailors' incredible struggle for survival lasted for three months.

Equally fascinating was the strange, rich society that lived in the whaling town of Nantucket. Most of the men would go to sea for a couple of years, and return...more
Amar Pai
Not for me, the life at sea. They ate all the black guys first
Stenwjohnson
Nathan Philbrick’s “In the Heart of the Sea” spread amongst my friends like wildfire, or maybe the bloody geyser from a harpooned sperm whale. All of a sudden, it seemed like everyone had read, was reading, or looking for a copy of this gripping true tale of 19th century whaling and its tragic consequences. This is a forgotten story with powerful resonance, both as a touchstone of 19th century popular culture and as an inspiration for Melville’s “Moby Dick.”

I devoured this book in a weekend and...more
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Fiction Fanatics: June 2014 - In the Heart of the Sea 4 14 Jun 05, 2014 10:16AM  
Edwardsville Publ...: Page Turning Non-Fiction: In The Heart of The Sea 11 15 Sep 29, 2013 12:02PM  
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Philbrick was Brown’s first Intercollegiate All-American sailor in 1978; that year he won the Sunfish North Americans in Barrington, RI; today he and his wife Melissa sail their Beetle Cat Clio and their Tiffany Jane 34 Marie-J in the waters surrounding Nantucket Island.

After grad school, Philbrick worked for four years at Sailing World magazine; was a freelancer for a number of years, during whic...more
More about Nathaniel Philbrick...
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“Hope was all that stood between them and death.” 5 likes
“The sperm whales' network of female-based family unit resembled, to a remarkable extent, the community the whalemen had left back home on Nantucket. In both societies the males were itinerants. In their dedication to killing sperm whales the Nantucketers had developed a system of social relationships that mimicked those of their prey.” 1 likes
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