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

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  41,478 ratings  ·  2,992 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
Paperback, 238 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
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
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
Lindsey Rey
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
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.


This was SO gruesome and weirdly gripp
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.
Horrifying gruesome heartbreaking read.
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,
3 stars - It was good.

This one started off slow for me as it was primarily about ships and killing whales, two topics that hold little interest to me. Around 1/3 of the way through is when the tragedy occurred and from there on, it was a very engaging survival story.

I still have a hard time with the ignorance mankind had in the past and continues to have today in regards to our planet's resources. I find it very interesting that subsets of cultures historically had more awareness and were bette
Lewis Weinstein
A terrific read, based on original documents recovered long after the events described in the book, which took place mostly in 1820. Part of the true story formed the basis for Melville's "Moby Dick."

Brave men set out for a 3 year journey to find and kill whales and process the blubber into oil. The owners of the ship and the captain stand to get rich; most of the crew will make barely enough to survive. But on this voyage, after their ship is battered by a huge sperm whale, many do not survive.
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:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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
MaryannC.Book Fiend
This was mesmerizing, mind blowing, and suspenseful. Whaling was a part of history I didn't care to read much of because of the cruel, barbaric aspects, but after deciding that I had to read this I was NOT disappointed! I cannot even begin to try to put a review together because of all that happens in this book, but I will say this was a fantastic history lesson for me. RECOMMENDED HIGHLY.
One of most the most gruesome books I've ever read. Astonishingly beautiful. Please read it.
One of the most riveting, enlightening, gut-wrenching, macabre, unfathomable, heart-pounding, culture-defining, era-appalling, extremely well-written and fastidiously researched non-fiction books I've read this year.

That was a mouthful!!!

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex: So much more than a survival tale or a seafaring story or Nantucket legend or the catalyst for the literary classic: Moby Dick.

"The Essex disaster is not a tale of adventure. It is a tragedy that hap
DNF @ 45%

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex is an excellent historical account that has been well researched and includes the journal entries of the Whaleship Essex's cabin boy. I personally did not finish it because the writing is a bit dry for my personal taste as a reader - kind of textbook-ish if that makes sense. There are fans of history books who would absolutely devour this title, but I personally need my history reading to feel a bit more like a flowing story in
Deborah Edwards
I'm a sucker for stories about exploration and survival. My bookshelves are littered with them: "The Lost City of Z," "Into Thin Air,""The River of Doubt," "Blue Latitudes," "The Perfect Storm," "The Terror." You hand me a book about shipping disasters or Amazonian perils or Shackleton or the search for the Northwest Passage, and if it is at all well-researched and readable, I am in. But find me one that references something I know, an area with which I am already familiar - and there is somethi ...more
Hang on. So the crew of the Essex (quite apart from their whole whale-killing society being an early contributor to majorly endangering the species as a whole):

-go on one of their epic whale-killing journeys;
-slaughter a bunch of whales;
-capture, abuse and slaughter a huge bunch of Galapagos tortoises;
-set fire to an entire Galapagos island for a fucking lark;
-get COMPLETELY UNFAIRLY, UNPROVOKEDLY AND WITH MALICIOUS INTENT attacked by a sperm whale (I mean, how very DARE that fucker?) so their s
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
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
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
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
Although In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex is scheduled to be released as a movie soon, that's not why I read it. For years now (it came out in 2000), it has languished unread on my classroom library shelf. I wanted to read it, however, due to my own family history. On my father's side, we have many whalers who shipped out of New Bedford. This book focuses on the whalers out of Nantucket -- a tight knit, Quaker community that became wealthy on the whale.

The Essex is als
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.
Book Riot Community
This book has it all: shipwrecks, sharks, and cannibalism. And it’s all true! The Essex is the whaleship that inspired Herman Melville’s classic (and one of my favorite books), Moby-Dick, and its real-life tale is stranger than fiction. After an 80 ton sperm whale repeatedly rammed and sank their ship, 20 crew members were left stranded in three tiny boats in the middle of the ocean. Spoiler: not everyone makes it. This book is a doozy of a page-turner, and Philbrick does an incredible job diggi ...more
"Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee."
- Moby-Dick


I've been wanting to read this book for years. Patiently it sat, right behind me, waiting. I enjoyed Philbrick's Mayflower and Sea of Glory. Given how much I love Moby-Dick, I'm kinda surprised it took me so long (15 years) to read this history of the Essex.

Philbrick paces this narrative well. He patches t
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
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
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
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
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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 about Nathaniel Philbrick...

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“Hope was all that stood between them and death.” 11 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.” 4 likes
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