May 22, 12
Read from May 15 to 19, 2012
People have recommended this book to me for years and I finally got around to reading it. The Essex was a Nantucket whaling ship which was damaged by a whale in November of 1820, leading to the 20-man crew being stranded in 3 small whaling boats without much food and water 1400 miles from land. The dramatic story and survival of 8 of the crew was legendary for over a century and in fact inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick. The journey after the sinking of the whaling ship lasted over 90 days and was riveting as the men struggled with hunger, thirst, navigation, weather, and the fragility of their small boats for thousands of miles on the open sea. The culture of whaling and the story of the Essex were foreign to me, despite being the basis for lives over generations in Nantucket and beyond. The descriptions of whaling life such as the processing of the massive creature for its industrial purposes, largely oil for lighting the early cities of the day, and the view of all living things as being means for the progress of human goals, such as the hundreds of tortoises used for food for this one whaling ship alone, are striking in comparison with perceptions of the natural environment today. The dangers of the sea are almost unimaginable to us today, who will likely never know the isolation, hard work, and simple technology of 1800's whaling ships. I kind of want to go to Nantucket now, but I would probably be very disappointed with all of the tourist culture that has replaced the culture of this book, which, lets face it, replaced the native Wampanoag people, etc. etc.