Adrianne Mathiowetz's Reviews > In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
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May 12, 08

Recommended to Adrianne by: Adam Conover
Recommended for: Moby Dick fans, the morbid, pirates
Read in May, 2008

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 the critical gap. What did the water look like when the 80 ton whale barreled toward the ship? What does it feel like to starve/thirst to death? What happens to your eyelids? What did Captain Pollard shout when his cousin's lot was drawn? Philbrick may not have been there in the whaleboats, but he knows so much about his topic, he may as well have been. (The notes and select bibliography themselves take up another 50-or-so pages, most of them primary sources.)

What's really impressive to me about all of the research Philbrick did, is how, through the overwhelming web of whaling and Nantucket and cannibalism that must have become his mind, he maintained a grip on what would interest his audience. Just as you begin to ask a question, he answers it. Just as you come to a realization ("wow, so the whales' social lives were structured a lot like the Nantucketers'") he articulates it -- of course, better than you had, and often utilizing the words "predator" and "prey". Masterful.
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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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Todd Johnson Yeah, this is a great book. I'm especially happy about the fact that my copy (which I read on the beach during the honeymoon) is wrinkled and water-logged, as though it's actually seen the heart of the sea.

I also read "Sea of Glory" by Philbrick, which doesn't get the same kinds of reviews, but which I enjoyed just as much. It's longer, and the material is, in some sense, drier - it's about a mission of scientific exploration, rather than daring-do in tiny whale boats -- but it's a pretty cool study of some complex characters.

Anyway, have you read any Jon Krakauer? He isn't the amazing researcher that Philbrick is, but I found all three of his (nonfiction) books impossible to put down. I finished Into Thin Air in like two sittings. You might not find the subjects (mountaineering, Mormons, death and idealists in Alaska) as compelling, but the storytelling is great. I mean, if you're looking for gripping nonfiction.


message 2: by Adam (last edited Jun 15, 2008 12:51PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Adam I know, right?

(He said, helpfully!)


message 3: by Gary (new)

Gary "This may be because I am stupid"...

No, you are definitely NOT stupid. Because of your excellent review I will put this book on my "to read" list. Thanks. And please don't light that cigarette.


Zoie This book was amazing. I couldn't put it down either


Madrezenith there are so many great nonfiction books out there! I used to avoid them, too, but lately its all I read. My favorite for over a year is Devil in the White City, absolutely amazing!


message 6: by Deb (new) - rated it 5 stars

Deb Driscoll I was born and raised on Nantucket island and would visit the whaling museum to see the artifacts and hear the stories about the voyage of the Essex from old Nantucketers. In the heart of the sea has been my favorite book ever since reading it years ago. It amazes me that most people don't know that Moby Dick was based on a true story!


message 7: by Candie (new) - added it

Candie Agreed- Devil in the white city is good, and I really enjoyed River of Doubt.


message 8: by Brian J. (new)

Brian J. Try In Harm's Way by Doug Stanton. One of the best nonfiction books ever. You'll never listen to Quint's story in Jaws about never wearing a life jacket again in the same way.


message 9: by Brian J. (new)

Brian J. Try In Harm's Way by Doug Stanton. One of the best nonfiction books ever. You'll never listen to Quint's story in Jaws about never wearing a life jacket again in the same way.


Zarar Siddiqi Yup, throughout the reading I had to triple check whether this was a true story.


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