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

4.16  ·  Rating Details ·  57,484 Ratings  ·  4,341 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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William Hands In the Heart is the actual historical story. It may not be the greatest sea story ever, but it certainly trumps a work of fiction based on its own…moreIn the Heart is the actual historical story. It may not be the greatest sea story ever, but it certainly trumps a work of fiction based on its own events.(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Jan 23, 2016 Jeffrey Keeten rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-sea, book-to-film
”I turned around and saw him about one hundred rods [500 m or 550 yards] directly ahead of us, coming down with twice his ordinary speed of around 24 knots (44 km/h), and it appeared with tenfold fury and vengeance in his aspect. The surf flew in all directions about him with the continual violent thrashing of his tail. His head about half out of the water, and in that way he came upon us, and again struck the ship."
—Owen Chase, first mate of the whaleship Essex.

 photo Sperm20Whale20attack_zpsqtog9pqm.jpg

“There she blows!” was as much
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
Aug 14, 2007 Adrianne Mathiowetz rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 28, 2012 Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 01, 2013 Carol rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"It was a tale of a whale-man's worst nightmare: of being left in a boat far from land with nothing left to eat or drink and perhaps worst of all......of a whale with the vindictiveness and guile of a man."

This deadly true story of the 1820 (85' long, 80 ton) whale attack on the Essex was not exactly what I expected, but oh so much more. It begins with background of Captain and crew, the unimaginable time spent away from home and how their wives coped in their absence often resorting to use of l

Lindsey Rey
Apr 20, 2015 Lindsey Rey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jason Koivu
Nov 22, 2008 Jason Koivu rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
WAY more exciting than I expected! Nathaniel 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.

In fact, the historic event depicted in this book is the basis for Melville's story. Philbrick gives
Nov 03, 2013 Diane rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 05, 2014 Candi rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating and very readable true account of the whaleship Essex and its crew which left Nantucket in 1820 only to meet with disaster fifteen months later in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. I have been interested in learning more about this tragedy for some time, but honestly didn't expect to become so absorbed in this book! Having very little knowledge of the whaling industry and maritime travel in general, I was nevertheless easily able to follow the story thanks to the tale ...more
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
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
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
Ashley *Hufflepuff Kitten*
Meticulously researched, written in a way that is easy to follow the narrative, and excellently narrated by the ever-reliable Scott Brick. Looking forward to another book by Nathaniel Philbrick!

I got sucked into the idea behind this in part, and mainly due to, the imminent release of the film adaptation -- and seeing in the trailer that this is the story which inspired Moby Dick (another classic I have yet to read, but that's another story for another time). Beyond that limited knowledge, I went
Lewis Weinstein
Dec 10, 2014 Lewis Weinstein rated it it was amazing
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.
Brendon Schrodinger
Jan 26, 2013 Brendon Schrodinger rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, the-ocean
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,
Oct 11, 2016 Jeanette rated it it was amazing
Once I was well into this non-fiction record, I could not put it down.

The detail and research! The maps, the retained evidence and not the least is the history and onus of Nantucket.

Nathaniel Philbrick not only relates all minutia of this chronological multi-year saga of the Essex, but also sets that in the proper setting- like a gem in an elaborate piece of jewelry.

The Quaker religion, worldview and how that worked into the patterns of work for whaling! The language itself surrounding itself
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
Um livro de não-ficção a relatar o naufrágio de um baleeiro norte-americano em 1820. À partida, não seria algo que me suscitasse muito interesse, mas como a sua adaptação cinematográfica estreou há pouco tempo e a história aqui relatada inspirou o famoso Moby Dick, de Herman Melville (que ainda não li), senti a motivação suficiente para viajar até ao século XIX e embarcar nesta perigosa viagem.

O início do livro contém o necessário enquadramento da partida do Essex da ilha de Nantucket, à data a
Mar 15, 2015 Kasia rated it it was amazing
One of most the most gruesome books I've ever read. Astonishingly beautiful. Please read it.
Scott Rhee
Dec 10, 2015 Scott Rhee rated it it was amazing
I wrote a paper on Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” for my senior year AP English class and received an “A+” for it... WITHOUT HAVING READ THE DAMNED BOOK! Not bragging (okay, maybe a little...), but it’s a testament to two things: 1) the great in-depth class discussions about the book in Mr. Milheim’s class from which I took copious notes and 2) my talent for bullshit. I could write a paper on any topic, not knowing anything about said topic, and make it sound great, by simply bullshitting my way ...more
This is such a fascinating book. I’ve never really lived close to a coastline in which the ocean itself is the source of income and sustenance, and have only visited New England once, but this book makes me want to take a trip to Nantucket Island right now to see and experience at least some of the history of this harsh lifestyle.

We are all probably at least somewhat familiar with the story of the Essex, especially with the movie being released just a few weeks ago. Most of us know that it was t
Aug 17, 2011 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  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.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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.
Jul 31, 2011 Darwin8u rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
"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
Jan 22, 2015 Jennifer marked it as dnf-lost-interest
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
Oct 03, 2016 Randy rated it it was amazing
Just how I like my history books: Interesting. Many (most?) history books get bogged down in the details discovered during the well-meaning author's research, losing the story somewhere amid a plethora of sleep-inducing minutiae. But not here. Author Nathaniel Philbrick keeps front and center the mesmerizing story of the 19th century Nantucket whaleboat Essex, sunk after being rammed by a giant sperm whale, its crew afloat in whaleboats in the Pacific for weeks as their limited provisions eventu ...more
Dec 22, 2013 Cher rated it liked it
Shelves: bookclub, nonfiction
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
Oct 14, 2015 Dianne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-2015
Outstanding! What a story - review to come.
Deborah Edwards
Feb 17, 2015 Deborah Edwards rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Laura Leaney
Feb 07, 2014 Laura Leaney rated it it was amazing
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
  • Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America
  • The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty
  • The Loss of the Ship Essex Sunk By a Whale
  • Batavia's Graveyard: The True Story of the Mad Heretic Who Led History's Bloodiest Mutiny
  • The Ice Master
  • Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea
  • Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe
  • Ghost Ship: The Mysterious True Story of the Mary Celeste and Her Missing Crew
  • Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World
  • Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Explosion 1917
  • In the Land of White Death: An Epic Story of Survival in the Siberian Arctic
  • Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival
  • Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before
  • The White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America's Deadliest Avalanche
  • Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894 (P.S.)
  • The Johnstown Flood
  • Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
  • Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan's Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws' Bloody Reign
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.” 16 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.” 5 likes
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