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

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  73,452 ratings  ·  5,322 reviews
"With its huge, scarred head halfway out of the water and its tail beating the ocean into a white-water wake more than forty feet across, the whale approached the ship at twice its original speed - at least six knots. With a tremendous cracking and splintering of oak, it struck the ship just beneath the anchor secured at the cat-head on the port bow..."

In the Heart of the
Paperback, First Edition, 302 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)

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 ·  73,452 ratings  ·  5,322 reviews

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Jeffrey Keeten
Jan 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-to-film, the-sea
”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 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 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
May 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction

This review is a Chris Hemsworth-free zone!

Yes, he was in the crappy film version of this book.

No, I won’t use any pics in my review.


There once was a man from Nantucket,
Who was so big he could…

The island of Nantucket has loads to answer for beyond smutty limericks. About 200 years ago, they were at the very pinnacle of the whale slaughtering business.

Top of the world, indeed.

The Nantucket whalers were about due for a cosmic bitch slap, hence the events depicted in this book.

Avast ye, Capta
Apr 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A phenomenal telling of the disaster at sea, that spurred Herman Melville to write Moby Dick,In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick is exceptional. Philbrick takes us inside the tragedy with painstaking care and newly discovered research. He describes hour to hour what happened on the ill-fated voyage. This is my favorite type of historical writing. It never feels stodgy or stilted. You feel like you are there suffering along with the crew. Ultimately, it is a tale of the optimism of the ...more
Michael Finocchiaro
Sep 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
This book was a fantastic tale, the facts of which were an inspiration to Melville who met the surviving captain years later. The ship Essex headed to whaling groups in - as Phlibrick excellently describes as the most desolate spot on Earth - a thousand miles off the coast of Chile in the Pacific. Beset by bad luck, the boat is stuck for weeks in the doldrums with no wind, struck by an unhappy (but not white) whale which founders the boat, and then struggle (mostly unsuccessfully) to survive wit ...more
Jul 01, 2013 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 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Michael Ferro
Sep 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
MOBY-DICK is one of my favorite books, so I'm ashamed that it took me so long to read IN THE HEART OF THE SEA, the inspiration for Melville's classic and the true tale of the Essex's sinking by an angry sperm whale. I'm a sucker for historical nonfiction, especially when it concerns an event I have a little preexisting knowledge of. That said, never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that the "great American novel" was based on a tale of such brutal survival and sheer terror.

Nathaniel P
Jason Koivu
Nov 22, 2008 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 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
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
May 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Buddy-read with Jeff-fah-fah and Holly! Guys, it was awesome!

For anyone not knowing: this is a true story. The Essex, a ship full of whalers, ventures into the Pacific to kill a lot of animals, usually in a very horrific way, and the men get what they've got coming when a male sperm whale attacks and sinks the ship.

The story even inspired Herman Melville, the famous writer of Moby Dick, who met the son of Owen Chase (the first mate on the Essex).

This book presents a detailed account of the life
Oct 05, 2014 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
Apr 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The whaleship Essex, 15 months into an expected journey of three years, is head-butted and sunk by a sperm whale, an unprecedented and bizarre attack that inspired Herman Melville's classic "Moby Dick." Left at a point in the Pacific that could not be further from land, the twenty crewmembers board three leaky whaleboats with limited food and freshwater. While south Pacific islands to west are more easily reached via the prevailing winds, Captain George Pollard yields to the officers' fears of ...more
J.K. Grice
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I probably can't say anything that hasn't already been said about IN THE HEART OF THE SEA. This was just an amazing account of not only the Essex, but the early days of whaling in the American colonies. Fascinating stuff and also so tragic. I liked the film version very much as well.
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
Sep 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
If I had to come up with a torturous way to die, I would immediately start talking about this book. Holy mackerel, how much tragedy can one group of people endure? This story was an atmospheric and truly terrifying account of an ordeal that defies comprehension. I have had a visceral reaction throughout this one. It's a shock to the system. My muscles are cramped from tension, my heart is pounding, and I am overcome with guilt (and gratitude) for every glass of water I drink. A wonderful histori ...more
Jul 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
“In the Heart of the Sea” is my first time reading the work of Nathaniel Philbrick. It will not be my last. This is an excellent and engaging text, and like the best nonfiction the reader feels the immediacy and importance of the events described therein.
The book follows the last voyage of the Nantucket whaleship “Essex” and the trek for survival made by the ship’s crew. It is an adventure tale, interspersed with lessons on everything from the behavior of sperm whales, the intricacies of sailing
Oct 11, 2016 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
This is a truly fascinating account of the true events of the inspiration behind Melville’s basis for Moby Dick. There are several accounts to speak for here, most of which are from different actual crew members. Combined, these shed some rather critical anthropological light and revealed vital information in my eyes.
Here, too, is Nickerson’s account, presented alongside that of Pollock, the Captain of the Essex; and Chase, first mate. There are also accounts from other whaling ships of the day
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
Jul 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: maritime-history
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
Oct 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 eventually expire. Philbrick's well-researched account not only synchronizes multiple witness recollections, but provides historical context with regards to the Nantucket community and the 19th century American whaling industry, all in 238 unputdownable pages. And this real-life story was also the i ...more
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 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.
Most glad to be sitting on my comfortable couch right now, not having to resort to cannibalism. I mean, there's cannibalism in this is what I'm saying, and while it's not described in extreme detail, it is *described* . I feel like I might have gotten PTSD from having to read about these people I didn't even really like (except for maybe the cabin boy) having to eat each other. So: that is my warning to you, and historical spoilers? I guess? This book climaxes in cannibalism.

But it was really i
Brendon Schrodinger
Jan 26, 2013 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,
Jul 31, 2011 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
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Around the Year i...: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick 1 7 Jan 13, 2019 06:05PM  
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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
“Hope was all that stood between them and death.” 22 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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