2000 - 2007 Non Fiction Uncategorized

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

In the Heart of the Sea: The Epic True Story that Inspired 'Moby Dick'

Five words from the blurb: whaleship, sinking, crewmen, dramatic, survival

In the Heart of the Sea is an account of the events that inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick. In 1820 the whaleship Essex was attacked by a spermwhaleBy combining historical narratives, Philbrick gives a shocking insight into the plight of the twenty crewmen who escaped into lifeboats in the middle of the Pacific. It is a gripping story that shows what happens to the human body when it is starved of food and water, but it is also a chilling reminder of what people are capable of doing in order to survive.

I found the first third of this book slow going. This was because it gave a solid introduction to the whaling industry – facts I was already familiar with from reading the outstanding Leviathan by Philip Hoare. I can’t fault this section and don’t feel it should have been written differently, it is just unfortunate in being the second to inform me of these facts.

Luckily the story quickly began to take a route I was unfamiliar with. The book clearly explained what life at sea was like and I was gripped to the adventure, willing the men to survive. The details of what happened to them as they became dehydrated were disturbing to read, but I also found them strangely fascinating:

Morning came quickly and, with it, a return to the agonies of hunger and thirst. They were now so severely dehydrated that they had begun to lose the ability to speak. “Relief,” Chase wrote, “must come soon, or nature would sink.” They wandered the beach like ragged skeletons, pausing to lean against trees and rocks to catch their breath. They tried chewing the waxy green leaves of the shrubs that grew in cliffs, but they were bitter to taste. They found birds that made no attempt to escape when they plucked them from their nests. In the crevices of the rocks sprouted a grass that, when chewed, produced a temporary flow of moisture in their mouths. But nowhere did they find fresh water.

The period detail was fantastic and the life of a whaler was brought vividly to life. I also liked the way it documented what happened to the women who had been left behind on Nantucket. Their independent life was inspiring to read, showing how a community coped without men in a time when many thought it wrong/impossible.

If you like historical fiction packed with adventure then this is for you. The fact it is all true only adds to its brilliance.




4 replies on “In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick”

He wrote an amazing book about the Mayflower as well. He’s definitely someone with a talent to bring the past alive. I’ve got a couple more of his books on my iPod and shelves. I just need to be in the mood for them. I’m going to make sure I get my hands on this one too.

Sandy, I haven’t tried any of his other books so will get the one about the Mayflower soon. I look forward to your thoughts on his other books – I can see me enjoying everything he writes 🙂

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