In the Heart of the Sea: The Epic True Story That Inspired "Moby Dick"
3 journalers for this copy...
The sinking of the Nantucket whaleship Essex by an enraged sperm whale far out in the Pacific in November 1820 set in train one of the most dramatic sea stories of all time. Accounts of the unprecedented whale attack inspired Herman Melville's mighty novel Moby Dick, but In the Heart of the Sea goes beyond those events to describe what happened when the twenty mixed-race crewmen took to three small boats and what, three months later, the whaleship Dauphan, cruising off the coast of South America, discovered when it spotted a tiny boat sailing erratically across the open ocean.
I picked this book up on a whim really, the cover was attractive and also I tend to prefer true stories to fiction. (I saw that there are quite a few copies of In the Heart of the Sea registered as Literature & Fiction on BookCrossing. Appropriate categories would be Nonfiction, History and, at a pinch, Biographies & Memoirs.)
Well, I’m so glad I did buy it - I thought it was just fantastic. The author certainly spins a good yarn, to the extent that the book is surprisingly hard to put down. In fact, I doubt that I've ever enjoyed a historical book so much. (Probably in common with many people, I carry the ‘school baggage’ of subconsciously trying to remember all the facts in a book with the anticipation of being examined on it!)
The bulk of the book is the shipwreck-and-survival story itself. (No spoilers here - we know at the outset that at least one crew member survived to tell the tale! Also note that Philbrick includes information about other land and sea expeditions which went disastrously wrong.) But interspersed with the story are a large number of subjects which make it even more fascinating. The topics include: the whaling industry in detail including the dismembering of whales; the science of sinking a whaleship and whether a whale really would be ‘enraged’; the physiology and psychology of starvation (and survival cannibalism) and dehydration, including comments on the famous 1940s Minnesota Experiment (which should be far more widely spread for the sake of dieters and would-be dieters!); the navigational skills of the 1820s; the environmental damage caused by years of whaling (but note that modern whalers kill four times as many whales per year than the Nantucket whalers did in their time).
Now I've finished it, I really don't feel the urge to go on and read Moby Dick, especially after reading one Amazon UK review which said, ‘ but I found Philbrick's book far more compellingly told than the overblown and hysterically dramatic classic novel’. If I had to choose between the two, I would read Philbrick's tale a second time and forget the woeful Moby Dick. And talking of Amazon, I don't think I've ever seen so many reviewers in agreement!
This book is very well researched, with some 60 pages of notes, acknowledgements and even an index (hoorah!). It also has two very handy maps (I do like a map to follow!) and quite a few monochrome photos split into two batches of glossy pages. (Be careful when you look at these, especially the second map, as they could potentially be spoilers.)
I would certainly read more Philbrick after reading this.
One final WARNING! - please note that this book is not for the squeamish or fainthearted.
OCTOBER UPDATE: He's given it back to me now! He thought it was very good. But failed to journal for me :-(
WILD RELEASE NOTES:
The book was very good. I took a long time reading it as I only had time for a few pages a day, this was a mistake on my part as the author moves about in time from the year 1820 when the sinking of the Essex took place to modern day and then back to other points in history when similar sinking and ship wrecks took place. This sometimes left me wondering were I was in time and I found myself going back over the odd page. This is not intended to be a criticism of the way the book is written, more a suggestion that it should be read at least a chapter at a time, if your memory is getting as bad as mine.
The research and the detail in the book is outstanding and the way the story is told makes it very easy for the reader to “feel” some of the trauma that the sailors felt during so many days in the small lifeboats, with very little food, water or hope.
CAUGHT IN COLCHESTER ESSEX UNITED KINGDOM
My review can be found here, although maybe not as enthusiastic as some here ;)
WILD RELEASE NOTES:
Leaving outside the pub, I think, later on this morning