In the Heart of the Sea book cover

In the Heart of the Sea:

The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex; Nathaniel Philbrick

| published April 25, 2016 |

By Karen Franklin, Thursday Review contributor

I admit that previous to learning of this book, I thought that Melville's novel Moby Dick was based on rumor or "myths" of large whales attacking, even sinking, whaling ships. However, it happened and more than once! The Heart of the Sea is the accounting, as far as can be determined from historical documents and survivor's "embellished" memories, of the attack on and sinking of the whaler Essex by a large male sperm whale (reckoned to be about 85 feet long) in 1820.

The book is fascinating not only for the fact that the event happened, but for the extreme measures the crew had to use to survive. Philbrick jams a great deal of history of the entire historical period, as well as the mechanics of whaling, into the book. The latter is awful from start to finish: under-provisioned ships with largely untrained crew and leaders, encountering the sea at its deadliest while trying to kill denizens of the sea--as indiscriminately as the sea would destroy them. There is no respite from the dangers or the dirt, and even little monetary reward at the end of a successful voyage. The company owners are the only "winners." There were some valuable lessons to be learned from how this greed destroyed whatever it touched, but it appears we are still trying to learn them.

Related Thursday Review articles:

In the Heart of the Sea: Or, How an Epic Adventure Story Can Put You to Sleep; film review by Maggie Nichols; Thursday Review; January 5, 2016.

Orphan Train; Christina Baker Kline; book review by Karen Franklin; Thursday Review; July 26, 2015.