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In the Heart of the Sea: The Epic True Story that Inspired 'Moby Dick' Hardcover – 2 May 2000


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; 1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2 edition (2 May 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0002570572
  • ISBN-13: 978-0002570572
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.4 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 250,806 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

The appeal of Dava Sobel's Longitude was that it illuminated a little-known piece of history through a series of captivating incidents and engaging personalities. Nathaniel Philbrick's In The Heart of the Sea certainly covers the same area, by examining the 19th-century Pacific whaling industry through the arc of the sinking of the whaleship Essex by a boisterous sperm whale. The story which inspired Herman Melville's classic, Moby Dick, has a lot going for it--derring-do, cannibalism, rescue--and Philbrick proves an amiable and well-informed narrator, providing both context and detail. We learn about the importance and mechanics of blubber production--a vital source of oil--and we get the nuts and bolts of harpooning and life onboard whalers. Neither are we spared the nitty gritty of the open boats and sucking human bones dry.

By sticking to the tried and tested Longitude formula, Philbrick has missed a slight trick or two. The epicentre of the whaling industry was Nantucket, a small island off Cape Cod; most of the whales were in the Pacific, a huge journey around the southernmost tip of America. We never learn the reason for this distance and why no one ever tried to create an alternative whaling capital somewhere nearer. Similarly, Philbrick tells us that the story of the Essex was well known to Americans for decades but he never explores how such legends fade from our consciousness. Philbrick would no doubt reply that such questions were beyond his remit and you can't exactly accuse him of skimping on his research; 50 pages of footnotes is impressive by any standards and to give him his credit he wears his learning light. Unlike many academics, he doesn't get bogged down in turgid detail and the narrative rattles along at a nice pace. And when the story line is as good as this, you can't really ask for more.--John Crace

Review

‘Utterly gripping.’ Daily Telegraph

‘Brilliant.’ The Times

‘Superbly readable…elegantly written…a compelling study of the infinite human meanings of the sea itself.’ Guardian

‘As gripping as it is grissly…a cracking narrative, a complex cast of characters and a terrible moral dilemma at its heart.’ Daily Mail

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By SAP VINE VOICE on 13 July 2005
Format: Paperback
Perhaps the highest praise I can bestow upon this book is to say that I can't ever remember being so thoroughly absorbed in any work of non-fiction. Before I knew where I was I had read half the book and had to pace myself for the remainder to make it last! Of the many books of maritime exploration, adventure, mutiny and war that I have read -- even Caroline Alexander's The Bounty, which I rate highly -- no other author came close to Mr Philbrick's ability to paint a picture with words of the sea - to make me feel as if I were there on these whaleboats sharing the dreadful experience of these shipwrecked men as they slowly shed their humanity and became animals. If you know nothing about the sea, if you've never left solid ground or even seen the sea, this book will still appeal to you as a very human story of shared suffering and the lengths that the human body and mind will go to in order to cling to life under the harshest conditions and in the most unforgiving and merciless environment on the planet.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By snakefang on 6 Nov 2002
Format: Paperback
...The best read I have had all year. I have now purchased a further 8 copies of this book for other people, and it will no doubt be given to a few more this Christmas. You'd expect this historical non fiction to be dry, and indeed the first chapter of Nantucket whaling ship history may well give you a hint that your initial suspicions were confirmed but once they set sail - what an adventure! The coincidences, the survival, the power of the writing and the storytelling where Philbrick manages to avoid creating fictional dialogue for his sailors and sticks to the facts while making some suppositions of his own. You could not put this book down once started. An incredible tale and all the more amazing for being true. The cover mentions Moby Dick's reliance on the Essex's story for its own inspiration 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.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 13 May 2004
Format: Hardcover
What does it mean to be indomitable? This book displays that wonderful human quality in a remarkably effective way. The next time you consider giving up, just imagine yourself on the trackless sea in a small boat from the Essex.

This story has to be one of the most astonishing survival tales in recorded history. Before I say more, let me caution you that this story (and parts of this review) is not for those with weak stomachs.

After their ship is disabled by an attacking sperm whale, the survivors find themselves on three open boats in the middle of the Pacific Ocean over 2,000 miles from their targeted landfall in South America. With luck, they will make it in 30 days. They soon find themselves in a stall as the winds fail to cooperate, except to provide severe storms that threaten to capsize the boats.

Soon, all the food is encrusted with salt and everyone is suffering with severe dehydration. Then things start to get worse! I won't go further, but you have an amazing story of survival ahead of you.

Two of the few survivors of this terrible ordeal later committed their experiences to writing, which provide great resources for this well-researched book.

At another level, the book is also extremely interesting because these experiences were important influences on Herman Melville's writing of the American classic, Moby Dick. The book makes that connection for you, including how Melville came to learn the story.

At a third level, the book is a fascinating history of whaling around 1820. If you are like me, you will cringe when the whalers devastate island after island . . . as well as the whale population. But that's not the limit to their willingness to use nature to their own advantage.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 4 Aug 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an absolutely fantastic book detailing the horrific experiences of a whaleship crew cast adrift on the ocean. It is so well written you can feel the claustrophobia and utter hopelessness that these poor 19th Century mariners must have felt. The story just builds and builds and you will not be able to put this book down, you can feel the shivers running up and down your spine. It's a great read and I would recommend it to ANYONE be they interested in historical fact or not. It could not have come from the pen of a writer of fiction as only true stories leave you this nervous/breathless and truly plumb the depths of the human psyche. Brilliant.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 13 May 2004
Format: Paperback
What does it mean to be indomitable? This book displays that wonderful human quality in a remarkably effective way. The next time you consider giving up, just imagine yourself on the trackless sea in a small boat from the Essex.
This story has to be one of the most astonishing survival tales in recorded history. Before I say more, let me caution you that this story (and parts of this review) is not for those with weak stomachs.
After their ship is disabled by an attacking sperm whale, the survivors find themselves on three open boats in the middle of the Pacific Ocean over 2,000 miles from their targeted landfall in South America. With luck, they will make it in 30 days. They soon find themselves in a stall as the winds fail to cooperate, except to provide severe storms that threaten to capsize the boats.
Soon, all the food is encrusted with salt and everyone is suffering with severe dehydration. Then things start to get worse! I won't go further, but you have an amazing story of survival ahead of you.
Two of the few survivors of this terrible ordeal later committed their experiences to writing, which provide great resources for this well-researched book.
At another level, the book is also extremely interesting because these experiences were important influences on Herman Melville's writing of the American classic, Moby Dick. The book makes that connection for you, including how Melville came to learn the story.
At a third level, the book is a fascinating history of whaling around 1920. If you are like me, you will cringe when the whalers devastate island after island . . . as well as the whale population. But that's not the limit to their willingness to use nature to their own advantage.
The ultimate irony is that the survivors went the wrong way.
Read more ›
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