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on 25 October 2013
I loved this. Okay its a horrible story, with death and cannibalism, but told brilliantly. Packed full of information on contemporary history of the Nantucket whaling industry, it gave me a taster that left me wanting more! Fab book.
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on 15 June 2015
Excellent read, thought provoking, human emotions at its rawest. Read before you see the film, (American adaptation, probably ruined!)
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on 23 February 2017
Riveting read from start to finish
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on 30 July 2016
Swift postage for a great cost.
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on 13 September 2013
Very good account of true events, very pacy and thought provoking. Bit slow to start, but stick with it, definitely worth a read.
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on 5 November 2013
This book is excellent and its a book that makes you feel there could not put it down could certainly recommend
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on 10 November 2013
Well this was quite something. Recommended by a friend, this is the true story that Herman Melville based his classic, Moby Dick on. Philbrick does an excellent job of pulling all his source material together to tell the story as accurately and effectively as possible, something that he succeeds in doing admirably.

It should be pointed out that this is a tale of woe from the first to last page. The story details Captain Pollard's first command. The Nantucket whale ship Essex on a voyage to hunt Sperm whales in the Pacific ocean. Basically everything that could possibly go wrong, does go wrong and then some. Culminating in absolute unmitigated horror.

Much more than the story of a whale attacking a ship and sinking it, the book is quite an education as well. Eminently readable and compulsive, we get to learn about not just the lives of the whalers and the vagrancies of whaling but the history of the island of Nantucket and societies of the Southern and Pacific oceans, the horrors of starvation and cannibalism, the rise and fall of the whaling industry and the effects on the lives of the people it touches and indeed the flora and fauna that suffers as a result. It really seems to capture the Zeitgeist of an era long gone.

There is so much of interest packed in here that there is not a dull page from cover to cover. An excellent, fascinating and valuable read, I highly recommend it to just about anyone. Although probably not good if you are easily perturbed, as it reaches into the depths of hell and does not return.
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This is a first rate, well crafted work of non-fiction. The author has a gift for putting together a compelling narrative about the unusual ordeal of the whale ship, Essex, which sailed out of Nantucket and was done in on the high seas by an extremely aggressive sperm whale who attacked it. So complete was the damage that the ship sank, its crew of twenty cast adrift upon a seemingly infinite ocean to find their way back home in three small boats. This real life, unheard of attack by a whale was the basis for Herman Melville's classic work of fiction, "Moby Dick".

What the author does is ground what happened to these most unfortunate of men in the historical context of the time. He paints a picture of the milieu in which they lived. Their lives were governed entirely by the whaling industry that was the bread and butter for Nantucket Island, the whaling capital of the world.

Drawing upon narratives by some of the survivors, as well as other historical data, he paints in intricate detail what life must have been like for these men. He weaves a tapestry of early nineteenth century life on the island of Nantucket and the preeminence of whaling in the lives of those who lived there, as well as the role of the Quakers. In essence, he brings the men, who were involved in this most notorious of survival at sea stories, to life for the reader.

It is a balanced narrative. This was to be the first voyage as Captain for the democratic George Pollard, who was teamed up with a very aggressive and ambitious first mate, Owen Chase. This was later to prove to be a poor combination. Nearly a third of the crew was African-American, which was an interesting twist, arising out of the abolitionist views of the Quakers, whose views were the mainstay of Nantucket. Most of the crew was very young, the cabin boy, Thomas Nickerson, being but fourteen years of age.

When the Essex was attacked while on the high seas by a gigantic, aggressive sperm whale and destroyed in the process, the story of the what happened to the crew makes for one of the most engrossing and amazing stories of survival ever to be told. Against the odds, eight of them survived their ordeal, which lasted for months. Dehydration and starvation were to drive them to a new frontier of human behavior. That threshold, however, once crossed, was one that would forever haunt those who survived. Their agonizing journey and foray into anthropophagy is chillingly chronicled.

This is a riveting and triumphant book. It is a tale richly told by a masterful storyteller, who is able to make this work of non-fiction come to life for the reader. It is simply a great book.
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on 13 July 2005
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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on 6 November 2002
...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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