BOOK REVIEW: NATHANIEL PHILBRICK – IN THE HEART OF THE SEA

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In The Heart Of The Sea is a non-fiction book about an incredible, historic event that inspired the novel, Moby Dick, i.e. the downing of the Essex ship. The year was 1820 and whales were used to produce and supply oil to the world. But an unfortunate group of 20 men from Nantucket and other parts of the U.S. would meet their match. A huge sperm whale would ram their boat and the sailors were forced to endure an arduous and debilitating 90 plus day journey in the South Pacific Ocean in three leaky row boats.

Nathaniel Philbrick is a writer who lives in Nantucket and is no stranger to sailing. As a result of this, he was able to fashion a richly-detailed account of this true story (and In The Heart Of The Sea actually won him a National Book Award). This story references two main accounts, that of first mate, Owen Chase and that of cabin boy, Thomas Nickerson. Philbrick’s prose holds nothing back and is often quite gruesome and ghastly, but it is all necessary in giving context to such a horrific tale.

After their ship was struck by a large whale, the 20 remaining sailors would split up into three row boats. They could have set sail for some nearby islands in the South Pacific but they had been lead to believe that these places were inhabited by cannibals. The irony is that these castaways would eventually have to resort to such a treacherous act themselves. So instead, they exercised a series of grave errors of judgement, which lead them to sail almost 5000km against the currents and the winds towards South America.

They were out in the elements and would wind up suffering from severe dehydration, horrible skin boils and starvation. But the survivor’s stories are a testament to human strength. In The Heart Of The Sea is all about human endurance, discipline and determination, because some of these men actually managed to survive, despite becoming sickly, human skeletons that were inches away from death.

This book starts off a little slow and is dense but it does become a riveting and entertaining read, overall. There is a lot of drama and courage on display and it’s obvious that it was meticulously researched and lovingly put together by Philbrick. In The Heart Of The Sea sets the scene for a thriller in an unforgiving ocean where survival seems impossible, especially when the odds are stacked against you and you have to navigate through folklore, superstition and the high seas to boot. This is ultimately one amazing tale that should be compulsory reading by everyone.

 

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://bookgirl.beautyandlace.net/book-club-in-the-heart-of-the-sea

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