Book Review: ‘In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex’ by Nathaniel Philbrick

Any reader who has read ‘The Life of Pi’ and ‘Moby Dick’ should be all over this as both works of fiction were inspired by the tragic events of the Essex.  The Essex was an American whaling ship that was attacked by a disgruntled sperm whale (well the whalers had attacked it with harpoons) and sunk in the south-western Pacific in 1820. All the crew survive the sinking but they are stranded in the middle of the Pacific, in a region desolate of life, and they seem to want to make it back to civilisation the hardest way possible. Hilarity ensues. That was sarcasm.

Nathaniel does a magnificent job in describing the events on the Essex. But what also sets this book apart is his description and history of the whaling industry of Nantucket. The town is dominated by Quakers at the time and it is interesting how that justified this religion with systematic slaughter of animals and bolstered a whole industry around it. For a supposedly peaceful and placid religion, these people were blubberthirsty.I don’t know if this is spoilerific (can history have spoilers?) but it also goes on to talk about the aftereffects of the tragedy and how the survivors went on living.

But the heart of the story is that of the survival of the sailors. How they relied on each other and how they tried to survive despite all odds. Having read this after years after reading ‘The Life of Pi’ I feel a bit ripped off. There are so many parallels in the fictional story, and it would have been great to get all the references.

A great read that taught me a lot about the whaling industry with a lot about ocean survival. Recommended to all fans of those two fictions I mentioned earlier and would make a great gift for someone going on a cruising holiday.

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