In the Heart of the Sea


In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex – Nathaniel Philbrick

Non Fiction – Historical

Published May 1st 2001 by Penguin Books




This was book that hasn’t necessarily been on my TBR that long but I wanted to finish the book before I went and saw the movie. The book was good, different, still haven’t seen the movie. Plus, this seemed easier than Moby Dick which is one of those should I or shouldn’t I take the plunge type of books.


In 1820, whaleship Essex set sail from Nantucket on a routine voyage. Fifteen months later when it was in the middle of the Pacific ocean it was rammed twice by a massive sperm whale, eventually sinking the ship. The crew scrambled to grab provisions and navigaion equipment and sailed away in three tiny boats. Fearing cannibals on the islands in the West, the twenty-man crew set sail for the 3,000 miles between them and South America. They soon run out of water, food, and eventually must resort to cannibalism themselves. The survivors went down in history as surviving a tragedy and took their turns penning newspaper articles and books about their ordeal. It was from these insights that inspired Herman Mellvile’s novel  Moby Dick.


Really the majority of this book made me feel like I should just read Moby Dick but by the time I seriously considered this the whale “attacked” and I was invested. I guess the positives and negatives blended together for me. The beginning was slow, as in let’s describe Nantucket and boats and their blueprints forever. Just as I wanted to give up the crew of twenty guys completed depleted an island of resources. As in, hunted an entire species of an island in a matter of weeks then started a fire and burned what was left. 

Their views on nature was so astoundingly awful and tragic yet fascinating to see just how much these fisherman messed things up for everyone else. Really everything about this made me squeamish and fascinated. All I can really say is as much as these people were products of their time and were not better off for it, being a whaleship sounds like the worst job in the entire world and I’m still amazed these men did it at will.

Favorite Quotes

“Nickerson began to understand, as only an adolescent on the verge of adulthood can understand, that the carefree days of childhood were gone forever: “Then it was that I, for the first time, realized that I was alone upon a wide and an unfeeling world . . . without one relative or friend to bestow one kind word upon me.”

There was a saying on the island: “[I]t is a pity to spoil a good mate by making him a master.” Pollard’s behavior, after both the knockdown and the whale attack, indicates that he lacked the resolve to overrule his two younger and less experienced officers. In his deference to others, Pollard was conducting himself less like a captain and more like the veteran mate described by the Nantucketer William H. Macy: “[H]e had no lungs to blow his own trumpet, and sometimes distrusted his own powers, though generally found equal to any emergency after it arose. This want of confidence sometimes led him to hesitate, where a more impulsive or less thoughtful man would act at once.


Nope, but I’m stoked to see the movie now. I think this is one of those books you read and go “huh, I had no idea that was a thing.” Definitely need to be in a non-fiction mood for it though because for every exciting moment there’s some dry facts thrown at you.



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