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Publisher's Summary

National Book Award, Nonfiction, 2000

The ordeal of the whaleship Essex was an event as mythic in the nineteenth century as the sinking of the Titanic was in the twentieth. In 1819 the Essex left Nantucket for the South Pacific with 20 crew members aboard. In the middle of the South Pacific, the ship was rammed and sunk by an angry sperm whale. The crew drifted for more than 90 days in three tiny whaleboats, succumbing to weather, hunger, and disease and ultimately turning to drastic measures in the fight for survival.

Nathaniel Philbrick uses little-known documents, including a long-lost account written by the ship's cabin boy, and penetrating details about whaling and the Nantucket community to reveal the chilling events surrounding this epic maritime disaster. An intense and mesmerizing read, In the Heart of the Sea is a monumental work of history forever placing the Essex tragedy in the American historical canon.

©2000 Nathaniel Philbrick; (P)2000 Penguin Audiobooks

Critic Reviews

  • Alex Award Winner, 2001

"A fascinating tale, well told." (Booklist)
"[Told] with verve and authenticity...a classic tale of the sea." (San Francisco Chronicle)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Story
  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 03-01-15

Before you see the movie, but after you read Moby-Dick.

"Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee."
- Moby-Dick

I've been wanting to read this book for years. Patiently it sat, right behind me, waiting. I enjoyed Philbrick's 'Mayflower' and 'Sea of Glory'. Given how much I love Moby-Dick, I'm kinda surprised it took me so long (15 years) to read this history of the Essex.

Philbrick paces this narrative well. He patches together all the major perspectives. When the story leaves gaps, he dead reckons and is able to fill the story in with similar types of accidents, aggressive whale experiences, sailors, oil, blood, starvation, and -- well -- other episodes of cannibalism. He is able to humanize the captain, the first-mate, and the people of Nantucket (while also giving serious consideration for all the other sailors; those from Nantucket, outlanders, and black sailors too). It was a quick read, and compelling.

29 of 35 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A Thoroughly Enjoyable Listen

This is a fascinating book about an ill-fated whaling voyage that was the basis for Moby Dick. THe author does a masterful job of winding the history of the whaling industry in the first half of the 19th Century with the amazing story of the sailors and how they suvived an amazing journey through the Pacific. A testimony to both people's stubborn idocy as well as to our ability to survive. I found this story much more interesting than I thought it might be and would recommend it to other that like historical fiction. This is not fiction, but the story is compelling enough that you will think it is. Once you read it, you will feel compelled to visit Nantucket.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Craig
  • Austin, TX, USA
  • 02-09-10

Fascinating

I thoroughly enjoyed this audio book. A great, true story full of interesting historical detail (such as the drug habits of Nantucket Quaker wives, racial relations of the time, etc.) and information about navigation by dead reckoning, the physical and psychological effects of dehydration and starvation, cannabalism, whaling and much more.

It's amazing to think that the events recounted in this book happened less than 200 years ago.

14 of 17 people found this review helpful

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  • Mark
  • Waltham, MA, United States
  • 08-02-16

Engaging history

This book was a little slow in getting started, but then, halfway through, it grabbed me. There is a lot of good background about whaling and Nantucket, and the story of the Essex is pretty incredible. By the time I got through the tale of sea survival, I was riveted by the aftermath for each survivor. This mixes history with a gory survival tale in an engaging manner.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • bryan
  • Indianapolis, INDIANA, United States
  • 01-21-13

UNBELIEVABLE!

It is no wonder this received the National Book Award... This is, to put it as simply as possible, a MUST READ! You don't like history? No problem! You are not interested in whaling? No problem! This is a compelling relevant story of human nature, struggle, friendship, loss, pain, death, and whale oil. A true American story of EPIC proportions!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Sparkly
  • SF, CA, United States
  • 11-03-12

So Fantastic!

I enjoyed every minute of this book, and was sorry when it ended. It's a tale of adventure, certainly - but also a story of bad luck and worse luck; of a series of implausible chance occurrences; and of the human ability to endure. History comes alive here, in this slice of time that encompasses the height of the American whaling industry and the peculiar dynasties of Quaker Nantucket.

This story is clearly in Nathaniel Philbrick's wheelhouse, as his other books are also about the sea and early American history. Philbrick's genius lies in his ability to give rich detail and context for everything, without going too far into the weeds or losing the story. His meticulous research supports his skillful storytelling - every sailor in the boats has a tale, and they vividly come to life. I particularly appreciated Philbrick's attention to the African American sailors. The lives of these men provided scarcer primary data, I am sure, yet the author worked to fill out the details and distinguish their experiences.

The narrator, Scott Brick, is spot on as well. Highly recommended.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Great Listen

Slow to start, this is a fascinating read. Scott Brick is an excellent narrator and the story made me want to glue my headphones to my ear until the story was over. HIGHLY recommended.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Great Book

While this is a historical work, the author made relating the story interesting. He did a great job explaining the good and mostly bad decesions made by the characters. The sinking of the Essex was a tradegy, there were not heroes but I felt I understood their motivatiions in most cases.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating history, not for the squeamish

Any additional comments?

The book is mostly about the whaling industry in Nantucket, Massachusetts and the dangers it entailed. Much background is given on the work of whaling, the mindset of the island residents and sailors, and the viciousness of the sea in the early 19th century. I enjoyed the background information on whaling ships and the hardships and victories of their crews. “Wooden ships and iron men.”<br/><br/>Scott Brick was an excellent choice as narrator and is going on my favorites list.<br/><br/>Be aware that only the first 17 of 35 chapters of this audiobook are the actual story. The rest of the ‘chapters’ (three hour’s worth) are the notes that apply to those chapters. This is where a written version of the book has the advantage; reading the notes of a good non-fiction book can sometimes be very enjoyable and lead you to more reading. However, listening to the narrator read these notes is not much fun.<br/><br/>The story gets quite gruesome at times, as can be predicted. Starvation and cannibalism are described in heartbreaking detail, let alone the job of butchering whales.<br/>

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Stop when the story's over!

This book is an excellent account of a true historical event of unspeakable suffering and tragedy. I very much enjoyed the retelling of this old story from the perspective of one of the survivors. However, when the survivors are rescued and finally brought back to civilization to be reunited with their homes and families, the book still goes on for another three hours! All the subsequent historical footnotes and accounts of modern-day Nantucket could be nothing but a letdown after such an epic story. I would've given this book a five star review if the author had just known when to say "the end"

1 of 1 people found this review helpful