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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)

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What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Story

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

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  • Barry
  • Petaluma, CA, United States
  • 08-04-12

Awesomely great story of men at sea

I had long known that Moby Dick had antecedents in a real life event, but I had no idea so much detailed information was available about it. Philbrick does a brilliant job of pulling all the original sources together and making this story real and human. Watching this group of men deal with their circumstances, making decisions based on the available information, suffering from the consequences of those decisions, was vicarious living at its best. This book should tell you just about everything you'd ever want to know about the 19th century whaling industry. It's also a great story about human nature and how all of us act and react in the face of adversity.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Matt
  • OVERLAND PARK, KS, United States
  • 04-29-12

Awesome Book….reads like a novel

Fascinating book on many levels. 19th century sailing, whaling, survival, endurance, etc….. I loved it. And like always, Scott Brick is the master of narration. If I were a history teacher this book would be required reading! Five big stars on this one!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Howard
  • Scottsdale, AZ, United States
  • 11-12-10

Exciting and Informative

If anyone thinks that history is dull, read “In the Heart of the Sea” by Nathaniel Philbrick. This historian has the gift of relating an historic event as if it were a fictional adventure tale. Of course, the event which is the subject of this book, the last voyage of the whale ship Essex, which left Nantucket, Massachusetts, in 1819 on a planned three-year journey to hunt whales in the Pacific Ocean, is an incredible adventure, replete with an angry whale which rams the Essex and sinks it, the journey of the 20 crew members in three small boats, the amazing rescue of some of them, the cannibalism of the survivors who drew lots to select crew members to execute and then eat. Herman Melville used the true story of the sinking of the Essex by an angry 80’ sperm whale, as his inspiration for Moby Dick. Along the way, Philbrick provides fascinating details of early 19th century whaling and life in Nantucket. This book was both exciting and informative.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Sandra
  • Brentwood, CA, USA
  • 03-09-07

Riveting.............

This was an amazing "listen". So hard to even imagine in one's wildest dreams what these men and boys endured. The life lasting effect must have been immense - a story no author could pen without the facts to guide him. I am a history lover but would recommend this book to all those who are not as well as those who are. I thoroughly enjoyed "The Mayflower" but was awestruck by this story.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Interesting, but dry

What did you like best about In the Heart of the Sea? What did you like least?

The facts were obviously researched. However, sometimes the story became a bit dry when the background facts were outlined.

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

The trials the men went through to survive their time at sea were fascinating. The details of life on Nantucket and the Quaker church were quite boring.

Do you think In the Heart of the Sea needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

Definitely not. This is a historical book. Any further books based off of it would be pure fiction.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Why didn't I know this story?!

I'll admit, I'd never have picked this up without someone repeatedly prodding me to do so...but I'm really glad I did. I mostly read/listen to sci-fi/fantasy, so I'm skeptical about anything non-fiction...if I wanted non-fiction I'd watch the flippin' news (is about how my poor attitude would respond...) - but this story is good...hard to put the feeling into words - kind of intriguing and horrifying...on many levels. Not just the...main tragedy part - but what makes someone want to do this...the normal things they do...that they don't consider tragedies...from the catching and processing of whales, to the stuff that happens on the islands (like the Galapagos)...my god...

If you already know the story of the Essex, there probably isn't a ton of new info - but still worth the listen. If you don't know the story that was part of Melville's inspiration for Moby Dick, you should probably pick this one up!

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Gripping

Great descriptions of whaling and of the hardships faced by the crew of the Essex.

5 of 8 people found this review helpful

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gruesome slaughter of whales an turtles

I was horrified, when 1 sailor cut off a giant turtles head to slake his thirst with the blood, i had had enough. There is a sickness going around with media these days, it involves the writer's agreement to work in an agenda throughout their story, book or movie, no difference. and if the writers do not agree...well they don't get published, or marketed yada yada. Most common symbology? blood drinking. animal and human. sick....this book is truly disgusting

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Audio must have been fixed

Any additional comments?

Many of the audible reviews noted problems with the sound / editing. These must have been corrected, as I took a chance and used a credit on it, and the audio sounded perfectly fine. Scott Brick was a great narrator.