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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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  • Overall
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Good book. Not the best audiobook, but good.

Would you listen to In the Heart of the Sea again? Why?

Very good historical detail. Well written. But it drags a bit. We listened on a long drive. We stopped for lunch and when we got back in the car I started to turn the book back on and my husband's comment was "Yes. Let's get back to dying S-L-O-W-L-Y." But a good book, just not the best most engaging one.

What other book might you compare In the Heart of the Sea to and why?

Endurance, but Endurance is better.

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  • Laura
  • Washington, DC, United States
  • 11-26-13

Very Exciting, Very Depressing

File this one under "Truth is stranger (and sometimes better) than fiction." I listened to this because I enjoyed Philbrick's "Mayflower," knew he was an excellent researcher and storyteller, and knew I liked Scott Brick as a narrator. I was not at all prepared for the tragedies upon tragedies in this book. I suspect if you're considering reading this book, you're already aware you are not in for a smooth or happy ride, but even so, brace yourself. It's just incredibly depressing, this story, because Philbrick does such an amazing job of showing us the despair the men aboard the Essex must have felt. I'm not sure the modern reader can come away from this with any real lessons or morals that apply to life today, but I was nonetheless glad I learned about a previously unfamiliar piece of history, and a gripping, fascinating one at that.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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In the time of scurvy

Any additional comments?

Nathaniel Philbrick captured my attention and heart with this book about the doomed whaling ship The Essex. Unforgettable story of survival at sea that resorted to cannibalism. A true story that inspired Moby Dick. Scott Brick is excellent, as always. <br/><br/>

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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...and the fish vomited Jonah upon the dry land


The true story of the shipwreck of the Whaling Ship Essex. It is sadly everything we have come to think about, when we think about sailors who starve and thirst as they clinging to a life raft at sea.

Lost in the Ocean for 90 days, the few survivors paint a grisly picture of the lengths they were willing to go to, to stay alive. The style of writing is more "journalistic" than other notable survival stories, and the reference to quotes and historical references, can at times seem cold and objective.

Included in this history of the shipwreck, is: a background of Nantucket, Mass.; background of the whaling industry; complete character profiles of all involved- before and after; and how the shipwreck affected all involved.

I would have preferred just the survival story as written from start to finish, but it was interesting, if not compelling.

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  • Laurie
  • Huntington Beach, CA, United States
  • 04-10-13

An Informative and dramatic read

If you could sum up In the Heart of the Sea in three words, what would they be?

engrossinginformativeabsorbing

What did you like best about this story?

The historical perspective and the ties to Moby Dick made it a read that is relatable. Of course, I was a Melville fan in college, but knowing that the basis of the Moby Dick was based on this story captured me.

Which character – as performed by Scott Brick – was your favorite?

Probably the captain Pollard, but others were equally brillinat

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes

Any additional comments?

It went so fast. Never thought I would like this read, but I loved it. One of my best reads this year.

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Wow!....what an adventure

Besides an amazing true story, it was a great peek into the hardships of life in the 1800's.

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  • Charles
  • LYNDON STATION, WISCONSIN, United States
  • 11-18-12

In the Heart of the Dea.

I was hoping for more out of this Book but it just wasn't there. It is an OK Book. I guess you just have to take a chance at it, you might like it.

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An excellent read!

After reading Philbrick's "Mayflower", another well researched historical account, I decided to dive into another one of his books. Yes... it is little slow in the early parts, but I thought the background was necessary to frame the story. It soon turned into something I couldn't put down. There's tons of action in this historical account. The narration is very good. However, the splicing leaves something to be desired. It was too choppy and disrupted the flow of the book. Still, I highly recommend it!

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Good story except for some unnecessary digressions

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

This story has many interesting points that are worth considering even at this late date, and I think the author does this quite well. Yet, I do take exception with at least a couple of comments he made. First, the mention of the ignorance of the sailors about the whale does not seem to jive with what Herman Melville wrote in Moby Dick. Although it was their business to carve up whales and they went about it in a business like manner, surely they had some understanding of the anatomy of the whale including the size of his reproductive organs. Really, the mentioning of this organ and its size by the author is just typical of our sex crazed times. Totally out of place and unnecessary. Second, the author goes to some length to explain how painful it is to suffer dehydration and starvation. But, as he noted, as one approaches the end, all the pain starts to go away. Then, amazingly, he comments how the various supporters of euthanasia in America consider this a painless way to die. Did I miss something?! Yes, it is not very painful at the end but what about all the suffering involved to get to that point? It seems clear to me that such digressions are politically motivated and have no place in a work like this.

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  • David
  • Seabrook, TX, United States
  • 06-16-12

Better than Melville

This is a well written story of a famous and particular whaling voyage, one that was famous in it's time and was likely the inspiration for Melville's "Moby Dick". Until recently the account that dominated knowledge of the voyage was written by the first mate Owen Chase. But an account written by the cabin boy, Thomas Nickerson, surfaced a few years back; it provides more and different reports that cleared up many questions.

Nathaniel Philbrick interleaves the various accounts of the Essex, along with other extensively research descriptions of Nantucket, the Quakers, and the whaling industry. I titled this review "Better than Melville" because Moby Dick tries to do something similar, but Philbrick has produced a more compelling narrative.

The narration was excellent.

The only negative was that some chapters seemed to start a sentence or two into the chapter; some kind of technical glitch. A bit frustrating, but don't let it stop you from listening.