History · Non-Fiction

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

What is it about? 

In 1819 an outdated whaleship called the Essex set sail from the small Quaker island of Nantucket. It’s captain George Pollard and first mate Owen Chase could never had imagined the fate that awaited them – that their ship would be sunk by the prey they had sought to hunt for oil. What followed was ninety-two days of hell out on the open ocean with very limited food and water supplies, which makes up the main part of this narrative. In the Heart of the Sea also focusses on the history of Nantucket and the whaling industry as a whole, as well as the too-strange-to-be-fiction true story that inspired Moby-Dick.

Is it any good?

In the Heart of the Sea starts strongly with an introduction that sets out the tragedy of the Essex for those like myself who had never before heard of the ill-fated ship. Thereafter, however, the book does get a little bit tedious – large chunks of narrative get dissolved in a swamping jungle of seafaring jargon and it just moves far too slowly for my liking, with some passages feeling rather repetitive. Despite the occasionally dull narrative, In the Heart of the Sea does have many points in its favour; it makes fantastic use of multiple historical primary sources, the references to Moby-Dick weaved throughout the book work really well, and anecdotes from similar stories of seagoing misadventure stop the story from getting too stale as well as helping to illustrate various different points that would otherwise be hard for the lay reader to understand. This clever mixture of historical fact and fiction-like narrative works well to create a vision of the past that feels like you are looking at an oil masterpiece  depicting days gone by in all their gilded glory.

Rating: 6.5/10

How long did it take to read: eight days

For fans of: BlackfishMoby-Dick, reading lengthy Wikipedia articles, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

This book tastes like: calamari sprinkled with salt


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