In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick retells the true story of how a sperm whale rammed a whaleship in the early 1800’s and caused one of the most shocking disaster of that time. Unbeknownst to me, the popular story of Moby Dick, which I’m sure many of us have read or heard about during our early school years, was actually based on this story here. I blasted through this book over the weekend because it was just that good! You may not think there’s much to tell of a shipwreck but you’d be dead wrong. The survivors of the Essex whaleship disaster and what they had to endure is nothing short of pure torture of the highest degree and to even fathom how some of them made it out alive is a pure miracle of the highest order. The story has also been made into a movie of the same name starring Chris Hemsworth.
“First I cry for his departure, then laugh because I’m free.” – Eliza Brock, Nantucket resident
Rather than dive straight into the disaster itself, the author gave a pretty detailed account of Nantucket, the island most famous during its time as the capital of whale oil harvesting from sperm whales. It’s obvious that killing and harvesting an animal for its product can be cruel. However, you should put all bias and opinions aside when reading stories such as this. We must never forget that these events took place almost two centuries ago. Things were a lot different then. The author retells this amazing story through the book and journal accounts of two survivors, first mate Owen Chase and cabin boy Thomas Nickerson. I found it amazing and oddly eerie that despite the dangers and circumstances they had to go through, the words they choose at certain times to describe the scene and emotions they were going through very poetic and calming.
Hunting sperm whales for their oil was literally backbreaking work. Regardless of how one feels about the trade, you can’t deny that it takes a certain amount of courage. The hunters never had any high tech machinery to kill the whales. They relied on hand weapons such as harpoons and lances and that means the need to get up close and personal to the whale in the open sea in your little wooden boat. In addition, when a single voyage means almost being 2-3 years away from your family and friends, one must be physically and mentally fit to go through with it time and time again. In regards to the actual disaster itself and what the men had to go through to survive, you’ll just have to read it to believe it. It’s as simple as that.
“We have been stove by a whale.” – Owen Chase
In the Heart of the Sea makes me appreciate non-fiction books that much more. When they are well written and told, it can beat any fantasy novel. I literally couldn’t put this book down because I just had to find out what happened next. Again, don’t be fooled into thinking that just because the men were stranded in the middle of the ocean that “nothing” of importance happens until they were rescued. If you have a goal of reading just one non-fiction book for the year, definitely make it this one. But like the author mentions at the end, just don’t label this an adventure story. It’s a disaster that just happens to be one of the greatest true stories ever told.