In the Heart of the Sea

In the Heart of the Sea

The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

Book - 2000
Average Rating:
Rate this:
The epic true-life story of one of the most notorious maritime disasters of the nineteenth century which was the inspiration for Herman Melville's classic novel "Moby Dick". The author uses a hitherto unknown diary of one of the survivors discovered in an attic in Connecticut in 1998 to tell the tale.
Publisher: New York : Viking, 2000.
ISBN: 9780670891573
Branch Call Number: 910.9164 Phi
Characteristics: xvi, 302 pages : illustrations


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Nov 29, 2019

I really enjoyed reading this book. Everything about the book was just written in a way that made me absorb the details as if I were in the story being told by the book. I think that the author put lots of effort into writing the book. When reading this book, the intensity of the situation made it difficult for me to put the book down, as it immersed me in the suffering of the sailors. The events of this story inspired the now famous Moby Dick, which tells a similar story compared to this book. I think that this book showed the limits of human suffering which erodes our social practices which leads to socially unacceptable acts such as cannibalism which the sailors practiced in order to survive. I think that this is a very good example of how different humans can become when their situation becomes desperate, which is a testament of how we are naturally selfish, but our altruistic behaviour is because of our society.

I rated this book a 10/10 because of how well it was written and how moving it was. I think that the author put l think that this is one of the best books that I have read in a very long time. The reason for this is because of how well the author tells the story of the sailors in such detail. When I read a book, I mainly look for how well the author can tell me what is happening in great precision while being efficient, and this book achieved that. The way that the author built the personalities of the characters was very impressive, as he did not explicitly state any of their characteristics, rather allowing the reader to infer using their decisions. I think that this approach is much more immersive since you are using your imagination, instead of simply absorbing information from the book.

ArapahoeAnna Aug 26, 2019

Good nonfiction story told with historical perspective instead of judging the past by modern standards and sensibilities. The descriptions of killing whales and people starving are grim but not sensationalized.

Mar 07, 2019

A riveting accounting of the whaling ship, Essex destroyed by a behemoth of a sperm whale: 20 men started out in 3 whale boats: 8 survived. The tenacity of the human spirit never ceases to amaze.

SPPL_János Mar 22, 2018

Famous in its day, the Essex was rammed and sunk by a sperm whale in 1820. Philbrick gives an immersive account of the ship's journey, the Nantucket whaling industry, and the open-boat ordeal in the Pacific which only 8 of the 20 crewmen survived.

Aug 28, 2017

I never thought that I would ever get into a nonfiction book as much as I got into this one. It was an absolutely fascinating read! The story behind the Moby-Dick has so much more detail than you could ever get out of the novel, and it is well worth the read. Ten stars if I could!

Mar 04, 2017

This book was so well-researched and written in an approachable style. The author purposely squirrel some of the more scholarly research details in notes in the back of the book to make them optional.

As it was, there was much information on Nantucket and whaling. It was a messy, dangerous business and those who pursued it are to be admired for their fortitude -- as are their families who were left without a husband/father for 2-3 years at a time.

If you enjoy true stories about survival, this book is for you. I recommend reading the book before seeing the movie. When we were discussing it at our book group today and one of the participants was giving us movie updates it was clear that some of the plot points were enhanced and/or cherrypicked for the movie.

Feb 17, 2017

Was intrigued from the first chapter...who knew sperm whaling and the culture of it could be so fascinating. I actually found myself youtubing the sounds of sperm whales.

I was let down a little on how much interaction there actually was with the whale that sunk the Essex ship.

Nov 10, 2016

The Heart of the Sea. By. Nathaniel Philbrick.
In mid August 1819, a whaling ship, Essex, set sail for the whaling grounds on the other side of the planet in the vast Pacific Ocean.
Inauspiciously enough, she is severely pummeled before she can even reach the west African coast to revictualize.
After extensive repairs she resumes her voyage around Cape Horn and into the Pacific Ocean.
Having successfully harpooned, killed and flensed a number of prey the strangest of things happens: their ship the Essex is attacked and rammed by a huge bull whale.
Within moments the Essex begins to sink. The crew rush salvage what they can. Hardtack, casks of water, six Galapagos tortoises taken along as provender, a hand full of tools and some guns and powder.
What follows is the horrendous story of a small party of men in three small boats adrift in the vastness of the ocean. Only seven of these men were to survive the predations of over three months on the open ocean with insufficient food, water, shelter, and, perhaps, in the end.
This tale undoubtedly served as the basis for Nathaniel Hawrhorn's "Moby Dick".
The story Philbrick tells is one of deprivation and suffering. He is graphic when describing the various manifestations of starvation, of dehydration, and of a slow death from salt poisoning.
The tension is palpable; the disappointments are real. "Heart" is spellbinding. And then the guess: who will die first? Who will die next? Will anyone survive? And who will have to eat their shipmates to live?
Just in passing, ironically perhaps, in 1945 another Essex, a US naval vessel was torpedoed and sunk in very little time near the Island of Tinian. Here many sailors lost their lives to the sea. Those that survived, however, suffered many privations as those suffered by those from the whaler.

TSCPL_ChrisB Jun 05, 2016

Nathaniel Philbrick's story of the whaleship Essex is competent and intriguing. It tells the whole story in a manner that is logical and seemingly complete. Philbrick, a maritime scholar with a particular affinity for Moby-Dick, has scoured many texts to give his readers a portrait of what likely happened aboard the ship and in the years following. Some of it may be invention or speculation, but overall In the Heart of the Sea is a very solidly researched story.

Mar 22, 2016

I liked this ... not everyone would ... pretty graphic and gory in places but I like "man against nature" dramas. A true story with lots of detail that did not bore me. Spell-binding non-fiction teaches the real history of Nantucket and the essential whaling industry in the 19th century. As weak and horrible as many humans are... we are an amazing species when it comes to survival.

View All Comments

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at OPL

To Top