Skip to main content

Cannonball Read #10: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

Here we are with another maritime disaster, although this one takes place long before most of the others on the list. In 1819, the whaleship Essex, sailing from its home port of Nantucket, was attacked and capsized in the middle of the Pacific ocean by an 80-foot-long sperm whale. The members of the crew set out in three small whaling ships (roughly 25 ft oar boats) for the coast of South America, a trip of close to 3000 miles. Before the end, six men would die of hunger and thirst, three would be lost at sea, one would be executed, and the rest would resort to cannibalism. The men sailed for nearly 93 days straight, suffering from starvation, dehydration, exposure, and an almost crushing sense of despair. This story comes from the accounts of the survivors.

The author, Philbrick, has done an excellent job with research. (There are nearly 50 pages of notes at the end of the book as well as an extensive bibliography.) There is quite a bit of information about the whaling trade itself, as well as about the island of Nantucket's place in that trade. As an island with a mere 3000 residents (many of whom were gone for years at a time on whaleships, home only to drop off their precious whale-oil cargo, resupply, and take off again), the environment was very influential on those who had grown up there, and definitely effected the dynamics of the stranded sailors. There was also quite a bit of information about the daily lives of whalers and how they lived. However, the most interesting parts were the accounts of the survivors.

This is a story about overcoming all odds, and the consequences and guilt that remains after doing anything and everything to survive. I recommend this to anyone who likes a good sea-story or well-researched non-fiction. (I will say that it can be disturbing at some parts and is not recommended for children or the faint-of-heart.)

Comments

vtinjp said…
I totally agree with you, I was amazed by Philbrick's research and how many first-hand accounts he had in there. It was a both terrifying and fascinating read.

I've been thinking I should pick up his newer one about the Mayflower...will the Caustic Critic be picking that one up too?
I may eventually, but I'm currently reading another book by Brian Hicks, this time about the Mary Celeste. After that, I have about 3 more maritime disasters, and then I'm starting in on fires. However, I'll keep an eye out for the new Philbrick.

Popular posts from this blog

CR3 # 17: Mount Misery by Samuel Shem

Mount Misery is the sequel to Samuel Shem's first book, House of God (review here). It follows Dr. Roy Basch as he leaves the House of God and moves to psychiatric hospital Mount Misery to begin his psychiatric residency. Unfortunately, it turns out that psychiatrists are just as crazy, confused, and often detrimental as medical doctors. As Dr. Basch cycles through the various sectors of the hospital (talk therapy, admissions, Freudian Analysis, drug therapy) he is horrified to discover that it seems everything he is being taught is not only wrong, but potentially dangerous. He begins to fall into terrible patterns of behavior, mirroring the problems his patients are having. Each area is worse than the last, with one doctor who thinks the best way to treat is to be aggressively hostile, one who cares only about insurance premiums and efficiency, one who treats with silence and "regression," and one who thinks the only viable treatment is to pump every patient full of exp…

CBR9 #2 - Southern Gods

I've had Southern Gods on my TBR list for so long I no longer remember why I put it there. Was it a recommendation from Amazon? From Goodreads? Did someone I know recommend it? Did it cross my path as a "If you liked __________ then you'll like this too!"

Maybe I heard it through the grapevine?

I only know that recently, I happened to come across it on my wishlist and decided to go ahead and splurge on it.

I'm glad I did.

In 1951 Memphis, war veteran and leg-breaker-for-hire Bull Ingraham gets a new assignment: a record company has lost one of their employees somewhere. Early Freeman set off to deliver new records to radio stations, and has seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth. His boss at Helios Records is anxious to find him...and also anxious to find a mysterious blues musician whose music can do terrible things to the living -- and to the dead.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, Sarah Rheinhart leaves her abusive husband and returns to her family home, where …

CR3 #30: The First Wives Club by Olivia Goldsmith

I saw the movie of The First Wives Club before I read the book. It's a cute chick flick, in which scorned women take comedic revenge on their former spouses. They become better friends and everyone winds up happy in the end. I was somewhat surprised (though not much--the differences between film and literature are often wide) at how different the book was--I am used to changes in plot or small character changes (combining two characters into one, or perhaps changing to a more pleasant ending) but the major change here between novel and movie was the tone.

The story is basically the same; After a close friend's suicide, three middle-aged female friends get together and beginning reviewing their lives. They realize that much like their late friend, they have been screwed over by the men in their lives--the men used them to get to their high social and financial positions, then screwed them over both personally and financially. The three women decide to use their wits and their co…