In the Heart of the Sea: The Epic True Story that Inspired ?Moby-Dick?

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9780008126834: In the Heart of the Sea: The Epic True Story that Inspired ?Moby-Dick?

The epic true-life story of one of the most notorious maritime disasters of the nineteenth century – and inspiration for ‘Moby Dick’ – reissued to accompany a major motion picture due for release in December 2015.

The sinking of the whaleship Essex by an enraged sperm whale in the Pacific in November 1820 set in motion one of the most dramatic sea stories of all time: the twenty sailors who survived the wreck took to three small boats (one of which was again attacked by a whale) and only eight of them survived their subsequent 90-day ordeal, after resorting to cannibalising their mates.

Three months after the Essex was broken up, the whaleship Dauphin, cruising off the coast of South America, spotted a small boat in the open ocean. As they pulled alongside they saw piles of bones in the bottom of the boat, at least two skeletons’ worth, with two survivors – almost skeletons themselves – sucking the marrow from the bones of their dead ship-mates.

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Product Description:

The epic true-life story of one of the most notorious maritime disasters of the nineteenth century – and inspiration for ‘Moby-Dick’ – reissued to accompany a major motion picture due for release in December 2015, directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker and Cillian Murphy.

When the whaleship Essex set sail from Nantucket in 1819, the unthinkable happened. A mere speck in the vast Pacific ocean – and powerless against the forces of nature – Essex was rammed and sunk by an enraged sperm whale, and her twenty crewmen were forced to take to the open sea in three small boats. Ninety days later only a handful of survivors were rescued – and a terrifying story of desperation, cannibalism and courage was revealed...

One of the greatest sea yarns ever spun, ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ is the true story of the extraordinary events that inspired Herman Melville’s masterpiece ‘Moby-Dick’.

Review:

The appeal of Dava Sobel's Longitude was that it illuminated a little-known piece of history through a series of captivating incidents and engaging personalities. Nathaniel Philbrick's In The Heart of the Sea certainly covers the same area, by examining the 19th-century Pacific whaling industry through the arc of the sinking of the whaleship Essex by a boisterous sperm whale. The story which inspired Herman Melville's classic, Moby Dick, has a lot going for it--derring-do, cannibalism, rescue--and Philbrick proves an amiable and well-informed narrator, providing both context and detail. We learn about the importance and mechanics of blubber production--a vital source of oil--and we get the nuts and bolts of harpooning and life onboard whalers. Neither are we spared the nitty gritty of the open boats and sucking human bones dry.

By sticking to the tried and tested Longitude formula, Philbrick has missed a slight trick or two. The epicentre of the whaling industry was Nantucket, a small island off Cape Cod; most of the whales were in the Pacific, a huge journey around the southernmost tip of America. We never learn the reason for this distance and why no one ever tried to create an alternative whaling capital somewhere nearer. Similarly, Philbrick tells us that the story of the Essex was well known to Americans for decades but he never explores how such legends fade from our consciousness. Philbrick would no doubt reply that such questions were beyond his remit and you can't exactly accuse him of skimping on his research; 50 pages of footnotes is impressive by any standards and to give him his credit he wears his learning light. Unlike many academics, he doesn't get bogged down in turgid detail and the narrative rattles along at a nice pace. And when the story line is as good as this, you can't really ask for more.--John Crace

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