Brief Thoughts: In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

This book had been on the corner of my interest for some time. Once I discovered the movie release date (December 2015), I decided to prioritize it in the TBR queue. Page numbers given refer to my large font Overdrive ebook…not very helpful but I felt strange not including them!

  • In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
  • Rating: ★★★★
  • A compelling yet gruesome story (not recommended for the faint of heart) constructed from historical documents and first hand journals
  • Whales scare me because they’re way too big! Can you imagine being attacked by not just a sperm whale, but an abnormally huge sperm whale ?? Nope nope nope. But, I like reading about wooden ships and coastal towns and spectacular voyages. 
  • I love the settings and the Nantucket atmosphere. I liked to read about life in the bustling little village (and the accents!).
  • I tried to keep in perspective the ages of those on the Essex, finding it difficult to remember that the Captain was younger than most of my friends (28 years old) and the First Mate was, at 22 years old, younger than me (56). 
  • I didn’t like the actual description of the whale killing. Gory and intense, I can’t imagine how anyone could pull it off. One young sailor wrote, “It is painful to witness the death of the smallest of God’s created beings, much more, one in which life is so vigorously maintained as the Whale! And when I saw this, the largest and most terrible of all created animals bleeding, quivering, dying a victim to the cunning of man, my feelings were indeed peculiar!” (107)
  • Something else I have trouble visualizing is the size of these ships. I couldn’t believe they had tortoises from Galapagos roaming the decks – “They also collected another hundred tortoises” (137)!
  • At one point Captain Bligh of The Bounty‘s story is mentioned. I wonder if there any good books about him?
  • Though numerous astounding moments comprise this book, the incident with the whale will keep you on the edge of your seat. I knew generally what happened, but reading it play out I remained astonished. My note was, “YAH FREAKING SERIOUS, WHALE?!” (151)
  • I think I spoke too quickly when I said to my sister, “I’d totally watch this movie!” Not because of my fear of whales but because of the cannibalism…it’s difficult enough to read about (I’m not usually a queasy person but I couldn’t read those bits even when just eating toast at breakfast). How will those scenes translate to film? I definitely don’t need to see them visualized.
    • The practice of drawing lots, of killing your fellow sailor to consume him. I cannot imagine that. I like to think I would rather cast myself into the sea instead, but that’s practically the selfish option. (284)

Have you read any compelling non-fiction books about whaling? Would you read this one?