In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick


Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)

In the Heart of the Sea won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2000, so it’s not a new book. But it has been back in the news–and on my reading list–because a movie adaptation starring Chris Hemsworth (of Thor fame) came out in 2015.

The book, and the movie, tell the story of the Nantucket whaleship Essex, which was rammed by a sperm whale and sank in the Pacific Ocean in 1820. It’s an amazing tale of survival and adventure–the ship’s crew drifted on the open ocean for 93 days and had to resort to cannibalism to survive–and as such would appeal to almost any reader.

But the author has also skillfully used the Essex tragedy to illuminate the entire culture and economy of whaling in the United States in the early 19th century. I’m a history buff, but I had always considered this time period to be pretty dull. In the Heart of the Sea turned that opinion on its head. This is the type of readable, engrossing history book that makes kids into history majors.

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