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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

Review: In the Heart of the Sea

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex - Nathaniel Philbrick

By now, you may have seen the trailer for the movie In the Heart of the Sea. If not, and if movies are your thing, I recommend you do so. Go ahead. I'll wait right here. [In the Heart of the Sea Trailer]


Wow, right? Therein lies the problem with this book: one of comparison. In the Heart of the Sea is your traditional non-fiction book. It presents the facts. Even when those facts are spectacular, they are presented with the tone of your average history teacher. So that climatic moment of a whale smashing a ship, surf spraying, desperation on the faces of haggard sailors, becomes

...what most impressed the first mate was the remarkably astute way in which the bull employed its God-given battering ram. Both times the whale had approached the vessel from a direction “calculated to do us the most injury, by being made ahead, and thereby combining the speed of the two objects for the shock.” Yet, even though it had come at the Essex from ahead, the whale had avoided striking the ship directly head-on, where the ship's heavily reinforced stem, the vertical timber a the leading edge of the bow, might have delivered a mortal gash.

Not quite the same, right?


Erase all comparison and 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. It may not be as exciting as the film, but it is probably more factual.