Book Review – In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of The Whaleship Essex by Daniel Philbrick

I was introduced to In The Heart of the Sea when searching for the Top 100 True Survival Stories on Good Reads. In fact, I’ve got a number of recommendations from this list so you may see a theme here.  I’ve not read Moby Dick (Yet) but knowing that this was the story that inspired THAT scene, as well as the great reviews, I had to give it a read.


This was my first ‘lost at sea’ type book and I was not disappointed. Philbrick does a great job in the opening chapters to set the scene of what the small whaling community of Nantucket island, home of the Essex, was like. You get a real feel for how close-knit the islanders were as well as their to non-islanders, different job roles and what it meant to be a captain of a whaling ship. This is all really important as these attitudes transfer to life on the ship, and even in the months that follow that fateful day.

Having trawled through numerous journals and books of the time that documented this incredible story, Philbrick has done a superb job at building characters and bringing to life the people that were on this ship. The most present source is the journal kept by 14 year old Thomas Nickerson who was cabin boy on the Essex. Not only for the enjoyment and ease of reading,  this character building contributes to understanding some of the decisions that were made, and the subsequent impact that had on their chances of survival.

Unlike  Moby Dick (aside from being non-fiction), In The Heart goes into great detail of what happens after the disaster. Philbrick goes into good level of detail on the effects that starvation and dehydration has on the body both physically and mentally. He builds on the personal accounts of those on board with scientific research, adding ‘life’ to what must have been an absolutely horrific experience, leading me to double check the cupboard just to be sure.

As a reader you live the despair, relief and joy of those in the book. This gripping read has to be one of my favourite stories so far.

We gave it 5 full Trees

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